Living guitar legend Duane Eddy will give his loyal fans in the UK a rare treat in the Autumn, when he comes over to do three final shows here. His first visit for six years.
Music Republic Magazine Editor Simon Redley spoke to The Guitar Man about his amazing career – including memories of previous trips to these shores – which began almost 60 years ago.
The biggest selling instrumentalist of all time, and one of the most influential guitarists of a lifetime; Duane Eddy has definitely earned the title “legend”. You can happily add “Living” to that title. At 80-years-old, he’s still with us and still working. Due here to the UK in October for a date at the iconic Palladium and two other stops on his final UK tour.
The man who helped to invent the twang sound you hear on country records every day. In the 1950s, he came up with a technique of playing lead on his guitar’s bass strings to produce his trademark, reverberant “twangy” sound. His big hits include “Rebel Rouser”, “Peter Gunn”, “Because They’re Young”, “Shazam” and “(Dance With The) Guitar Man”.
Here’s a tiny snapshot of some of his achievements to date:
- Number One World Musical Personality in the NME Poll (UK: 1960)
- Grammy Winner – Best Rock Instrumental – “Peter Gunn” (1986)
- Grammy Nomination – Best Country Instrumental – (Doc Watson album) (1992)
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Member (1994)
- Rockwalk Induction (1997)
- Presented with “Chetty” award by Chet Atkins (2000)
- Guitar Player Magazine Legend Award (2004)
- Musicians Hall of Fame Member (2008)
- Mojo Icon Award (UK: 2010)
- Lifetime Achievement Award from Americana Music Association.
His first single was released in 1955 and his debut album in 1958, the first of more than 34 albums. Duane was born in Corning, New York. In 1951, his family moved to Tucson, and then to Coolidge, Arizona. He and his wife have lived in Franklin near Nashville for almost 33 years.
Calling Duane at his Tennessee home, I open up by wishing him a belated happy birthday, from April of this year. Does he feel 80? “No and I can’t believe it’s me when I say it; that I am that old, you know”. He laughs. “I think that’s not me, that’s not my vision of myself; of being 80 years old”.
Duane plays London, Glasgow and Manchester in October. He has played at the Palladium a couple of times on tours since his first trip here in 1960, and he remembers it as a “very beautiful theatre”. He was last here in 2012, for shows, including a triumphant appearance at Glastonbury festival.
Back in 2011, he made a record in Sheffield, “Roadtrip”, with chart star Richard Hawley and his band. That was his last release. He met Richard at the Mojo awards and they hit it off and spoke about working together.
Working with the former Pulp member Richard, gave Duane a resurgence of interest in him from a younger audience. Not the first time he had been given the opportunity to re-invent himself and appeal to a new audience.
In 1986, Eddy recorded with Art of Noise, remaking his 1960 version of Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn”. The song was a Top Ten hit around the world. It reached number eight in the UK. It won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental of 1986, and gave him the distinction of being the only instrumentalist to have had Top 10 hit singles in four different decades, in the UK.
As a reflection of the esteem he is held in by his peers, the following year, Duane Eddy was released on Capitol and several of the tracks were produced by Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Ry Cooder, and Art of Noise. Guests included George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ry Cooder, James Burton, David Lindley, Phil Pickett, Steve Cropper, John Fogerty, and original Rebels, Larry Knechtel and Jim Horn.
Duane is “dear friends” with Richard Hawley and his family now and loves to stay in Sheffield. He has his favourite hotel and his favourite pub, where he sits in with local musicians and plays guitar. Duane and Richard were emailing each other a few days before I spoke to Duane, he says, and he tells me that his pal will be singing a few songs on the three shows in October.
Richard’s band are backing Duane. The shows are billed as his farewell to the UK. But our chat turns to his very first visit here, almost 60 years ago. Duane has vivid memories of believing the UK audience didn’t like his music at first.
He was here then on a Leslie Grade package tour with Bobby Darin topping the bill, and Emile Ford and the Checkmates, Clyde McPhatter and Bob Miller and the Millermen also on the show. Duane tells me of the incredible day that Bobby Darin locked himself in his dressing room, refused to let anyone in and was weeping because Duane and his band had seemingly stolen the show.
