Duane was born in Corning in far upstate New York, 150 miles from the Canadian border. He grew up there and in other small upstate New York towns like Bath and Penn Yan.
There was a surprisingly good market for country music in the north country, and several of the southern Saturday night radio jamborees, like the Opry and the WWVA Wheeling, West Virginia Jamboree, could be picked up there loud and clear.
Duane’s father showed him a few chords on a guitar laying around the house, and Duane got his first guitar, a Kay, and a lap steel guitar by the time he was nine.
He was on local radio in upstate New York before the Eddy family moved to Arizona in 1951 when Duane was 13. His father set himself up in a grocery business there.
Duane formed a band that played around Coolidge, Arizona, south-east of Phoenix. According to some accounts, they were heard by Lee Hazlewood, then a deejay in Coolidge; according to other accounts, Duane was hanging around the station where Hazlewood worked, even babysat for Hazlewood before they ever struck up a professional relationship.
Regardless, the affiliation with Hazlewood was the critical one in Duane Eddy’s career. Hazlewood got Duane and his group a fairly steady date at the Madison Square Garden in Phoenix, and another gig playing the hillbilly hits of the hour on the local ABC-TV affiliate.
In 1956 Lee Hazlewood and Al Casey worked on Sanford Clark’s The Fool, which became a hit around the time Duane left high school. It’s generally reckoned that Duane can be heard playing rhythm guitar on some of the ill-fated follow-ups to The Fool like Lou Be Doo/Love Charms.
What’s certain is that the success of Sanford Clark helped Hazlewood to assemble a cast of pickers and studio people who were in place by the time Duane Eddy was ready to break.
Duane started recording with Hazlewood in 1957 and even had a record or two released on minuscule labels. These were records designed to be pressed up in minuscule quantities, then sent out to major labels with a note saying, “This is breaking big in Wichita,” hoping someone would take the bait.
There were no takers, though, until the newly formed Jamie label in Philadelphia had its arm twisted into picking up Movin’ and Groovin’ at the tail end of 1957.
Dot, which had licensed The Fool, passed on Movin’ and Groovin’ but Hazlewood’s partner, Lester Sill (who had once worked for the Biharis at Modern Records) had a more-or-less silent involvement in Jamie Records. The label had been set up by Harold Lipsius and Harry Finfer to capitalise on the talent flooding into and out of Philadelphia in the wake of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
So Duane was on Jamie, and Movin’ and Groovin’ was, to all intents and purposes, his first record. Taking a cue from Bill Justis’s Raunchy, Hazlewood took the master to Los Angeles and overdubbed a saxophonist to get the essential rock ‘n’ roll instrumental front-line attack: guitar, sax and drums.
As much as Movin’ and Groovin’ defined Duane Eddy’s sound, it also defined Lee Hazlewood’s production style. Like most of Sanford Clark’s records, the majority of Duane’s tracks were cut at Floyd Ramsey’s Audio Recorders at 3703 N. Seventh St. in Phoenix, where the engineer was Jack Miller.
Hazlewood and Miller threw the studio handbook out of the window and cut Duane and his little combo very hot – the levels were about high as they could be without creating distortion on the tape.
Using his DJ training, Hazlewood mixed and mastered with AM radio in mind. He wanted Movin’ and Groovin’ to demand attention on the radio – and it did. Enough attention to get it up to #72 on Billboard, anyway.
By the time they cut Rebel Rouser in early 1958, Duane had more-or-less perfected his sound. To fill out the bottom end, he used two basses; one electric, one acoustic. The electric bass was played by Buddy Wheeler, who had been a steel guitarist before rock ‘n’ roll hit.
Wheeler had built his own amp, a very powerful one, and when he ran the electric bass into it, it gave a percussive ‘click’. Wheeler also modified a Magnatone amp for Duane.
Duane had an idiosyncratic guitar style based almost exclusively on the lower strings, which soon established him as ‘the king of the twangy guitar’.
