Repeatedly Attempted Comebacks
Duane Eddy was known as one of the most famous guitarists in the years from 1958 to 1963. He hit a wave of popularity when instrumental songs were making it big, and rode it until the musical tides began to change. Eddy was known specifically for his “twangy” guitar style that fused country, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. His popularity in the music field led him to earn several screen roles, and he composed scores for movies. After a short time in the limelight and 15 Top 40 hits, Eddy faded from view, but his influence was to live on. The distinctive Duane Eddy “twang” was often imitated by others in the business. Eddy continued to tour the United States after 1963, but never reached his previous level of fame. In England, however, he enjoyed a greater amount of popularity and has spent time touring there.
Eddy was born in 1938 in Corning, New York, and his family packed up and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, when he was a teenager. Eddy began playing the guitar at a very early age. “When I was five or six years old, I started picking at the strings, and the first thing I knew I was playing,” Eddy told Louella O. Parsons in the Detroit News. “I have always liked the guitar, in fact, I like music period.” When he was 16, he quit school and started working as a regular in local clubs. It was then that he got a custom-made Chet Atkins-model Gretsch guitar that he was to play for many years. He teamed up with guitarist Al Casey, taking lessons from Casey’s jazz guitarist, Jim Wybele. In 1957 a local disc jockey, Lee Hazlewood, signed up the young Eddy for a recording contract.
Hazlewood pushed right ahead to produce Eddy’s first hit. They formed a band made up of Al Casey, Larry Knechtel, and Steve Douglas called the Rebels. Hazlewood produced “Movin‘ ’n’ Groovin’,” an instrumental single featuring Eddy’s soon-to-be-famous “twangy” guitar. He achieved this specialized sound by tuning his six string down an octave, performing the melody line on the top strings and feeding the sound through a combination of echoes. This sound became Eddy’s trademark and was a creative fusion of rock, country, and rhythm and blues.
The record caught on and was a hit almost immediately. In a Musician article John Fogerty commented that the record sounded “big” both in a sense of it being new and in the actual sound quality itself. Eddy told Fogerty, “I knew we had to have something that counted, something that was big.... We did go for a big sound. I have to give a lot of credit to Lee Hazlewood. He mixed things for AM radio in those days so that they would come rockin’ out of the radio.”
For the Record…
Born April 26 (one source says April 28), 1938, in Corning, NY; married second wife, Miriam Johnson, 1962 (one source says 1961; divorced); married Jessi Colter (a singer), 1966 (divorced).
Began playing in clubs as a teenager; discovered by producer Lee Hazlewood, 1957, and recorded single “Movin’ ‘n’ Groovin’,” 1958; landed string of instrumental hits, 1958-62; performed in various movies and television shows, 1960-63; session musician, touring performer, and producer, 1963—; recorded “Peter Gunn” with The Art of Noise, 1986.
Addresses: Booking agent —Talent Consultants International, Ltd., 200 West 57th St., Ste. 910, New York, NY 10019.
One Hit After Another
The band’s second release was the single “Rebel Rouser” in 1958. The record went gold in a relatively short amount of time, and Eddy’s group soon earned the chance to perform on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. It was on this show that Eddy had an opportunity to launch another hit. Clark had asked the group if they would perform a song to close the show. Eddy reported in Musician that he said to Clark, ‘“Well, we could do “Ramrod,” a thing I cut last year and never did anything with.’ So we ran it down and Dick said, ‘That’s perfect, great.’ So we did it to close the show, the credits. And Monday morning there was orders for 150,000 copies at the record company.” And the orders kept coming in—up to 250,000 by Tuesday of that same week. “Fortunately,” related Eddy to Mike Gormley in the Detroit Free Press, “we had the basic tracks recorded for the song so we finished them up and had the record out by Friday.”
More hits followed for the hard-working Eddy, including “Cannonball,” “Peter Gunn,” and “40 Miles of Bad Road.” The name for the latter hit came from a conversation Eddy overheard while attending a movie. He related in Musician, “We were standing in line to see a movie one day and just sort of monitoring the conversations around us, and we heard these old Texans talking about their evening before, how much fun it was. They were kidding each other and laughing and suddenly this guy says, ‘Well, that girl you were with, boy, she wasn’t so hot either.’ And the other guy says, ‘Well she was better ’n yours! Yours had a face like 40 miles of bad road.’” Eddy picked up on that last phrase immediately, realizing it would make a great title for a hit single, which it did in 1959.