“March 1960. We got off the ‘plane at Heathrow and it was so exciting. There stood London taxis, and everything looked just like the movies we had seen. It was just like a movie set as we drove into London. We were just knocked out.
“We Want Duane, We Want Duane”…
“We did our first show and we were half way through, thinking it was a disaster. Jim Horn on sax, sidled over to me during a song, and out of the corner of his mouth he said, I don’t think they like us. I said yeah, looks like it is gonna be a long night. They just did polite applause at the end of each song and not for very long. That happened all through the show.
“I even played Greensleeves, thinking maybe they’ll like some old English song. Maybe they want something they recognise. It was the only thing I knew which I thought was from there. Greensleeves. I’d never played it before.
“We got to the end of the show and the curtain dropped, we breathed a sigh of relief and then all hell broke loose. They started stomping their feet, clapping their hands, yelling, chanting: ‘We want Duane, we want Duane’. Someone pushed me out between the curtains, and a guy pulled me by my belt and pulled me back. Then made me go back out, three times.
“I said why are you doing this? He said, the more bows you take, the bigger success the show is. I said well that’s phoney, I have got to be honest. Next time I went out, I moved forward so he couldn’t reach me. I bowed and waved to everybody. But I went back one more time.
“Next day, Disc magazine ran the headline: ‘Eddy Hit Of Derin Show’. Bobby went on after me and it took him 10 minutes to get the audience. Then people settled down and listened. That chant followed me throughout the whole tour. They held me over in Liverpool for an extra week or 10 days. Bobby and Clyde McPhatter went back home. Des O’Connor came in as compere, plus Kathy Kirby and Frank Ifield.
“That first night, Bobby was very upset. We did two shows a night. Between the shows, he locked himself in the dressing room, and his manager was upset because he wouldn’t let him in.
“My producer Lee Hazelwood was with me doing the sound on the tour, and he said, Bobby won’t let anybody in. Will you try? I knocked on the door, I said, Bobby it’s Duane. He says, just a minute. Unlocks the door, I walk in and he locks it again behind me.
Bobby Darin Locked In His Room And He’s Crying!
“He’d been crying. He said, I thought they liked me here. I said they do Bobby.It’s just like Lee tried to tell his manager on the way over; you might want to let Duane close the show, because Duane’s had more chart records than Bobby, he’s had more hits.
“Manager says, oh no, Bobby is legitimate now because of Mack the Knife and Beyond The Sea. Rock and Roll in those days was not considered legitimate music, but the big band stuff, Frank Sinatra; those were legit. The Tin Pan Alley stuff.
“They learned the hard way, but for the second show, I told Bobby it had already been sorted out. They’d have me close the first half, then Clyde come out and then you close the second half. I said, that should make everything OK. He said, I suppose it will help, but I just don’t know if they like me.
“I said, you’ll see next show. He said what about when we get home, the publicity is going to be terrible. I said no, how are they gonna hear about it at home? They don’t pay any attention to the shows here. He said well, they will this time. Your publicity guy will make a meal out of it. I said, what publicity guy? I don’t have a publicity guy. You think the record company is spending money on that, on me. No way.
“He calmed down, unlocked the door and let everyone in after a while. The second show went just like I predicted, and they just loved him to death. He left the stage with them just loving him, applauding and yelling and clapping. He was a happy camper”.
Duane explains why he thinks those shows were so successful on that tour. “Because the sound was so much like the records. A friend told me later, that’s why we applauded very quickly, because we wanted to hear more, right now and didn’t want to waste any time with the applause: Yep we heard it, what’s next?
“That was a big relief and I told the guys. Did pretty much same thing every show, because they had never heard a live group reflect the records so accurately. I brought my own amp and guitar. Got a transformer so I could plug it in. Lee up there with the sound guy to tell them what to do”.
More Popular Than Elvis & Sinatra!
