BARRY LEVINE: For Eddy, the “twang’s the thang”

Duane Eddy gained his reputation because of his “twangy guitar,” a sound created by recording the bass strings through an echo box. (Special photo)

Duane Eddy gained his reputation because of his “twangy guitar,” a sound created by recording the bass strings through an echo box. (Special photo)


Barry Levine

During the early years of the modern rock ‘n’ roll era, the names of white music stars such as Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, Buddy Holly and Pat Boone shone brightly. One name virtually always missing from the “star” list who belonged on it is Duane Eddy. Considered the period’s most successful instrumental performer, the guitarist amassed 17 Top 40 hits from 1958 through 1963. That’s quite an honor, considering the minimal role the guitar played in the early years of rock ‘n’ roll.

Eddy, now 75, gained his reputation because of his “twangy guitar,” a sound created by recording the bass strings through an echo box.

With guitar instrumentals such as Bill Justus’ “Raunchy” and Link Wray & His Ray Men’s “Rumble” riding the charts at No. 2 and No. 16, respectively, in 1958, Eddy developed “Rebel Rouser,” his signature hit. With loud hand claps and powerful sax play combining with Eddy’s guitar, the song rose to No. 6 on the charts in July 1958, trailing only “Hard Headed Woman” by Elvis Presley, “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters, “Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, “Splish Splash” by Bobby Darin and “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson. “Rebel Rouser” became Eddy’s first gold record, sparking his Hall of Fame career. The song later was featured in two 1994 movies, the Academy Award winning “Forrest Gump” and Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers.”

His second hit, “Ramrod,” reached No. 27 in 1958. Produced by Lee Hazlewood, “Ramrod” effectively employed Hazlewood’s drainpipe echo chamber.

Perhaps best known for writing and producing Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 No. 1 hit “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” Hazlewood and Eddy co-wrote virtually all of Eddy’s top hits. Eddy had his third hit of 1958 when “Cannonball” climbed to No. 15.

Aided by frequent appearances on “American Bandstand,” he enjoyed his finest year in 1959.

After “The Lonely One” reached No. 23 in January of that year and “Yep!” No. 30 in April, Eddy had a two-sided hit in July when “40 Miles of Bad Road” climbed to No. 9 and “The Quiet Three” to No. 46. He also had two Top 25 albums: “Especially for You” and “The Twang’s the Thang.”

Buoyed by his cameo in the April 1960 film “Because They’re Young,” which starred Dick Clark as a teacher who attempts to make a difference in the lives of his students, Eddy had his biggest hit with the movie’s title theme. It reached No. 4 on the charts and became his second million-seller.

Co-starring in the film were Tuesday Weld, Warren Berlinger, Roberta Shore, Doug McClure and Victoria Shaw. Pop singer James Darren also made a cameo in the movie.

Although Bobby Rydell did not appear in the movie, his song “Swingin’ School” was prominently featured in the film’s soundtrack.

Eddy had another hit in November 1960 when his cover of Henry Mancini’s hit “Peter Gunn” rose to No. 27. He stuck with movie themes as his record “Pepe” from the film by the same name reached No. 18 in April 1961.

After appearing in his second film, “A Thunder of Drums,” in 1961, a movie that starred Richard Boone, George Hamilton IV and Charles Bronson, Eddy produced two more hits in 1962 as “The Ballad of Paladin,” the theme from Boone’s popular TV series, landed at No. 33 and “Dance with the Guitar Man” jumped to No. 12 and became his third million-seller.

Eddy’s career then suffered the same fate as that of many American performers as his popularity waned once the British Invasion hit. Although theTop 40 hits dried up, Eddy successfully began producing records. Inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Eddy received the title the “Titan of Twang” by the mayor of Nashville, Tenn.

In 2004, Eddy was presented with Guitar Player Magazine’s prestigious “Legend Award.” He was the second recipient of the award; the first was Les Paul.

Among those who have acknowledged Eddy’s influence are former Beatle George Harrison and Bruce Springsteen. How’s that for a daily double!

Barry Levine writes entertainment stories for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at dot0001@yahoo.com.