Aimed for Movie Career
In 1960 Eddy was so popular that he was voted Number One Pop Personality by the New Musical Express. Change was in the air for him as he decided to split with Hazlewood and produce himself. He also launched an acting career, starring in the movie Thunder of Drums and the television series Have Gun, Will Travel. “All my life I’ve dreamed of being in motion pictures,” he told the Detroit News. He also acted in and wrote the theme for Because They’re Young, and wrote the theme for the 1961 release Ring of Fire.
While Eddy was earning fame on the screen, his self-produced efforts were going nowhere in the United States, although several of the singles he released in 1961 and 1962 scored steadily on the British Top 40. In 1962 he once again reunited with Hazlewood for “Dance With the Guitar Man,” featuring backup by the all-female Rebellettes. Reaching number 12 on U.S. charts, the single was one of the last records to achieve success in the United States.
Eddy turned to touring and session work in the late 1960s, occasionally recording albums. None of the albums met with great success. He found, though, that he still had a popular base in England and Europe, and he ended up living in England for several years. Interviewed by the Detroit Free Press in 1970, Eddy commented: “I’m interested in commercial stuff and would like to have a hit.... I’m not trying to get rich now.”
Repeatedly Attempted Comebacks
In 1975 he found success with the recording “Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar,” which ended up in the Top Ten in England. He reemerged with “You Are My Sunshine” in 1978, with vocals by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. And in 1986 he redid his famous “Peter Gunn” theme with Trevor Horn’s Art of Noise.
Despite the relatively few years of his stardom, Eddy has had an inestimable impact on the rock music scene. Fogerty commented in Musician that “it’s certainly my opinion that [Eddy] stood at the crossroads of rock ’n’ roll and transformed things by putting the musician out front.... Duane came along and was a real musician and was in front.” His guitar technique was so legendary that producers everywhere instructed musicians to “do Duane Eddy.” Asked how he felt about influencing generations of musicians, Eddy commented in Musician that it “is an unexpected bonus. It makes me feel more important than I otherwise would. It’s a confirmation, many years later, that it was the right thing. And we had no way of knowing at the time. We got confirmation in the fact that the records were hits. That’s the first big joy. But after that it dies down.… Then suddenly somebody comes along and says, ‘You started me in this business.’”
Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel, Jamie, 1959.
Especially for You, Jamie, 1959.
The Twang’s the Thang, Jamie, 1960.
Songs of Our Heritage, Jamie, 1960.
A Million Dollar’s Worth of Twang, Jamie, 1961.
Girls, Girls, Girls, Jamie, 1961.
A Million Dollars’ Worth of Twang: Volume 2, Jamie, 1962.
In Person, Jamie, 1962.
16 Greatest Hits, Jamie, 1962.
Twistin’and Twangin’, RCA, 1962.
Dance With the Guitar Man, RCA, 1962.
Best of Duane Eddy, RCA, 1965.
Pure Gold, RCA, 1965.
Twangy Guitar, London, 1970.
“Movin”n’ Groovin’, London, 1970.
Duane Eddy Guitar Man, GTO, 1975.
Legend of Rock, Deram, 1975.
Duane Eddy Collection, Pickwick, 1978.
Greatest Hits of Duane Eddy, Ronco, 1979.
20 Terrific Twangies, RCA, 1980.
Duane Eddy, Capitol, 1987.
Also performed on singles “You Are My Sunshine,” with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, 1978, and “Peter Gunn,” with The Art of Noise, 1986.
Hardy, Phil and Dave Laing, Encyclopedia of Rock, Schirmer Books, 1987.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton,Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC-CLIO, 1991.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Stambler, Irwin,The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul, St. Martin’s, 1989.
Detroit Free Press, August 28, 1970.
Detroit News, June 4, 1961.
Musician, November 1991.
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