Instrumental piano, however, had never gone out of fashion, and Floyd Cramer brought his own unique style to the party.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1933, Cramer became an American Hall of Fame pianist who was also one of the architects of the “Nashville sound” in country music – a more popular sound, sometimes called “countrypolitan,” that helped bring a pop audience to country music in the 1950s and 1960s. Cramer grew up in the rural saw mill town of Huttig, Arkansas. As young boy, he did not take well to piano lessons, but instead taught himself to play at an early age, learning by ear. After high school, he returned to Shreveport where he worked as a pianist at the Louisiana Hayride radio show.
“Last Date”-Floyd Cramer
Cramer released a few recordings under his own name in the early 1950s, cutting his first single, “Dancin’ Diane,” in 1953. He then toured for a time with a young singer just starting out named Elvis Presley.
By 1955, he moved to Nashville, where piano-backed tunes in country music was then growing in popularity. The next year he became a studio session musician, backing a long line of stars, including Presley, Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers and others.In 1956, he recorded with Elvis Presley for the first time in a two-day session that produced two Presley songs, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Money Honey.” “Heartbreak Hotel” became Presley’s first big national hit. But Cramer, for the most part, remained a session player, unknown outside the music industry. Then came “Last Date,” a piano piece he released in the fall of 1960 as a 45 rpm single. This instrumental exhibited a relatively new concept for piano playing known as the “slip note” style.
“Last Date” entered the Top 40 on the Billboard pop music in late October 1960 and rose to No. 2. It stayed in the Top 40 for 15 weeks. “Last Date”sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. Interestingly, the song was kept out of the No. 1 position by Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” a song which featured an unnamed Floyd Cramer on piano. Two more follow-up Top Ten hits came for Cramer in 1961 – “On the Rebound,” which rose to No. 4 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the U.K., and “San Antonio Rose,” which hit No. 8 in the U.S. In 2009, “On the Rebound” was featured in the opening credits of the Oscar-nominated film An Education, which was set in England in 1961.By one count, between 1958 and 1962, eleven of Cramer’s singles charted on Billboard’s Hot 100, which was quite notable for an instrumentalist in that era. Fred Bronson, writing in the updated and expanded 4th edition of Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, lists two of Cramer’s hits on his “Top 100 Instrumentals” chart – “Last Date” at No. 10, and “On the Rebound” at No. 67. “Last Date” is also included on Bronson’s “Top 100 Songs of 1960″ at No. 13.
Cramer’s piano backing is also found on numerous country songs of the late 1950s and early 1960s. His piano is heard on Hank Locklin’s hit, “Please Help Me, I’m Falling.” By some estimates, as many as a fourth of the Nashville hits during the late 1950s and early 1960s had Cramer’s piano on them. Many consider him the most important pianist in country music history.
Cramer was a longtime friend of producer and guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins. He toured with Atkins and saxophonist Boots Randolph as a member of the “Million Dollar Band.”
It was Atkins who suggested that Cramer write “Last Date” to showcase the “slip-note” or “slip-tone” style that Cramer would make popular. Cramer later explained of the sound and technique: “The style I use mainly is a whole-tone slur which gives more of a lonesome cowboy sound. You hit a note and slide almost simultaneously to another.” The exact origin of the technique is somewhat uncertain.
“It’s been done for a long time on the guitar by people like Maybelle Carter and by lots of people on the steel guitar,” Cramer would acknowledge. “ Half-tones are very common.” But the style Cramer made popular was a whole-tone slur. It seems first to have emerged for Cramer at a 1960 session for Hank Locklin’s future hit “Please Help Me I’m Falling,” during which Chet Atkins asked Cramer to copy the unusual piano styling used by the songwriter Don Robertson on the original demo.Floyd Cramer continued to work as a session musician while putting out his own albums. He also performed with other country and pop stars including: Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, the Everly Brothers, Perry Como, and Roy Orbison. By the mid-1960s, Cramer had become a respected performer, making numerous albums. His recordings typically featured cover versions of the popular hits of the era for each calendar year, doing so from 1965 to 1974. Other Cramer albums included I Remember Hank Williams (1962), Floyd Cramer Plays the Monkees (1967), and Looking For Mr Goodbar (1978). On one of his albums, Cramer played eight different keyboard instruments. In 1979, he won a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental with “My Blue Eyes.” In 1980, he recorded a hit version of the theme song from the Dallas TV series.
