Duane Eddy

Total Guitar - - CONTENTS - Words Matt Parker / Pho­tog­ra­phy Eric Fairchild

Rock ’n’ roll Hall-of-famer Duane Edd y shifted 100 mil­lion records on the strength of his raw play­ing and pow­er­ful low-end tone. The se­cret, he tells TG , is let­ting it all hang out…

Dan Auer­bach puts it best. “The thing about Duane is that he sounds like Duane,” he told TG in 2017 af­ter first col­lab­o­rat­ing with his fel­low Nashville res­i­dent. “I mean, think about that. Think about how many fuck­ing gui­tar play­ers there are in the world. Every­body pretty much sounds the same. To be able to have your own sound is so crazy. And he did it. And he still does it.” Go lis­ten to any one of Eddy’s records and you’ll hear a gui­tarist that can carry a song by his sheer force of per­son­al­ity. Re­bel­rouser, Can­non­ball, Moovin’’n’ Groovin’, Ram­rod, his earth-shak­ing cover of Peter­gunn – or, for TG’S money, the vi­cious Stalkin’ – the list goes on… on any track you’ll hear the rib-rat­tling tone and stripped­down play­ing of his fa­mous Gretsch-pow­ered ’twangy’ low-end sound.

Be­tween 1958 and 1963 Eddy sold 12 mil­lion records, all in­stru­men­tals. Nowa­days that num­ber is over 100 mil­lion. Along the way he in­flu­enced The Bea­tles (who would hang around out­side his ho­tel when he played Liver­pool in the early 60s), made a fan of Elvis, helped in­vent surf rock and be­came a peer to the likes of Ed­die Cochran, Chet Atkins and Buddy Holly. As he cel­e­brates his 80th year with trio of rare UK gigs, we pick the brain of the man be­hind the twang…

Find your own voice…

Wher­ever it may come from

“I learned to play by play­ing along to coun­try records on the ra­dio. Be­sides lis­ten­ing to gui­tar play­ers, I lis­tened to singers. Hank Williams in par­tic­u­lar was like a men­tor in that he let it all hang out. When he sang, he just touched your heart. I sang my­self when I was a teenager, but I re­alised that I was con­tribut­ing more by play­ing than singing. Some­body asked me once, ‘What was your great con­tri­bu­tion to the mu­sic busi­ness?’ And I said, ‘Not singing!’ But when I went in to record, I knew I had to have my own sound, the same as all the coun­try singers. I could tell you which coun­try singer was about to sing, just by hear­ing the in­tro to the record, even if I’d never heard it and it was a brand new record be­cause they all had their own in­stru­men­tal style. When the singer started, sure enough, it would be some­one you knew. I’d pro­cessed all that and I thought it was quite clever, ac­tu­ally.”

Re­mem­ber the holy trin­ity

Find a way to com­mu­ni­cate

“You have to have your own sound, do it with au­thor­ity and let it all hang out. Those three things. You put the emo­tion into it and, as the coun­try artists did, you do it with au­thor­ity, whether you’re right or wrong and just lay it out there! Just be­lieve it your­self, you know? If you do that you com­mu­ni­cate with your gui­tar. That’s what all the good artists do: they com­mu­ni­cate to peo­ple. Whether you’re a singer or writer or player or ac­tor or a painter – com­mu­ni­cate. Leonardo Da Vinci com­mu­ni­cated to peo­ple, to a lot of peo­ple, with his pic­tures. Rem­brandt is an­other one. All of those fa­mous painters. That’s just a ba­sic prin­ci­ple, if you will, of art it­self. There’s a lot of great painters, a lot of great singers, a lot of great play­ers who never get heard be­cause they just don’t com­mu­ni­cate with what they’re do­ing. They’re very skil­ful but some­thing is miss­ing.”

Re­mem­ber those who are good to you

How Duane be­came a Gretsch man

“The first Gretsch I got from Ziggy’s Mu­sic Store [in Ari­zona]. It had a vi­brato on it and that’s why I wanted a new gui­tar. I had a Les Paul gold top ’54 and I wanted to do what Merle Travis did and have the vi­brato. I walked in in spring 1957 and I was look­ing at a White Fal­con on the wall, but it was al­most $800, and that was a for­tune in those days [ap­prox $7,084, al­low­ing for in­fla­tion]. Ziggy said, ‘Well, I’ve got some­thing you might like…’ He pulled this case out, opened it up and handed me this Orange 6120 Gretsch and it just nes­tled in there so sweetly and it had the nicest neck I’ve ever played. I started pack­ing up my Gib­son af­ter look­ing at this won­der­ful Gretsch and Ziggy said, ‘What are you do­ing? Don’t you want to take the Gretsch with you?’ I said, ‘Could I!?’ He said, ‘Sure. Leave the Gib­son. Take the Gretsch.’ My dad didn’t get in for a cou­ple of months to sign the pa­per work and Ziggy never said a word. He was truly the mu­si­cians’ friend. Every­body who’s played it since has com­mented on how great the neck is. Buddy Holly loved it. Chuck Berry loved it. Every­body who tried that gui­tar said, ‘Oh boy, great neck on it.’”

