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The Art of Twang

As the rebel rouser celebrates his 80th birthday year, the mighty Duane Eddy talks us through his career as rock’n’roll’s twangiest guitar man

DUANE EDDY

ARETHA FRANKLIN

The Queen Of Soul, 1967. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll,” said President Obama in 2015
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

There was always an air of mystery around Duane Eddy. Like a strong, silent gun-slinger, he let his guitar do the talking on classic instrumentals like Rebel Rouser, Ramrod and Forty Miles of Bad Road.

Even in the 1980s, when Eddy wowed a new generation of fans on Top Of The Pops, backed with a crazy dance track courtesy of Art Of Noise, the tall, bearded musician cut a forbidding figure as he stood stock still with his hat pulled low and rumbled out the menacing one-chord riffs of the Peter Gunn theme.

In person, the now 80-year-old musician is as friendly and chatty as anyone could wish for. But he insists the brooding man-of-few-words act of his younger self was no pose. At the beginning of his career, it was pure shyness.

“When Rebel Rouser was a hit and I did the Alan Freed Big Beat show, five shows a day at the Fox Theatre in Brooklyn, I was so shy I wouldn’t talk to the audience. If a song needed to be announced I’d ask Steve Douglas, the sax player, ‘Would you announce the song and introduce the group?’ I was too tongue-tied to do it.

“I learned by playing along with Hank Williams and Gene Autry songs on the radio”

“I’ve gotten over that now,” the affable instrumentalist adds with a chuckle. “You can’t shut me up!”

There’s little doubt that his youthful reticence added to his brooding mystique, however.

“If you don’t say anything, people can’t peg you,” he reasons. “They have to form their own impression. It’s the same with instrumentals. There’s no lyrics to guide them, so they hear what they want to hear in them. It’s like an abstract painting. You make of it what you will.”

Discovering Melody

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