Born Duane Jerome Eddy, 26 April 1938, Corning, New York State
Guitarist Duane Eddy was the first instrumentalist to become a rock n roll star. He must have influenced thousands of kids to pick up the guitar. Not only was he the most influential solo instrumentalist in the rock n roll field, he was also the most successful, with combined sales in excess of 100 million records.
Born in upstate New York as the eldest of three children, Duane started playing guitar at the age of five. In 1951 the Eddy family moved to Tucson, Arizona, and one year later to Coolidge, Arizona, where Duane's father opened a grocery store. In 1954 Duane met Lee Hazlewood (1929-2007), a local deejay who would soon start writing and producing songs. The two became good friends and Duane's interest in the guitar became stronger. The next year Duane teamed up with Jimmy Delbridge, who would later become an RCA recording artist under the name of Jimmy Dell. They performed at local dances in the Coolidge and Phoenix area. As Jimmy & Duane they cut the single "Soda Fountain Girl"/"I Want Some Lovin' Baby" (1955), two old-fashioned hillbilly numbers, produced by Lee Hazlewood and pressed for the non-label of "Eb X. Preston" (named after Hazlewood's radio alter ego).
Until then Duane had mainly been raised on country music, both in New York and Arizona, and played in a Chet Atkins-ish fingerpicking style. Hazlewood encouraged him to try a different sound on the guitar and together they began developing what has become known as the "twang" sound : playing lead on the guitar's bass strings, to produce a low reverberant sound. This technique was employed (and already fully developed) on Duane's first solo session, held in November 1957, at Ramsey Recorders in Phoenix, Arizona, Hazlewood's favourite studio. The result was "Moovin' n' Groovin'" (the first of many Eddy-Hazlewood compositions), the intro of which was copped from Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man". It was a BIG sound, but would have been a very monotonous record if Hazlewood had not overdubbed the sax of Plas Johnson. At that time, "Raunchy" was the first big instrumental rock 'n' roll hit ("Honky Tonk" was more R&B than R&R) and both Hazlewood and Eddy thought guitar and sax was a cool combination. But their attempts to find a label for the recording proved more difficult than they had expected. Eventually, it was picked up by the Jamie label in Philadelphia in early '58. "Moovin' n' Groovin'" - credited to 'Duane Eddy and His Twangy Guitar' - was a minor hit, peaking at # 72. The fact that Dick Clark, host of American Bandstand, owned 25 percent of Jamie (until the payola scandal, at least) would prove to be very helpful for Duane's TV exposure.
The follow-up, recorded in March 1958, was "Rebel Rouser"/"Stalkin'" (again with an overdubbed sax, this time Gil Bernal) and gave Duane his first big hit : # 6. By this time Hazlewood had more or less perfected his production style, which included the use of a water storage tank, applied as an echo chamber. Also, "Rebel Rouser" was the first Duane Eddy record to feature the "rebel yells" and handclaps of The Sharps, which became a typical and essential ingredient of his future recordings.
A backup band (The Rebels) had to be formed for personal appearances. Several of the members were recruited from Kip Tyler and the Flips (Steve Douglas on sax, Larry Knechtel on piano and Mike Bermani on drums). Other hits in 1958-59 : "Ramrod" (# 27), "Cannonball" (# 15), "The Lonely One" (# 23, melody 'borrowed' from Jack Scott's "My True Love"), "Yep!" (# 30), "Forty Miles Of Bad Road" (# 9) and "Some Kind-A Earthquake" (# 37). The latter is the shortest record (1:17) to ever chart in the US Top 40. British Decca rectified the problem by repeating the middle section for the UK London single. Duane himself was unapologetic about the single's lenghth : "One minute 17 seconds was enough for that record. We said all we had to say, ripped right on through it. Done!", he told Dan Forte. In the UK, Duane was at least as successful as in his own country, though his biggest hit there (up to 1959) was a track that initially wasn't even released as a single in the USA : "Peter Gunn" (# 6), with a prominent role for sax man Steve Douglas, who would quit Duane in the middle of the sessions for his second LP, "Especially For You". Duane's first album, "Have Twangy Guitar, Will Travel", peaked at # 5 on the album charts during an 82-week run, a rare achievement for a rock n roll longplayer.