Rebel Rouser was written and arranged on the studio floor. The image Duane said he had in his mind was of a gang walking down an alley towards him. Just as Duane had copped the intro to Movin’ and Groovin’ from Chuck Berry‘s Brown Eyed Handsome Man, so he loosely adapted Rebel Rouser from the old folk song, Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet, that he had once heard on a Tennessee Ernie Ford album.
To beat the monotony of playing the same theme over, Duane changes key twice, which was unusual on a rock ‘n’ roll record then.
The reverb on Rebel Rouser came from slapback tape echo as well as a secret weapon – Hazlewood and Ramsey had found a 2100 gallon water tank with good natural echo, and moved it into the studio parking lot.
Then, as engineer Jack Miller recalled, ‘”we took the signal from the board (after the EQ and limiting), fed that to a secondary Amphonal mixer, to the ten watt PA amp that fed the speaker in the tank (an eight-inch Di-cone Lansing). The mike in the tank picked up the signal and brought it back to another pre-amp to bring it back up to line level, and we mixed that into the board. We added more water tank to the slapback than we did to the original, so the original had a cleaner pop.”
One result was that low E on Duane’s guitar sounds a full octave lower. It was a huge sound, made huger yet by the DeArmond tremolo box that Duane had fitted to his amp.
As he had with Movin’ and Groovin’, Hazlewood took the tape of Rebel Rouser to Los Angeles and hired Gil Bernal, who had worked a lot of sessions for the Spark label (owned by Lester Sill and Leiber-Stoller) to do the sax overdub. He also hired a vocal group to add some rebel yells.
Initially, Rebel Rouser was seen as the B-side, but the story goes that Dick Clark ran out of records at a record hop, flipped Stalkin’, and found Rebel Rouser. The kids came up asking what it was, and Clark told Jamie to start promoting the flip side. True or not, Rebel Rouser moved up to #6 in Billboard.
Duane put a band together and hit the road on personal appearances, usually as part of package shows. The package show was ideal because Duane didn’t yet have a full show of his own worked up, and didn’t even have that many tunes in his repertoire.
One melody that he had been fooling with for a couple of years was Al Casey’s Ramrod. The story goes that Duane played it live as a closer on Dick Clark’s networked Saturday night ABC-TV show, done on location from Miami the week that Duane appeared.
Within a week, Hazlewood had Ramrod ready. He dug out Duane’s old demo that he had issued on the Ford label hoping to attract some interest. Then he overdubbed a sax and sped it up. Short a flip side, he used an Al Casey recording, She Gotta Shake, that he retitled The Walker. It was a noticeably inferior record, technologically and instrumentally, but it got up to #27 and kept the pot boiling for Cannonball, released later in 1958.
Cannonball was a studio jam based worked up from the Bo Diddley lick. For the first time, the sax player was working in the studio. It was Steve Douglas, rescued from premature obscurity in Kip Tyler’s Flips.
Duane had wanted to follow Ramrod with a ballad, and he already had The Lonely One recorded, but Dick Clark had insisted that they go with another rocker, so Cannonball was released, and The Lonely One held back.
When The Lonely One came out it was released back-to-back with Detour, a song the Eddys had heard by Patti Page as they crossed the country en-route to Arizona in 1951. In fact, it was an even older song than Duane thought, dating back to 1945 when it was introduced by Jimmy Walker.
Duane’s first album came out early in 1959. It was Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel, a pun on the then-current television western Have Gun Will Travel as well as a rather bleak commentary on how Duane spent most of his days and nights.
His albums were among the first rock ‘n’ roll albums to be recorded in stereo, and Duane was also one of the first to start listing backing musicians and producer credits.
On the singles front, 1959 opened with Yep! It was credited, as usual, to Hazlewood and Eddy, but Steve Douglas later insisted that he and one of The Coasters, Billy Guy, wrote it, and this is supposed to have contributed to his departure from the Rebels. Because Duane was on the road so much, he cut ‘Yep! in New York.
By this point, late 1959, Duane’s chart placing were starting to slip a little, and it took Forty Miles Of Bad Road to take him back to the Top 10. The raucousness was gone; in its place was a hummable melody that could kick around in your head all day.