Keep it sim­ple, stupid ‘Less is more’ was ba­si­cally in­vented by Duane

“When I recorded with my 6120, that be­came my sound, along with a mod­i­fied amp I had in those days, with a JBL speaker and 100-watts and a Dear­mond tremolo. That was my rig. I did not use the tremolo on Moovin’’n’ Groovin’. I did use it on Re­bel­rouser and Stalk­ing and Can­non­ball. I did not use it on Ram­rod. It was just what felt right to me and sounded and recorded right. With my style, of keep­ing it sim­ple and mean­ing­ful, as I thought of it, I couldn’t play a lot of fast notes, they’d get jum­bled up. Be­cause that sound was so in your face, if you turned the highs up and make it more mel­low, you could play a lot of fast stuff and it doesn’t jum­ble up so much, but when I tried to do it with my sound, if you make one mis­take it’s glar­ing! I tried to do a fancy lick one day and Lee Ha­zle­wood my pro­ducer said, ‘Erm, you might want to come in and lis­ten to this…’ I did and it was just a jum­ble and it didn’t trans­late on my gui­tar [so I stripped it out] and it came out sound­ing bet­ter.”

Find the gap

Why Duane hit the low-end

“I de­vel­oped the style be­cause of what lit­tle record­ing I had done in Phoenix, Ari­zona. I worked on a few ses­sions and I re­alised when­ever I got to play lead or a fill that the bass notes on the gui­tar were much more pow­er­ful than the high notes. Also, on all the early rock ’n’ roll records, I was get­ting sick of the high notes go­ing ‘Dnd­nd­ndn’ and play­ing the same thing over and over again, you know? They’d do the same licks over and over, which they’d got­ten off a Bill Ha­leyrecord or Les Paul, but they weren’t as good. I wanted to sound dif­fer­ent and the bass strings were more pow­er­ful. The first record I made, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll try both.’ So I did Moovin’’n’ Groovin’, which has a high part to start with and then it goes down to the low notes – very ba­sic, very sim­ple. But that record reached out and touched a lot of play­ers in Cal­i­for­nia and The Sur­faris said that record in­spired them to start surf mu­sic. If I’d known that I’d have never done it! Bad-dum-bum! Naw, I’m kid­ding. I thought that was amaz­ing.”

Sound­track your men­tal im­agery

Can you play what you pic­ture?

“I wrote Re­bel­rouser at the [sec­ond] ses­sion. With that I had a men­tal pic­ture. I’d worked a rock ’n’ roll show, af­ter do­ing Moovin’’n’ Groovin’, for a week in LA and I re­alised it would be cool to have some­thing to get me on­stage. I could pic­ture the spot­light hit­ting me and just play­ing by my­self or walk­ing on play­ing and hav­ing the band come in. I also pic­tured a gang walk­ing to­ward

“have your own sound & do it with au­thor­ity”

me down a dark al­ley, with their knives, their switch­blades and chains. I wanted to put a bridge in it but I couldn’t fig­ure it out, so I thought, ‘Ah, to heck with that. I’ll just mo­du­late and do the same thing again!’”

Work hard. and quickly

Why you should em­brace pres­sure

“I al­ways thought that work­ing un­der pres­sure was good. That in­spires you to get it done and you take big­ger leaps, men­tally. Work­ing un­der pres­sure with time is a big help. If you’re go­ing to take time, take the time at home to write and come up with ideas, be­fore you get in the stu­dio with the cash reg­is­ter run­ning. Dan Auer­bach from The Black Keys has his own stu­dio here in Nashville and he hires mu­si­cians and records. He has the best equip­ment, a great en­gi­neer and a great stu­dio. He works very hard at get­ting the right take and he does have all the time in the world and all of the money, but he doesn’t spend all of his money on it and he doesn’t spend all of his time on it. He just goes in there and works very hard, very quickly and comes out with great records. He is con­cerned about the feel­ing on the record. That’s what we were think­ing about [back then].”

Be­ware tech...

The key to us­ing gear

“Use the tech­nol­ogy but don’t let it use you. One thing I hate is com­pres­sion. A lot of times I don’t like play­ing on other peo­ple’s records be­cause I know they’re go­ing to put com­pres­sion on my gui­tar, which de­stroys the sound of it. Phil Everly and I did a record which we haven’t re­leased. He wanted me to get it out there some day. My pro­ducer friend mixed it in a state-of-the-art stu­dio and Phil har­monised with him­self. But when I went in to lis­ten to it, it just sounded like two guys singing and one guy play­ing gui­tar... there was noth­ing dis­tinc­tive about it. I asked, ‘Have you got com­pres­sion on this?’ And they smiled and nod­ded. And I said, ‘Well can we take it all off?’ And their faces fell! ‘All of it!?’ I said, ‘Well, all of it off of Phil and all of it off of me…’ So they twid­dled the knobs and there’s Phil sound­ing like Phil and me sound­ing like me. I thought, ‘I don’t care what you do with the rest of the record – com­press your brains out – but leave us alone!’”

The charisma of the king

How Elvis con­tin­ues to in­spire

“I never con­sid­ered Elvis a peer, but he con­sid­ered the rest of us peers – and [when I met him in 1970] he told me he loved my records. He said, ‘Duane Eddy: you’re too much!’ I wish I had a video of that, be­cause he did the whole swing­ing thing with his arm and mimed the gui­tar as he said it! He was just ev­ery­thing I wanted him to be. An amaz­ing, beau­ti­ful man. He was so per­fect-look­ing, you know? He had what­ever ‘it’ was in spades. He showed me a clip­ping of a poll from Melody Maker and he said, ‘Look at this… I won it again. I’ve been num­ber one ev­ery year for 15 years!’ He was proud of that, you know? I thought: ‘I love that he ap­pre­ci­ates that peo­ple love him so much.’ I kind of feel the same… I’m still think­ing, ‘I need to play these songs like I’m play­ing them for the first time.’ I’m giv­ing it all I got, which is get­ting harder as I get older!”

“use tech­nol­ogy but don’t let it use you”

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