01 April 2007

Duane Eddy (Part Two)

Rebel Rouser
Duane Eddy and The Rebels at Jamie Records
by Don Charles Hampton
By the time Sill and Hazlewood got around to putting together a debut album for Duane, he'd racked up three more Top Twenty Pop hits, two of which also charted Top Thirty R & B: Al Casey's "Ramrod," a torrid cha-cha rocker that would've done Ritchie Valens proud; "Cannonball", a rowdy rhumba number, and "The Lonely One", a comparatively tame Rock 'n' Roll tango featuring harmonies by The Everett Freeman Singers. Also popular was a remake of Spade Cooley's 1946 Country hit "Detour", issued on the flipside of the latter single. The inclusion of these songs on Have Twangy Guitar, Will Travel made it the first megahit album of the Rock era upon its release in January of 1959; during a time when few LPs sold in large quantities, Twangy Guitar peaked at #5 on Billboard's album listings and stayed on the charts for a remarkable 82 weeks! Significantly, it was also one of the first Rock albums to be completely arranged and largely composed by the artist. What's more, Duane's debut may have been the first Rock LP recorded (partially) in stereophonic sound; The Rebels traveled to Gold Star Studios, where engineer Stan Ross cut half the tunes on multitrack equipment.

For his female fans, the big news wasn't what was inside the album, but what was on the outside. The original cover featured a soft-focus shot of Duane sitting atop his guitar case. Dressed in rockabilly "cat clothes" (skinny pants, plaid sports jacket, bolo tie and cherry-red socks), his heavy-lidded brown eyes gazed dreamily off into the distance. It's arguably the sexiest sleeve photo of a male artist you can find from Rock's early years. For some unfathomable reason, Jamie withdrew it and substituted a stiff shot of Duane in formal wear. Fortunately, the label's art directors would keep him in casual clothes for the majority of his LP, EP and single picture sleeve shots. Those strikingly attractive laminated covers (reproduced here) probably had more than a little to do with the high chart placings Duane's subsequent Jamie albums achieved; except for the best-of compilation $1,000,000.00 Worth Of Twang, none of them contained Duane Eddy hits (at least, none that were issued at the time the LPs hit the market). Of course, the sound of his now-famous "twangy" guitar licks was undoubtedly a factor, too.

Have Twangy

By the turn of the decade, Duane Eddy's hit parade had expanded to include an additional pair of Top Ten Pop and Top Twenty R & B platters: The Country-flavored "Forty Miles Of Bad Road", and "Because They're Young," an orchestral theme recorded for the Columbia picture Because They're Young (Duane made his debut as an actor in this flick, appearing alongside Tuesday Weld and Dick Clark). The film soundtrack also featured "Shazam!", a square dance-friendly stomper that deserved better than the #45 slot it stalled at on the Pop charts. The Rebels' Top Forty hits included "Bonnie Came Back," a rockin' redux of the Scottish air "My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean", a snarling Rock-A-Tango called "Yep!" that showcased The Sharps' rebel yells to good advantage, and "Some Kinda Earthquake," a rug cutter of a two-step number which, at 1:17, remains the shortest single ever to become a best-selling record.

That Duane had become America's most popular Rock instrumentalist was not in doubt; he was winning Top Instrumental Artist awards from Photoplay and Cashbox magazines, and topping England's New Musical Express poll. "Rebel Rouser," "Cannonball", "Yep!", "Forty Miles Of Bad Road," "Some Kinda Earthquake", "Bonnie Came Back", "Because They're Young" and "Shazam!" were all major hits in the United Kingdom, and The Rebels caused a sensation when they toured Great Britain in April of 1960. Returning to Hollywood for a second movie role, Duane played the role of a calvary soldier in the M-G-M historical drama Thunder Of Drums. As if to cap off his success (much to his female fans' chagrin), Duane married his sweetheart, session singer Miriam Johnson, in August of 1961. The same year, he produced a Jamie single for her, a cover of the Country oldie "Lonesome Road."

Out of fifteen chart singles, Duane had co-written thirteen. He'd arranged every one. He'd also crafted excellent Bluegrass arrangements for Songs Of Our Heritage, an album of traditional Folk melodies on which he played banjo and classical guitar. By now, he was fully capable of taking a more active hand in the production of his records. All too soon, it became necessary for him to do so. He had a major falling-out with Lester Sill and Lee Hazlewood in December of 1960; the details have never been clear, but whatever the reason, it led him to dissolve his business partnership with them. Immediately following the belated release of Duane's 1959 recording of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" theme, he took over the production reigns. Having already set precedents as a songwriter and arranger, the guitarist again blazed a trail by becoming one of Rock's first self-produced artists. He was not, however, happy about this turn of events. The increased workload upped his already considerable stress level and severely limited his personal time with Miriam. "Back then, it was impossible being both artist and producer," he'd later say.

Duane abandoned Phoenix and Hollywood audio facilities to establish a new recording base at Columbia Studios in Nashville. The Jordanaires, Elvis Presley's background group, and The Anita Kerr Singers provided lush vocal backing on Girls, Girls, Girls, a theme album he produced with his female fan base in mind. His production style had a lighter touch and was less echo-laden than Lee Hazlewood's, and unfortunately, record buyers seemed to find it less appealing. Duane only managed to pull a pair of Top Forty singles out of his hat: A version of "Pepe", the theme from a Columbia Pictures musical comedy set in México, and a remake of the 1859 Confederate anthem "Dixie." None of the others, not the luau-flavored "Gidget Goes Hawaiian," not the breezy swinger "Drivin' Home," not even the excellent habanera ballad "Ring Of Fire" (not to be confused with the June Carter/Johnny Cash tune) generated much more than regional interest.

