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In the Pipeline: After 50 years, Duane Eddy will travel

February 01, 2012|By Chris Epting
  • Duane Eddy, the original rock and roll twanger.
Duane Eddy, the original rock and roll twanger. (Charles Epting,…)

He's wearing black slacks and a black shirt and cowboy hat. There's a bit of silver woven in, too, that picks up the light in the small hotel room.

With his neatly trimmed beard and gentle country manner, he cuts a romantic, old-time figure, like some charming character from another age.

Then he sits down on a couch, picks up an orange Gretsch hollow-body guitar and starts to play — or, rather, starts to twang.

This is, after all, Duane Eddy, one of the most iconic guitar players in history. Since his first album, 1958's "Have 'Twangy' Guitar Will Travel," Eddy has cut a rich musical swath with his ax on the strength of his rich, bottom-heavy melodies that have beguiled fans (and other players) for generations.

He was here in our neighborhood recently for an appearance at the nearby National Assn. of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention, and I had the pleasure of visiting with him and hearing him play right before my eyes. Over the years, he has amassed many awards, from Grammys to his 1994 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for an Arizona picker who grew up idolizing Roy Rogers and especially Gene Autry.

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"Those guys did it for me, but Gene Autry, man," he smiles. "What a pioneer. I'd see his movies. I'd study his playing. I only knew about three chords back then. As I'd soon learn, to stand out, I'd need to do three things: play with authority, have my own style and, most importantly, let it all hang out."

So that's what he did. Noticing that all of the pop songs of the day lived in the land of upbeat, higher registers, Eddy turned his attention to the bass strings on his guitar, mining a deep, dark, mysterious tone that ended up serving him well. He says those strings and that brooding texture they produced was something he fell in love with.

In 1958 came his first single, "Movin' 'N' Groovin'," the tune that many music scholars cite as the first true example of "surf music" (perhaps because the Beach Boys copped the opening lick in their tune "Surfin' Safari").

"Yeah, they used it," Eddy shrugs with a chuckle, "and I never cared. That's just music, sharing little bits of melody and all, no big deal. You know, Bobby Darin asked me about using the title, 'Movin' 'N' Groovin',' in his song 'Splish Splash.' 'No problem,' I told him."

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