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Duane Eddy

At a time in the late 50s when rock’n’roll guitarists (e.g. CHUCK BERRY, CARL PERKINS, EDDIE COCHRAN et al) had sang their way to the top of the hit parade, the twangy DUANE EDDY chose to create his own instrumental modus operandi. A blend of rockabilly, jazz, cinematic C&W and a potpourri of styles, Duane’s down-and-dirty dirges proved irresistible to cool kids around the globe who bought into the sassy riffs of `Rebel-Rouser’, `Cannonball’, `Forty Miles Of Bad Road’, `Because They’re Young’ and `Peter Gunn’. Indeed, EDDY’s simplistic prowess duly inspired instrumental combos such as JOHNNY & THE HURRICANES, The VENTURES, The SHADOWS and a smorgasbord of surf-rock acts.
Born April 28, 1938, Corning, New York, by his early teens, Duane moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona, where he began getting seriously involved in the local music scene after dropping out of high school. Soon, Duane was touring with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars and, following a one-off single as Jimmy (“Delbridge”) and Duane: (`I Want Some Lovin’ Baby’), and another by Duane Eddy and His Rock-A-Billies (`Ramrod’), in ‘56 and ‘57 respectively, his first big break naturally came about.
Crucial to the development of his famous guitar twang was LEE HAZLEWOOD, a local DJ and all-round music biz hustler who signed EDDY and his band The Rebels – comprising Al Casey, Buddy Wheeler, Donnie Owens, Corky Casey, Mike Bermani and Pias Johnson – to Jamie Records, a label he co-ran with “American Bandstand” host Dick Clark. Trading as DUANE EDDY and his “twangy” guitar, the musician’s official debut, `Moovin’ N’ Groovin’’, hit the lower regions of the charts. Duane developed his unique guitar reverb by feeding the sound from the bass strings of his beloved Gretsch through a storage tank echo chamber at HAZLEWOOD’s Ramco studio. The resulting grimy echo laid the basis for a string of transatlantic Top 40 hits beginning with summer 1958’s definitive `Rebel-Rouser’, a platter which narrowly missed the Top 5 and established EDDY’s instrumental guitar/honking sax sound at the forefront of the era’s rapidly evolving pop/rock scene. The record was featured – alongside subsequent hits, `Ramrod ` (a re-take), `Cannonball’ and `The Lonely One’ – on the youngster’s brilliantly titled debut album, HAVE `TWANGY’ GUITAR, WILL TRAVEL (1958) {*7}.
Now billed as DUANE EDDY AND THE REBELS, the hits just kept on rolling off the rack, as `Yep!’, `Forty Miles Of Bad Road’ (AA b/w `The Quiet Three’), Henry Mancini’s `Peter Gunn’ (a UK-only Top 5 until late 1960), `Some Kind-A Earthquake’ (AA b/w `First Love, First Tears’) and `Bonnie Came Back’ (aka Scots trad tune, `My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’), placed the guitarist as the new LES PAUL. Meanwhile, inconsequential long-players ESPECIALLY FOR YOU (1959) {*6} and THE “TWANGS” THE “THANG” (1959) {*5} were not necessarily singles’ drop-off points, rather Top 30 extensions to his wide-ranging brand of MOR, shout-y instrumentals.
While EDDY’s minimalist sound was pivotal in the development of America’s massive surf craze via his influence on the likes of The VENTURES and DICK DALE, he was also extremely influential and indeed more popular in Britain, where `Shazam!’, `Because They’re Young’ (from the movie of the same name) and `Kommotion’ fared much better chart-wise, while the hot-to-trot SHADOWS approximated their own take on the instrumental twang.
Duane’s photogenic appearance gained him a cameo in the aforementioned 1960 movie (see above), while appearances as “Trooper Eddy” (in 1961’s A Thunder Of Drums), “Deputy Marshall Clint Fallon” (in 1962’s The Wild Westerners), paved the way for him to play the role of a “young cowboy” in the 1962 TV series, Have Gun – Will Travel, from which his High Noon-like Top 40 smash `The Ballad Of Paladin’ came; several years down the line, Duane acted in feature films, The Savage Seven and Kona Coast.