Songs Of Our HeritageSixteen Greatest Hits

The music industry's payola scandal of 1960-61, in which Dick Clark was implicated, led to a massive reorganization of Jamie Records. Duane was freed from his contract, and he signed a lucrative five-year deal with the RCA Victor label. Meanwhile, Lester Sill had split from Lee Hazlewood to partner with a hot new producer, Phil Spector. (Spector had actually sat in on a few Duane Eddy sessions at Ramco Audio.) With financial backing from Jamie's Harry Finfer, Sill and Spector founded a new independent company, Philles Records. Had Duane chosen to continue his business relationship with Sill, the legendary Philles catalog would undoubtedly include instrumental hits by him. As it happened, he didn't fare too badly at RCA. Reconciled and reunited in the studio with Lee Hazlewood, Duane disbanded The Rebels and began recording in Hollywood with top sessionmen (some of whom, of course, were former Rebels). He scored a trio of Top Forty hits between the Spring of 1962 and Winter of the following year; the best-remembered of these are "Boss Guitar," "Lonely Boy, Lonely Guitar" and "Dance With The Guitar Man," hook-filled Surf music sides featuring vocal contributions by Darlene Love and The Blossoms. More significantly, he placed five RCA albums on the Billboard charts, matching his hit LP tally for Jamie Records.

As the '60s progressed, Duane branched out further into acting, becoming a regular on the TV western "Have Gun, Will Travel" and appearing in the movies Wild Westerner, Kona Coast and The Savage Seven. He spent a considerable amount of time touring the United Kingdom, where his fan base remained solid. Unfortunately, the mid-'60s influx of UK acts into America's music mix shifted the industry's focus forcefully back to vocal groups, and this brought the curtain down on Rock 'n' Roll's instrumental heyday. Radio began to shun Duane's twangy riffs, and successive new releases on Colpix, Reprise and Congress Records failed to crack the national surveys. "The Duane Eddy sound was becoming more dated than ever with the arrival of 'acid Rock,'" Greg Shaw later wrote, "and his refusal to bend with the trends left him little commercial recourse. His playing had become considerably more sophisticated . . . but the genre he was working in just wasn't selling, at least not to the new generation of 'turned-on' teenagers." As if his career slide wasn't bad enough, Miriam Johnson divorced Duane in 1968 and moved to Nashville. Reviving her singing career under the name Jessi Colter, she'd go on to marry Country superstar Waylon Jennings and help him spearhead Nashville's "Outlaw" movement.

However, Duane Eddy's star hadn't burned out just yet. Many European Rock musicians had been strongly influenced by his Jamie Records singles, and British fans in particular hailed him as a Rock 'n' Roll pioneer as well as a herald of the '60s Surf music sound. The Brits returned Duane to the New Musical Express charts in 1975, sending a nostalgic Tony Macaulay production called "Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar." into the BBC's Top Ten. Two years later, Nashville beckoned; Duane was reunited in the studio with ex-wife Jessi Colter on Your Are My Sunshine, an album for Elektra Records' Country music division. Duane's second wife Deed Abbate, Kin Vassy, Willie Nelson, Jessi's husband Waylon Jennings, and Jessi herself contributed vocal support . . . talk about a family affair! The title track became a modest Country best-seller, which no doubt pleased Duane no end. In 1986, he returned to England to work with Technopop trio Art of Noise; his signature "twang thang" helped turn their remake of "Peter Gunn" into an international smash. The last American Duane Eddy hit to date, his Art of Noise collaboration shot to #2 on the Disco/Dance charts. In the almost three decades since "Rebel Rouser" blared from car radios, the nature of dance music had changed radically; yet, somehow Duane Eddy's distinctive sound still had the power to propel dancers out on the floor.


In February 1994, the man whose releases found favor in Disco, Rock, R & B, Country, Pop and Adult-Contemporary markets was honored with induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. It's not hard to imagine what he was thinking as he mounted the stage with fellow honorees Elton John and Rod Stewart: What a long trip it had been from Phoenix, Arizona to Cleveland, Ohio, with detours in Nashville and London! However, along the way he'd had the pleasure of meeting guitar idols like Buck Owens, Les Paul and Chet Atkins, performing on stage with R & B legends like Jackie Wilson, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Clyde McPhatter, and collaborating in the studio with great instrumentalists like Ry Cooder, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Electric Light Orchestra's Jeff Lynne, all of whom were inspired by his early records. In his shy, easygoing way, Duane would probably say that, despite occasional setbacks, every mile of the journey had been worth it.
Duane Eddy's Jamie albums have been digitally remastered and reissued on CD by Jamie/Guyden records. Buy them at http://amazon.com/

1 comment:

John Rowlands said...

And this year DUANE EDDY is appearing at the James Burton International Guitar Festival in Shreveport, Louisiana on August 22nd. ROCK AND ROLL!! www.jamesburtonmusic.com