1960 was another good year. Duane stole the show during a UK tour with Bobby Darin, Clyde McPhatter and Emile Ford. Readers of the UK music paper NME (New Musical Express) voted him 'World's Number One Musical Personality', ousting Elvis Presley. The film theme "Because They're Young" became the biggest hit of his career (# 4 US, # 2 UK). Duane played a Danelectro six-string bass on the track, which was sweetened by strings. He had a cameo role in the film, performing both "Shazam!" and "Because They 're Young". In June 1960 Duane had a falling-out with Lee Hazlewood and his co-producer, Lester Sill. Until the end of his Jamie contract in late 1961, Duane produced his own singles and albums. His records still charted, but the peak positions started getting lower and lower. The twangy sound began to lose momentum.
His relationship with Jamie was now at a low ebb. When it became clear that he would leave the label, offers flooded in from at least four big companies. Duane and his managers negotiated a three-year contract with RCA, which came into effect on January 1st, 1962. On February 3, Duane Eddy married 18-year old Mirriam Johnson (the later recording star Jessi Colter) and after a brief honeymoon he went straight to L.A. to record his debut LP for RCA, "Twistin' 'n' Twangin'". The first session, on February 15, was little short of disastrous and was aborted. Al Schmitt, an engineer who had recently taken on the role of producer, was used to working with session men who breezed through three or four sides in the allotted three hours. The Hazlewood-Eddy team sometimes took a whole day or more for one track (making good use of the fact that there was no local musicians union in Phoenix). A few weeks earlier, Duane had met Hazlewood, who had said "I'd like to work with you again. If you ever need me, give me a call." On February 19, Lee Hazlewood was reunited with Duane in Hollywood's RCA studio, relegating Al Schmitt to the role of engineer. There were many sessions in 1962 (four albums and three singles), all produced by Hazlewood. The third RCA single, "(Dance With the) Guitar Man", returned Duane to the Top 20 (# 12 US, # 4 UK). It featured a girl group, billed as the Rebelettes, who were in fact Darlene Love and her Blossoms. Inevitably, the next three singles followed the same pattern, with female vocals. Predictably, the law of diminishing (chart) returns set in. After these Rebelettes singles, only one other Duane Eddy record would chart in the USA (until 1986) : "The Son Of Rebel Rouser" (# 97, early 1964, coupled with the beautiful "Story Of Three Loves" by Rachmaninoff). Then came Beatlemania...
During 1965-66 Duane recorded for Colpix (two albums) and in 1966-67 for Reprise (also two albums), with Lee Hazlewood back in the producer's chair. Then, for some years, he concentrated his efforts overseas with "Tokyo Hits" (released only in Japan) and "Guitar Man", released on England's GTO label in 1975. The latter spawned a hit single in the UK (# 9), his first since 1963 : "Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar", featuring a new (British) incarnation of the Rebelettes. But GTO had no distribution in the USA. In 1986, the oddest collaboration in which Duane had participated thus far came when he recreated his "Peter Gunn" riff with English techno-rockers The Art Of Noise. A surprise international hit was the result (# 6 UK, # 9 Australia, # 11 Germany, # 50 USA, for example). British artists also played a major role on Duane's self-titled album from 1987 (Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and others). His most recent CD is "Road Trip" (2011), again recorded in England and released on the UK Mad Monkey label.
Duane has received many awards over the years, too many to mention. In 1994 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
More info :
Recommended listening :
There are countless "Best Of'/"Greatest Hits" compilations. For instance :
Acknowledgements : especially Rob Finnis, John P. Dixon, Dan Forte, Colin Escott (liner notes for "That Classic Twang", Bear Family BCD 15702).
Discography / sessionography (by Frank Frantik aka Praguefrank) :
Dik, August 2013
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