Duane Eddy: Profile

Christopher Barrett 1/10/11  Music week

Ahead of the release of his new solo album – produced by Richard Hawley – ‘twangy’ guitar virtuoso and the original rebel rouser Duane Eddy delivers his 10-point plan to music-making success

Sitting on a beaten-up sofa in the basement of The Premises studio in Hackney, Duane Eddy has come a long way since his breakthrough in the late Fifties.

The sound of Eddy’s pioneering “twangy” guitar first broke into public consciousness in 1957 with the hit Rebel Rouser and three years later NME had named him as “world music personality”. Fifty years on his inimitable sound continues to reverberate.

Eddy’s influence has been acknowledged by numerous celebrated fellow guitarists, including George Harrison, John Entwistle, Bruce Springsteen and Mark Knopfler, and the deep resonating sound that helped make Eddy a household name continues to win him new fans.

Over the past six decades the Grammy Award-winning guitarist has collaborated with an impressive array of musical creatives including Lee Hazlewood, Ravi Shankar, Ry Cooder and The Art Of Noise. And as Music Week meets him in east London we find him hard at it again.

Eddy has been busy in the studio rehearsing with Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker and Ellie Goulding for the next evening’s Jack Daniel’s birthday gig. Despite suffering from a harsh cold and the approach of his 73rd birthday he is clearly in his element.

“I love Jarvis and Richard and what they do, they are unique artists and good people on top of that,” he says.

Hawley was introduced to the veteran guitarist by their shared manager Graham Wrench and the former Pulp and Longpigs axeman was at Eddy’s table when he picked up the legend award at last year’s Mojo’s.

A huge fan of Eddy, Hawley was eager to collaborate with him and the resulting album, together with a number of shows, are being readied for spring.

Produced and co-written by Hawley, the new album will be Eddy’s first since his eponymous Capitol release in 1987. Written and recorded in just 12 days at Sheffield’s Yellow Arch studio, the album will be released in April on Heavenly Recordings.

“We think pretty much the same way when approaching anything musically,” says Eddy of working with Hawley. “I love the sound on his records; he gets this big, ambient, wide-open sound.”

Eddy radiates a warmth and humility that is all too rare in musicians of his stature, a quality that is perhaps the result of a career that has seen its ups and downs. Yet from the outset Eddy has demonstrated a rare ability and determination that has enabled him to defy critics, fashions and industry obstacles.

Reflecting on the challenges that faced him when he first began wielding his Chet Atkins model Gretsch, Eddy recalls that rock‘n’roll musicians were looked upon as “illegitimate” in those early days.

“The Tin Pan Alley and all those guys, the Sinatras and Patti Page, Tony Bennett – they were the establishment and they hated our guts. People kept saying in the press that rock‘n’roll would never last to the point where even we started to believe it. So we just thought we’ll keep going as long as we can.”

Going he still is – and in some style. With six decades of experience in the music business behind him there are few more perfectly-placed musicians to draw on their extensive knowledge and provide a Music Week masterclass offering advice to the new generation of budding musicians.

Here Duane Eddy lays out his 10 hard-earned lessons in music making.

Picking the right instrument and equipment is vital

Always have the right instrument. The first electric guitar I bought was in Coolidge, Arizona, at a hardware store. It was a Les Paul Gold Top 54, but it didn’t have a vibrato on it so I played that for three years until 1957 and traded it in for a Gretsch Chet Akins model. That

had the vibrato on it and a beautiful neck and that was the one I ended up cutting all my hits on. It was a great guitar for me. It gave me vibrato and I liked experimenting with it and used it to good effect on Moovin’ N’ Groovin’ and several other songs through the years.

I had a good amp to go with it – a Magnatone that had been modified with the power put up to 100W. I put a 15-inch JBL speaker into it with a tweeter. A steel player in town modified it and charged 100 bucks. It looked great but most importantly it sounded great and when I started using that modified amp with the Gretsch my sound really came together.