‘Last Date’ Again
Cramer’s “Last Date,” however, became one of those songs that gained audience share and shelf life by way of its cover versions. It was also boosted after a few artists added lyrics to the music. That first occurred in 1960, the same year the song came out, when Skeeter Davis and Boudleaux Bryant wrote lyrics for the song. Skeeter Davis – who would later become famous with the 1962-63 hit “The End of the World” – was one of the artists who performed the Cramer song set to lyrics. She titled her version, “My Last Date (With You),” which became a Top-30 pop hit and a Top-Five country hit.
Other early 1960s performers who also covered the song using the Skeeter Davis lyrics, included Joni James, Ann-Margaret, and Pat Boone. In the mid-1960s, instrumental cover versions of the song, sticking closer to Cramer’s original, were offered by Lawrence Welk and Al Hirt.In 1972, Conway Twitty recorded the song with new lyrics under the title, “(Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date,” which hit No. 1 on the U.S. country chart for one week.
Ten years later, in 1982, Emmylou Harris recorded the Conway Twitty version, substituting a male character – “(Lost His Love) On Our Last Date” – which also hit No. 1 on the country chart. That song appears on her 2005 album, Heartaches & Highways.
In 1987, R.E.M. recorded an instrumental version of the Skeeter Davis treatment of “Last Date.” Through the 1990s, there were also a few other “Last Date” cover versions. In 2013, the David Bromberg Band recorded a studio version of “Last Date,” which had been a regular part of their live repertoire.
In December 1997, at the age of 64, Floyd Cramer died of lung cancer at his home in Nashville. He had been diagnosed with cancer six months earlier. He was interred in the Spring Hill Cemetery in the Nashville suburb of Madison, Tennessee. At his death, he was survived by his wife Mary, two daughters and four grandchildren.
In 2003 Floyd Cramer was inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, offers the Floyd Cramer Competitive Scholarship.
Country star Jimmy Dean is reported to have said of Cramer: “No orator ever spoke more eloquently than Floyd Cramer speaks with 88 keys.”
For additional stories at this website about music history and artist profiles please see the Annals of Music category page. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Date Posted: 15 May 2014
Last Update: 3 September 2016
Comments to: email@example.com
Jack Doyle, “Last Date,” 1960-2013
PopHistoryDig.com, May 15, 2014.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
1. Are You Lonesome Tonight? – Elvis Presley
“Floyd Cramer,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jim Kelton,“Floyd Cramer (1933– 1997),” The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
“Floyd Cramer,” Wikipedia.org.
“Last Date (song),” Wikipedia.org.
“On The Rebound,” Wikipedia.org.
Emmylou Harris album, The Very Best of Emmylou Harris: Heartaches and Highways, 2005.
“Floyd Cramer, 64, Pianist With a Nashville Sound,” New York Times, January 2, 1998.
Paul Wadey, “Obituary: Floyd Cramer,” The Independent (U.K.), Monday, January 5, 1998.
“WABC Radio (NY, NY) Weekly Surveys for 1960,” MusicRadio77.com.
“Floyd Cramer, Biography,” Billboard.com.
Colin Escott, “Floyd Cramer,” Country Music Hall of Fame, Year of Induction, 2003.
Fred Bronson, “The Top 100 Instrumentals,” Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, 4th edition, New York: Billboard Books, 2007, pp. 313-315.
Fred Bronson, “The Top 100 Songs of 1960,” Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, 4th edition, New York: Billboard Books, 2007, p. 334.