After finishing high school in 1951, he returned to Shreveport, where he worked as a pianist for the Louisiana Hayride radio show where he performed with the likes of Jim Reeves, Faron Young, Webb Pierce, and, in his debut, Elvis Presley.
In 1953, he cut his first single, “Dancin’ Diane”, backed with “Little Brown Jug”, for the local Abbott label. During 1955 he played dates with an emerging talent who would later figure significantly in his career, Elvis Presley.
Cramer moved to Nashville in 1955 where the use of piano accompanists in country music was growing in popularity. By the next year he was, in his words, “in day and night doing session”. Before long, he was one of the busiest studio musicians in the industry, playing piano for stars such as Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, the Browns, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, Don Gibson, and the Everly Brothers, among others. It was Cramer’s piano playing, for instance, on Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”.
In 1957, Cramer released his own solo debut, That Honky-Tonk Piano, and in the next year scored a minor pop hit with the single “Flip, Flop and Bop.” As his solo career was largely secondary in relation to his session work, he recorded his own music sporadically, but in 1960 notched a significant country and pop hit with the self-penned instrumental “Last Date.”
The instrumental exhibited a relatively new concept for piano playing known as the “slip note” style. The record went to No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100. He went on to make numerous albums and toured with guitar maestro Chet Atkins and saxophonist Boots Randolph, also performing with them as a member of the Million Dollar Band.
From 1965 to 1974, Cramer annually released a Class Of… album, a collection of the year’s top hits done in his own inimitable style. In 1971, he also teamed with Atkins and saxophonist Boots Randolph for the album Chet, Floyd and Boots. By 1977, Cramer was exploring modern technology, and on the LP Keyboard Kick Band, he played eight different keyboard instruments, including a synthesizer.
In 1980, he released his last significant hit, a recording of the theme from the hit TV drama Dallas. Though largely quiet for most of the decade, in 1988 Cramer released three separate albums — Country Gold, Just Me and My Piano!, and Special Songs of Love.
In 2003, he was inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1961 he was quoted saying: “Trying to launch myself on a solo career, after being Elvis Presley’s pianist for so long, placed me in an unenviable position. Some people thought I was trying to cash in. If I had wanted to cash in on my association with Elvis, I would have done it five years ago.”
He died in Nashville, Tennessee after a fight with lung cancer on Dec 31, 1997 at the age of 64.