Duane thought the guitar sound was a little dry, but perhaps the public was ready for a change of pace. The title, as Duane recalled to Dan Forte, came from the time he and Lee Hazlewood were standing in line to see a movie. Two Texans were behind them. ‘”[They] were a couple of good ol’ boys. They were kidding each other about their dates, putting each other down, and we were overhearing all of this. Finally, one said, ‘I saw your girl, she had a face like forty miles of bad road.'”
During the same sessions, Duane recorded Peter Gunn, although it wasn’t released as a single for another year in the States. The reason was that Ray Anthony already had the original version of Henry Mancini’s television theme on the charts; also, it was more a feature for the saxophone than the guitar, so it was planned to fill out the Especially For You album.
In Australia, though, Peter Gunn was released as a single, and Decca in England used it for the flip side of Yep! in place of Three 30 Blues. It became a hit in its own right after David Jacobs inadvertently spun it on Juke Box Jury.
In the States, Forty Miles Of Bad Road was followed by all one minute and seventeen seconds of Some Kinda Earthquake, a record shorter even than the Coca-Cola commercials that preceded it on the radio. Decca rectified the problem in England by repeating the middle section.
Shazam! featured new sax player Jim Horn (who had also been recruited from Kip Tyler’s group), and it marked the return of the power riff. Duane played it in the movie Because They’re Young (1960) – a Dick Clark vehicle in which Clark played a teacher opposite Tuesday Weld. In the American cut of the movie, Duane can be seen with his backing group featuring Jim Horn, Al Casey and drummer Jimmy Troxel.
Even though James Darren sang the movie’s title song, Duane cut an instrumental version of it and it became his biggest ever American hit, rising to #4 in Billboard.
Because They’re Young featured a new weapon in Duane’s arsenal, the Danelectro Longhorn six-string electric bass. He had seen it at Music City in Hollywood one day and brought it to the Because They’re Young session in Los Angeles. There, he was paired with two heavyweight jazz guitarists, Howard Roberts and Barney Kessel who were earning a little money playing sessions.
There, he was paired with two heavyweight jazz guitarists, Howard Roberts and Barney Kessel who were earning a little money playing sessions.
Two other moonlighting (or, more accurately, daylighting) jazzmen were on the session – drummer Shelly Manne and bassist Red Callender. Duane remembers them giving an impromptu concert after the session.
In 1960, Duane began to tour overseas. He went to Australia and England, where he had a strong following. His appearance in England coincided with the rush-release of Bonnie Came Back, which jumped onto the craze for rocked-up folk songs. Decca placed Movin’ and Groovin’, which hadn’t been released back in 1957, on the flip side.
By the time Duane got back, cracks were starting to appear in the apparatus that supported him. Dick Clark was up before the Federal Communications Committee hearings into payola and sold his share in Jamie during the proceedings.
Lester Sill sold out at the same time, and Duane was becoming aware that his contract was not necessarily the most generous in the business. This apparently led to a rift between himself and Lee Hazlewood.
Meanwhile, Kommotion was stiffing; it pegged out at #78 in Billboard.
Starting with Pepe in June 1960, Duane was on his own in the studio. At first, the outlook was promising; Pepe got up to #18 in the States and number two in England where it beat out Russ Conway’s version. It was his last major hit on Jamie, though. Duane sat out the remaining year-and-a-half of his contract working on movies and theme songs and working off his commitment with albums.
Dixie, released to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the start of the Civil War, just peeked inside the Top 40 – otherwise, the pickings were slim.
In 1962, Duane finally quit Jamie, and, after soliciting offers from all over, went with Paul Anka’s production company which placed him with RCA. The deal would see him reunited with Lee Hazlewood, and also held out the promise of working with Chet Atkins – and that alone was a prospect that no one who had weaned himself on Atkins’ records could turn down.
Technically, the productions may have been cleaner at RCA and the other labels Duane joined after RCA, certainly, the royalties were better, but the magic was at Jamie.
Duane Eddy’s reign ended in 1964 when he turned his hand to producing.
He played a series of comeback gigs in California in 1983.