Scotsman Obituaries: Duane Eddy, US guitar star whose trademark twang influenced generations

Duane Eddy, guitarist. Born: 26 April 1938 in Corning, New York. Died: 30 April 2024 in Franklin, Tennessee, aged 86

There are two types of guitar players,” Duane Eddy once noted. “The players who have developed their skills to a point where they can play anything in any style, and me.”

The unassuming Eddy was a guitar hero with a difference, a musician who pioneered his signature twanging style and stuck to it, influencing The Beatles, The Shadows, The Kinks, Bruce Springsteen and Mark Knopfler along the way.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The man dubbed the Titan of Twang has died aged 86 of cancer but his evocative instrumentals such as Rebel-’Rouser, Peter Gunn and the Ravi Shankar-inspired The Trembler retain their rock’n’roll potency and have been used as a shortcut to retro cool on the soundtracks to Forrest Gump and Natural Born Killers.

Duane Eddy's matinee idol looks helped him to a parallel career as a screen actor (Picture: Keystone/Getty Images)Duane Eddy's matinee idol looks helped him to a parallel career as a screen actor (Picture: Keystone/Getty Images)
Duane Eddy's matinee idol looks helped him to a parallel career as a screen actor (Picture: Keystone/Getty Images)

Eddy first found success in his native US, working with legendary producer Lee Hazlewood, but was soon embraced by the British music scene, beating Elvis Presley to the title of World’s Number One Music Personality in the 1960 New Musical Express readers’ poll. He went on to become the only instrumentalist to have UK hit records in four different decades.

A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer since 1994, he was the first rock guitarist to inspire a signature guitar model and was the second named Guitar Legend by Guitar Player magazine, after Les Paul.

Eddy’s first guitar was actually a Gibson Les Paul Standard but he soon traded it in for his famous red Gretsch 6120. He favoured texture and atmosphere over flash licks, bending the low strings to create a sonorous strutting sound. For fan Brian May “it was revolutionary – freeing the guitar from its former stiffness and making it talk”. Eddy often said his lack of vocal skills were instrumental (ahem) in developing his style, telling talk show host Conan O’Brien, “I never had a good voice for singing, so I took it out on guitar.”

A 19-year-old Jimmy Page first encountered Eddy supporting Gene Vincent in 1963, writing on his passing that “Duane Eddy twanged the thang in the late ‘50s and ‘60s and you can hear his character sound appearing throughout the decades of popular music. He will be missed and my thoughts are with his family.”

Duane Eddy was the eldest of three children, born to Alberta and Lloyd. Lloyd was a bread truck driver and later owned a grocery store but had been known to serenade Alberta on acoustic guitar in their courting days.

Five-year-old Duane was an avid listener to The Grand Ol’ Opry and Barn Dance radio shows and a fan of Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy, so when he found his father’s guitar in the cellar of his home, he was transfixed. Lloyd taught him his first few chords and with no formal tuition, Eddy was off, playing local talent shows to the disgust of his schoolteacher who claimed “a gee-tar is a gutter instrument”.

In his early teens, his family moved to Tucson, Coolidge and then Phoenix, Arizona. Inspired by the surrounding desert vistas as much as the sounds of Les Paul and Chet Atkins, he formed a duo with schoolfriend Jimmy Delbridge on piano.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The pair had a fateful encounter at a local radio station with one of the disc jockeys, Lee Hazlewood – in Eddy’s words “an equal opportunity insulter” with whom he would have a pivotal, if on-off, professional relationship.

Eddy and Hazlewood co-wrote an instrumental track, Movin’ and Groovin’, inspired by Chuck Berry’s Brown Eyed Handsome Man. To capture its twanging sound, Hazlewood fashioned a makeshift echo chamber, using an empty water tank with a microphone at one end and a speaker at the other. It was released as Eddy’s solo debut single and went on to inspire The Beach Boys’ Surfin USA.

Follow-up Rebel-’Rouser, a country-tinged number with added raunchy R&B saxophone and whoops and handclaps supplied by doo-wop band The Rivingtons, became his breakthrough hit, reaching Number Six on the Billboard charts in the week they first published a Hot 100.

Both tracks appeared Eddy’s debut album, Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel, released in January 1958. This was hip teenage stuff from a musician with matinee idol looks – little wonder Eddy became a fixture on television and on the silver screen.

His biggest domestic hit was the string-soaked theme to Because They’re Young. Eddy had a cameo in the film, leading to a brief parallel career as an actor in westerns and B-movies.

He also toured regularly with his killer band The Rebels. Saxophonists Steve Douglas and Jim Horn and keyboard player Larry Knechtel later played for the likes of Phil Spector, The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel.

But although he had made his name as a rock’n’roller, his tastes were diverse and Eddy applied his famous twang to albums of big band and country covers, an acoustic album and 1965’s Duane Does Dylan.

As with many other bright young things of the late Fifties and early Sixties, Eddy’s career was poleaxed by the arrival of The Beatles. He continued to work, producing albums for Phil Everly and Waylon Jennings in the Seventies before making a live comeback in 1983.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He enjoyed an unlikely chart return in 1986, collaborating with Trevor Horn’s studio outfit The Art of Noise on a new version of Henry Mancini’s theme to Peter Gunn. The track won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental and opened the door for his star-studded, self-titled 1987 album, featuring Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ry Cooder, Steve Cropper and John Fogerty.

He surfaced again in 2011, playing the Glastonbury Festival and releasing his final album, Road Trip, produced by Sheffield musician Richard Hawley.

Eddy married three times. He is survived by second wife, singer Jessi Colter, third wife Deed Abbate and three children, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.


If you would like to submit an obituary (800-1000 words preferred, with jpeg image), contact [email protected][email protected]

Related topics:



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.