The same year as that first UK tour, Duane was stunned to see he had been voted “World’s Number One Musical Personality” by readers of the New Musical Express. “It blew my mind, let me tell you that. It was amazing. There was me, Elvis was number two and Frank Sinatra was number three. I thought, this is unreal. Am I dreaming? How did this happen? I guess it was right after people had seen the first shows of that tour”.
Just three years later, by 1963, Duane Eddy had sold a staggering 12 million records. But today, it is well over 100 million units. He charted 15 Top 40 singles from 1958 through 1963.
He won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental, Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist from The Americana Music Association and was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
So, what was the strangest thing about it for you, when you first came here to the UK? “One thing I noted that was very different, was 15-year old boys working at the hotels. They all had regular jobs. They didn’t do that in America, you had to be 18 to work. And the accents; which we all love”.
How do the labels “legendary”, “pioneer” and “living legend” sit with Duane? “Er, well; I figure that, and five or six dollars will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks!” I thought Americans were not supposed to do sarcasm or irony?
Being the most successful instrumentalist in rock history, I wondered if the size of his fame and success had added any pressure on Duane’s shoulders over the years, to live up to that stature? “I never thought if it that way. I never worried about living up to it. I did what I did; made my statement as they say. I had my success. I had hits in the 70s and 80s. I won a Grammy…”
On the thousands who turned up to see him perform at Glastonbury six years ago? “I couldn’t believe it. All those people. We had the luck of the Irish, as they say. As it had rained for three days, it was a mud pit. “But the day we got there, the rain stopped, the sun came out, the mud dried up for the most part, and it was about 100 degrees. Very warm. To see all those thousands there was wonderful”.
A contrast then, to the nights this legend sits in a small back room of a pub in Sheffield, with amateur players and singers and joins in on guitar. He loves Sheffield and its people. Sincerely. “I love the people there. They made me feel at home. I’d walk into the hotel after I’d been there one year and came back the next year, and the concierge says, welcome home Mr and Mrs Eddy. It was lovely and gave me goose-bumps and warmed my heart”.
“Richard has his favourite pub; Fagins, downtown. Tom and Barbara run it. We like to go there; a short walk from the hotel we like to stay in. They have music there. In the back room, full of tables and chairs. They have music on many nights; different types. Folk, bluegrass, Irish music. Tom sings. His daughter also has a beautiful voice.
Playing Guitar In A Pub In Sheffield!
“Richard and I go in there and they hand us a guitar. Richard will sing a blues and I’ll play along. I like to play to the country and bluegrass. They know I am in there, believe me. I have met all the regulars. They ask me; wanna play? I say, oh yeah and sit down with everybody else, we sit all around the room and play. It is wonderful…”
A contrast then to his most recent gig, back in the US, when Duane joined Jerry Lee Lewis and The Stray Cats to headline a rockabilly festival in Las Vegas to more 25,000 fans. But when he is over here, he likes nothing more than to get in a car with his wife and explore the Derbyshire countryside, and stop off for a pub meal.
“It’s like a dream there. We drive the long road out of Sheffield towards Derbyshire and you get to the top where the moors are, and cut down through a canyon, to Bakewell. I had the most beautiful tart there; the best thing I ever had in my mouth”.
I politely explain to this guitar icon that if you are from Bakewell, they don’t call them tarts. Because they are not. They are Bakewell puddings. A different animal to the manufactured tarts in cardboard boxes on the supermarket shelves. He recalls one particular spot on the UK map, more than others. “I have driven over Snake Pass. That was a little hairy!”
Looking back, after learning to play the guitar at the age of five, he cannot have ever imagined that a career as a guitarist recording instrumentals, would last for seven decades. What is the key to that long-term career at the top, Duane?
“I don’t know. I guess it is because I don’t have any other talents and skills, and I had to do it to make a living. I just enjoy doing it and I’ve been lucky”. That’s the funny thing about luck, they say. The harder you work, the luckier you get!
