Chris Saunders "They're calling us 'avant garde'," chuckles Duane Eddy,…
Duane Eddy on Playing With Authority, Talking Tech With Elvis and Letting the Beach Boys Steal His Twang
- Posted on Feb 28th 2012 4:15PM by Chris Epting
Kevin Winter, WireImage
With his neatly trimmed beard and gentle country manner, he cuts a romantic, old-time figure, like some charming character from another age.
Then he sits down on a couch, picks up an orange Gretsch hollow-body guitar and starts to play -- or rather starts to twang. And from the first familiar note, like an old mysterious friend in the night, you know who it is.
Duane Eddy, one of the most iconic guitar players in history. Since his first album, 1958's 'Have 'Twangy' Guitar Will Travel,' Eddy has cut a rich musical swath with his axe. He's done so on the strength of rich, bottom-heavy melodies that have beguiled fans (and other players) for generations.
He was in Southern California recently for an appearance at the nearby National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention, and Spinner had the pleasure of visiting with him -- and hearing him play, right before our eyes. Over the years, he has amassed many awards, from Grammys to his 1994 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for an Arizona picker that grew up idolizing Roy Rogers and especially Gene Autry.
"Those guys did it for me, but Gene Autry, man," Eddy says with a smile. "What a pioneer. I'd see his movies. I'd study his playing. I only knew about three chords back then. As I'd soon learn, to stand out, I'd need to do three things: play with authority, have my own style and most importantly, let it all hang out."
So that's what he did. Noticing that all of the pop songs of the day lived in the land of upbeat, higher registers, Eddy turned his attention to the bass strings on his guitar, mining a deep, dark, mysterious tone that ended up serving him well. He says those strings and that brooding texture they produced was something he fell in love with.
In 1958, he released his first single, 'Movin' 'N' Groovin,' the tune that many music scholars cite as the first true example of "surf music" -- perhaps because the Beach Boys copped the opening lick in their tune 'Surfin' Safari.'
"Yeah, they used it," Eddy says with a shrugs and a chuckle, "and I never cared. That's just music, sharing little bits of melody and all, no big deal. You know, Bobby Darin asked me about using the title, Movin' 'N' Groovin', in his song 'Splish Splash.' No problem, I told him."
That first single made to No. 70 on the charts ("With an anchor, not a bullet," Eddy says with a grin), but it was successful enough that the record company wanted more. What they got a few months later was 'Rebel Rouser,' which sold more than three million copies.
Noodling on his guitar, Eddy remarks quietly, to himself, "The rest is history, as they say."
And what a history.
In the 1960s, Eddy also acted in films and on TV, but it was the music he was mainly known for. There were more iconic hits, including 'Peter Gunn,' 'Cannonball' and 'Ring of Fire.' There was 'The Ballad of Palladin,' 'Caravan' and 'Because They're Young,' to name just a few.
In 1986, Eddy recorded with the group Art of Noise, retooling his version of 'Peter Gunn.' It became a top ten hit around the world won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental of 1986. It also made Eddy the only instrumentalist to have had top ten hit singles in four different decades in Great Britain.
The next year, he was joined on record by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and John Fogerty, among many other artists that admired him. And who can forget 'Rebel Rouser' being featured in 'Forrest Gump?'
Today, he's busier than ever. He has an atmospheric new album out called 'Road Trip' (available on iTunes), and he starts a big U.K. tour this May. Also, his original Gretsch guitar is on loan at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, as is the first three-track machine he recorded on.
As far as why and how he has endured this long, Eddy says he considers his guitar to be his trademark "voice," and that he approaches his playing the way a singer approaches their instrument. He also has fun talking about how technology has changed over the years.
"Elvis asked me once if I liked stereo," Eddy says. "I told him yes. He said, 'I still like mono, because it just comes out of the speaker and just hits you in the chest. It's more powerful.' For AM radio, he's probably right, but I still prefer stereo, because I can picture the whole band standing there. I equate the changes in recording to the history of flight. One day, it's the Wright Brothers; soon after, we're landing on the moon. It happens that fast."
Things may happen fast, but this slow-and-steady guitar slinger has a way of slowing time down when he plays, taking one back to another time and place, to the birth of the twang.