62. The man with the Twang

Posted on 05/08/2017

62. The man with the Twang

I met Duane Eddy in 1972. He was then past his stardom and was working as an A+R man for a record company in Hollywood. I was doing the rounds of the record companies (‘Mr Eddy will see you now’ they said). He was very polite to me and said I would go far. Not true unfortunately but shows he was a nice guy. This was 10 years after his fame. I urged him to go back to England where people still loved him. He did go back the next year but it turned out that the people as a whole didn’t, so his tour was a failure.

When I met him, he had a beard that was already slightly grey. But here is Shazam, a typical example of his early hits:

He wears a rather artificial smile (shortly to be hidden by that beard) but his trademark is there: playing the melody on the bass strings of his guitar. I always remember ’40 miles of bad road’ but never before doing this post saw the video. A vista of tractors and dumper trucks I never imagined as the background for the song when I listened to it in the 1960’s. Pretty embarrassing to watch now.

‘Rebel Rouser’ is a good deal more lively although it still depends on a few notes on the bass strings. This video shows him trying to groove like Elvis, and experiment he soon abandoned. His style is the statuesque not the abandoned.

He is a unique figure in rock and roll and deserves fame as a result of his single minded pursuit of it.

‘Ghost riders in the sky’ was another of his hits. This version dates from his later middle age and is notable for the fact that he smiles after labouring out the simple melody line.

His magic, in the early 60’s was that he could put out a good tune against what was in those days felt as a lively beat. It looks fairly leaden 50 years later but I still like his style. He really suited the pre-video era.

Duane had a last hurrah when the Art of Noise took up the Peter Gunn theme. Eddy had recorded this Henry Mancini tune in 1959 but its the Art of Noise version that remade his fortunes. People still remember this riff.

It uses the same bass guitar line as ever but the beefed up 1980’s drumming and rhythm give it more oomph.  I employed the drummer from the Art of Noise in 2006 and he recalled the glory days of that band with the impact created by their electronic remake of Peter Gunn. He was pleased that the result had been that Duane, who had been just muddling along, had been able to buy a grand house in Nashville on the proceeds. A good thing for a very nice chap.

This is a suitably over the top video of him doing his quite simple thing. Its remarkable that he could make, with the exception of the period when I met him as an A+R man in the early 70’s, a decent living playing really simple lines on the bass strings of a guitar. He’s the only man who thought of doing it, and it worked really well in the early period of rock.

Forty miles of bad road is an excellent title, and another of his quite simple riffs. The video is something else: quite astonishingly stagey, but charming in its own way.

No other rock star achieved that status by doing so little acting, or, indeed, playing.

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