Standard question from me next, “Best moments of your career?” – and one which usually prompts the same initial response from most artists I have interviewed across four decades in this job. “There has been many…”
Duane kicks off with his with meeting Ol’ Blue Eyes. “I got to meet Frank Sinatra, and spend Nancy’s birthday with her and her whole family in 1975. I got to know her when I was working with Jimmy Bowen and he was producing her, and she invited us to her birthday party.
“In a big hotel, in a private room. This guy walks up and there is Frank Sinatra. ‘Hi Duane, nice to meet you’. Oh, he was a sweetheart of a man, I just love him.
“Sammy Davis Had 15 Of My Albums – That Doesn’t Compute!
“I met all the Rat Pack. I was at a recording session with Dean Martin and I talked to him between songs. I got to go to Sammy Davis’ house to listen to his new album that Jimmy Bowen had mixed. We walk in and Jimmy introduced me, and Sammy says, I got your records. That doesn’t compute!
“We listen to the new record and in a couple of moments on the tracks, he did something and I just looked at him and said ‘yeahhh’. He looked back at me and grinned. He knew it was great.
“He says Duane, come with me. We walk in through this door to the next room, and there’s racks of albums. Sammy goes down to the E’s and he said, ‘You thought I was kidding you, didn’t you?’ I said well, I kind of assumed you were just being polite, and he said look and there was about 15 albums of mine. Not all pristine either; he had listened to them a lot”.
If Duane is asked to choose one track as his favourite from the many he has recorded over the years, he is quick to say Rebel Rouser. “I’m loyal, so I have to say Rebel Rouser. I’ve been a rebel since I was 15!”
He is working on his autobiography, after securing a deal with a New York agent and editor. He wrote a sample chapter and the idea of a ghost writer was scrapped, when the editor told him, “You can write!”
Duane reveals he has a few albums of material part recorded and hopes to bring out a new record next year. When his last record “Roadtrip” came out, his record label EMI, started a Duane Eddy Facebook page, which Duane took over. He personally answers fans’ questions on there.
He plays guitar every day. When he has has gigs coming up, his son Chris comes over and sets up his drum kit in Duane’s living room, and they go through the set together for two or three days, until it becomes “second nature”.
“It nestled in my arms like it was born to be there”
When you have a private audience with The Guitar Man, it would be remiss not to bring the conversation around to his work tools. I wanted to know what his relationship is with his guitars and how it all began with his first axe.
“I bought my first one in a hardware store in Coolidge Arizona for $75. It was a 1954 Les Paul Gold Top. It was on a rack with a Kay acoustic guitar. I thought, I got to have an electric guitar. So, I bought that. A guy in town made orange crate amps and I used that until 57, when I bought a new Magnatone and had it modified; made more powerful, changed the two speakers to one 15-inch JBL and a Tweeter.
“I was in a music store in 57 (he would have been around 19) and I wasn’t really looking for a guitar, and I saw a white Falcon, tried it, and the neck was real big on it. A beautiful guitar, but too expensive.
“I said, I don’t care for the neck on it. The guy pulled out a case and said here’s something you might like. An orange 6120 Gretsch Chet Atkins model. It just nestled in my arms like it was born to be there. Had the sweetest neck I had ever played. Everybody has commented on it.
Buddy Holly tried it out one day…
“Buddy Holly tried it out one day and he said, man, I sure like the neck on this guitar. Larry Carlton tried it and said, you know, I believe I am faster on this one. He said, can you make me a guitar like that one, to his friend Mike McGuire who was his Luthier. Mike says, sure. He took measurements off my guitar to make him a neck like that.
“That was the guitar I had until 1962, when my manager made a deal with Guild guitars, who wanted to make a signature guitar. I got a percentage of it. I used it in pictures and on the road. But the factory caught fire and burned down with all the records in it, and so I never did get paid”.
Duane Eddy was the first rock and roll guitarist to have a signature model guitar. Guild Guitars introduced the Duane Eddy Models DE-400 and the deluxe DE-500 in 1961. Gretsch Guitars began production of the Duane Eddy Signature Model, the Gretsch 6120-DE, in 1997.
