American Routes Shortcuts: Duane Eddy

Nov 8, 2019

Duane Eddy
Credit American Routes

Twang master Duane Eddy was a teenager in Arizona when he began sneaking into clubs and backing up local country bands. He soon stepped to the front of the stage with his twangy riffs, evoking images of a car racing across the desert on forty miles of bad road, or the noir TV soundtrack, Peter Gunn. Surf guitar players in California took a cue from Eddy, and players from BB King to George Harrison have sung his praises. 

 

Duane Eddy: When I developed my sound, I realized the bass strings were more powerful than the treble strings, more guts to them. Added a little echo and off we went. I grew up listening mainly to country music. Hank Williams Sr. was a huge influence on me. Of course guitar player-wise there was Merle Travis, Les Paul, and Chet Atkins. And then of course, when Elvis Presley came along, that was the icing on the cake and the turning point for me. That’s when I decided I really wanted to do this. 

Nick Spitzer: Now your earliest years were spent up in upstate New York I understand. 

DE: That’s right. Up until I was about 12, 13, then we moved to Tucson, Arizona.

NS: Why Arizona? 

DE: That was my fault; I wanted to see the cowboys and the Indians. I figured I was going to see Gene Autry riding up any minute or Roy Rodgers. So my dad just saved up some money, and we had a little country store up there which he sold, and put the kids in the car and headed west. I remember on the trip out, every time we’d stop at a diner or something, I’d hear Patti Page’s “Detour” which I later recorded. I just loved that song and loved that record.

NS: At what point do you say to yourself, “I need a guitar,” or “I want to learn that”? 

DE: I had a guitar since I was five years old. I went down to the basement one day and asked my father, “What’s that?” He said, “That’s a guitar,” and he showed me three or four chords that he knew, learned a couple more chords–I didn’t realize you could play up the neck until I was about nine years old–and started working when I was fifteen. I teamed up with a friend of mine. We were in a little town south of Phoenix about sixty miles, just off the Indian reservation there, called Coolidge. This new DJ came into town and wanted to record us. It was his first job out of school, out of DJ school. 

NS: I didn’t know there was a DJ school.

DE: Well you know Columbia School of Broadcasting. 

NS: Right. 

DE: And the DJ’s name happened to be Lee Hazlewood, who went on to produce my early hits and also co-wrote most of the hits. 

NS: Was anyone else in Phoenix making something like rockabilly, rock and roll, like you were doing? 

DE: We were all doing it really; I mean all the country acts. I figured rockabilly is just country music with drums, basically. “Rebel Rouser,” for example, some people called it rockabilly, some people called it country; some people called it rock and roll. 

NS: Songs like “Stalkin’” and “The Lonely One,” you’ve got a tune like “Rebel Rouser,” they seem to have kind of a lonely, loner, rebellious mood.  

DE: That’s kind of the attitude of the American teenager at that time, the James Dean, Marlon Brando. You know, our idea of rebelling was to have a good time, to go dancing and grow sideburns. And I think the desert played a part in that. 

NS: What do you mean by that? 

DE: Well I used to go out and write a lot of my songs in the desert, just by myself. Take my Jeep and drive out there and my guitar and come up with an idea and then bring it back and finish it off with Lee or something, and a lot of it came from there. 

NS: I wonder if you wouldn’t mind walking us through “Moovin’ and Groovin,” your first record. 

DE: Well, there’s not much to it. I had two licks, the high one and the low one. I showed them to a friend of mine one day, and he said, “Why not put them together?” I said, “Oh yeah.” 

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.