1960’s SONGS OF OUR HERITAGE {*3} album was hardly rock’n’roll, just simple re-interpretations of traditional folk and country tunes, kept separate from his singles adventures, that secured him further fruits by way of `Pepe’ (from the movie Cantinflas), `Theme From Dixie’, `Ring Of Fire’ (the eponymous piece from a 1961 movie), etc. Celebrating his love of GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! (1961) {*5} – a few years ahead of ELVIS’s er… cinematic concept! – a solo DUANE EDDY and some choral singers paid tribute to media entertainers: `Brenda’ (BRENDA LEE), `Annette’ (ANNETTE FUNICELLO), `Tuesday’ (Tuesday Weld), `Connie’ (CONNIE FRANCIS or Connie Stevens?), among several fictitious heroines of time immemorial.
Come 1962, EDDY found himself on the RCA Victor roster, although things didn’t exactly get off to a flying start when the re-vamp of old-timey `Deep In The Heart Of Texas’ failed to breech the Top 75. Better results were once again achieved across the Big Pond, when the single and an LP, TWISTIN’ ‘N’ TWANGIN’ {*5} struck Top 20 gold. In order to compensate for changing times, EDDY roped in female singing group The Rebelettes to enhance his return to fame with `(Dance With The) Guitar Man’ (lifted from the DANCE WITH THE GUITAR MAN (1963) {*6} LP), while a few months earlier, only Old Blighty seemed interested in forking out for the now-dated instrumental, TWANGY GUITAR – SILKY STRINGS (1962) {*5}.
Yet, ironically, it was to be the success of British Invasion acts such as The BEATLES – whose GEORGE HARRISON was also clearly influenced by the twang – that would finally put paid to EDDY’s 5-year chart run. While he was a spent force commercially on home-soil, his final UK Top 40 entry came in the shape of spring 1963’s `Lonely Boy, Lonely Guitar’. The Nashville-centric “TWANG” A COUNTRY SONG (1963) {*5}, the haunting DAVID GATES-penned `Blowin’ Up A Storm’ (from the LP, “TWANGIN’” UP A STORM! (1963) {*5}) and LONELY GUITAR (1964) {*4}, stood against the new craze-e surf-ups, WATER SKIING (1964) {*6}, although the plucky Duane was swimming against the tide.
From the partying DUANE A GO GO GO (1965) {*5} to the folk-pop disaster that was DUANE EDDY DOES BOB DYLAN (1965) {*4} – complete with songs not penned by the bard himself! – it was clear the guitarist’s career was “Blowin’ In The Wind”. A switch from Colpix to Reprise Records, led to more ridiculously-titled pop albums such as THE BIGGEST TWANG OF THEM ALL (1966) {*4} and THE ROARING TWANGIES (1967) {*4}, but these failed to cut the mustard both critically and commercially.
After a final brace of independent singles, EDDY took a sabbatical from the recording front, taking time out during which he produced PHIL EVERLY’s 1973 solo album, `Star Spangled Springer’. Back with The Rebelettes in 1975, Duane sealed a one-off UK Top 10 hit with `Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar’, although subsequent material for Elektra (Target in the UK) failed to make any headway.
In 1986, EDDY appeared for the first time on Top Of The Pops, alongside ZTT electro-pop types, ART OF NOISE, who’d taken his hybrid of `Peter Gunn’ into the Top 10 (US Top 50), in suitably idiosyncratic style. This encouraged Duane to record an eponymous, Capitol-endorsed comeback album, DUANE EDDY (1987) {*4}, a poor reflection of his talent though featuring the not inconsiderable production talents of PAUL McCARTNEY, JEFF LYNNE, GEORGE HARRISON and RY COODER.
Nostalgia playing a perfect tune to the soundtrack of twang-master EDDY’s life, Curb Records released yet another “comeback” set, GHOSTRIDER: GREAT GUITAR HITS (1996) {*4}, which, as one can imagine, re-workings of his best bits bookended by re-vamps of STAN JONES’ classic `(Ghost) Riders In The Sky’. While 2011’s instrumental ROAD TRIP {*5} was commendable and refreshing to know he was still alive and kicking, the storm was indeed calm and underwhelming.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2015

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