Gibson’s Custom Art and Historic Division introduced the Duane Eddy Signature Gibson guitar in 2004. In 2011, the Gretsch G6120DE Duane Eddy Signature model was unveiled.
“I traded in the 57 Les Paul for the Chet Atkins. Had it in my trunk, or boot as you call it over there. They gave me $65 for it and I had played it for three years and only paid $75 for it, so I thought that was a pretty good deal.
“So, I had that guitar for three years for $10. I said, my Dad won’t be in town for a couple of weeks, and he has to co-sign. I was 19 and you had to be 21 to get credit. He said that’s OK. I packed up my Gibson and I was walking out and he said, where are you going? I said, I got to get ready to go to work.
“He says, don’t you wanna take the Gretsch with you? I said, could I? He said yeah, your Dad can sign when he is in town. It was two months before he got up there. I kept saying, he’s coming, he’s coming”, Duane laughs at that thought.
Duane’s beloved Gretsch guitar is in the musical instrument museum in Scotsdale Arizona. Donated by Duane. He is an endorsee of Gretsch today and they make the Duane Eddy signature model. It must have been a hard decision to make, to let that guitar go after all those years.
“I let them have it, rather than take a chance with this quite valuable guitar on the road, which has a pretty good pedigree. I used it on every recording I’d done up until ‘Roadtrip’. It’s getting old; you had to turn the amp up a little louder, but it still plays great”.
Unlike many guitarists, such as BB King who named his guitar Lucille, Duane says he never named one single instrument he owned. He does keep them safe and takes his guitars to his hotel room when on tour and doesn’t allow anyone else to carry them. “I don’t have roadies carry my guitars. They can carry my amps all they want. The two guitars, I take with me”.
The Hottest Guitar In Scotland!
But there was one time he loaned a guitar to a member of his band on a UK tour back in the 1960s, and that was a costly mistake. “I was in Inverness in Scotland, working a show and the guy wanted to borrow my Guild guitar. He borrowed the guitar, and someone took it from where he was staying. He called me, frantically saying someone stole the guitar.
“I called the police, and they were very embarrassed my guitar had been stolen in their town. They said, don’t worry, we will get it back for you. They said they’d recover it. ‘We will find it Mr Eddy’.
“They put the word out to the criminal community, that if you bring it back and leave it at the parking lot at the hotel – they designated a spot – just leave it there and go away, and nothing will be done.
“If you don’t, we are gonna turn this city upside down until we find that guitar. What do you know? It appeared in the parking lot an hour or two later. A Guild signature model. Bless the hearts of the police up there. Duane Eddy wasn’t gonna lose his guitar on their watch!”
He only owns four guitars today. But he lost 33 instruments in a terrible flood in Nashville in 2010. “I had about 35 back then. But the great flood wiped out ‘Soundcheck’ where everybody stored their instruments. I was out of town quite a bit that year and didn’t want to leave them at my house.
“But that flood ruined everything. I lost 33 guitars in that flood. Vince Gill lost a couple of hundred. Peter Frampton lost all his electronic equipment, and several great guitars too. Luckily in 2010, I had my original 57 Gretsch here at home”.
I love this final anecdote, about how Duane and his producer Lee Hazelwood re-created his signature deep and resonant twangy sound on a record they were making in 1957. When the studio they were using didn’t have the bit of kit they needed. The instrumental, “Movin’ n’ Groovin'”, co-written by Eddy and Hazlewood.
The Phoenix studio had no echo chamber. Bad news. The good news; they went out and bought a 2,000-gallon (7570-litre) water storage tank, and used that as an echo chamber to accentuate the “twangy” guitar sound.
The true definition of creative / innovative? A bit like Duane Eddy and his unique sound maybe? A case of: It don’t mean a thang, if it ain’t got that twang!
By Simon Redley
Duane Eddy with support from Robert Vincent – Final UK shows:
- Tuesday 23rd October London, Palladium
- Sunday 28th October Glasgow, King’s Theatre
- Tuesday 30th October Manchester, Bridgewater Hall
Tickets available from: https://www.AXS.com
By Simon Redley