I traded in that Gibson and got $65 for it. Today it would be worth $75,000 but who knew then?

Create an individual style

When I started I made a conscious decision to get my own style, to do it with authority and work on it until it was recognisable as being different from everybody. I learned that from country artists who I listened to a lot in my youth. You could hear a guy on the radio, Hank Williams or Ernest Tubb, and you could recognise their voice and style instantly. That was the same with instrumentalists, Chet Akins or Merle Travis, they had their own style. It doesn’t have to be greatly different from everyone else. You can just take something that has influenced you and add your own thing to it.

Remain flexible and open to ideas

I would recommend that everybody remains flexible; don’t worry about being the big star of the thing. Lots of the time on records I did back then I would have the sax play the first part of the song and I would play the second part – it is just how it lays and how it fits. I featured the sax on so many things that people would ask, “Who’s Duane Eddy, the sax player or the guitar player?”

Concentrate on the music and not your ego

It’s all about making the music, not being the star. You do what you do to make that sound and that song come alive and make sure your idea comes across. It has to sound right, at least in your own mind if not anyone else’s. Chances are someone else will like it, too.

Keep the music fresh

I kept trying and changing things around. I told my producer Lee Hazlewood, ‘We can’t repeat ourselves’ because he came in with a song one day that was Rebel Rouser sideways. I said, “No, we can’t do that because that is the kiss of death”. You can have the same style and sound, but you need to add something different each time and have a different approach to it.

Work with the right people

I knew I did better with Lee Hazlewood than without him even though I had some chart hits without him. I liked the way we made records together. He was a genius with sound, he made better sounding records than anybody and that’s why those records still hold up today.

He did that by being a disc jockey for a few years first. He analysed every little sound on the records he played from the bass to the drum sound, guitars and piano. All I had to do was play the guitar and he did the rest in terms of the sound.

But working with new people is always exciting because you have access to their creativity and ideas and inject your ideas into their brands and the interchange of those ideas can be pretty interesting, like The Art Of Noise with Peter Gunn. They were great to work with.

That is one of the things I have really enjoyed, making musical friends. It expands you and if you play with somebody good you are going to get better. Play with the best guys you can find because it will make you better.

Don’t copy the music of your heroes

People who influence you, you shouldn’t imitate – you just let them influence you. Yes, love the music and you can play like that but there is no point in making a record and playing just like they do.

The influence is very important because you take all that and meld it in to your own thing. Hank Williams was a huge influence on me. But what I took from him was the authority, laying it all out there which is what he did when he sang. A lot of people don’t like his singing because he is just a little too far out and it sounds like he is about ready to burst into tears sometimes but he just let it all hang out and went with a full head of steam and did his songs. That influenced me. I thought if I am going to do it I need to put my whole self, my whole heart, into it and not worry about what people think.

Keep an eye on the business side

I got cheated out of a lot of royalties. The record company I was with was not that great. They found ways to keep money that was mine.

Others paid straight but even then they were a little tardy. Six or more years after I left one label they said, “Are you still getting royalties from us?” They checked it out and told me there was tens of thousands of dollars outstanding, they just didn’t have my address. Meanwhile, all that money was sitting in the bank making interest for them and they didn’t pay me any of that. There are little tricks that aren’t stealing, but if they can lose your address they will. That was just a fact of life in those days.

You have to learn to look after your own money and reinvest it in yourself.

Don’t be afraid to link with brands

I never understood this hatred of commercialism and big companies. They don’t bother me. As far as I can see they hire a lot of people, give them work and most of the products are good and if they’re not you don’t have to buy them.

I did a Chevy commercial years ago that was fun and it paid exceptionally well too. I particularly liked that part. I drove Chevys off and on all my life so I wasn’t compromising my honour by doing that.

I discover acts today on commercials, I hear something I like and look it up on the internet. You hear some good stuff on commercials and TV shows these days. I discovered The Low Anthem on CSI, I was blown away by them. I explored further on the internet and think they have a great sound and hope they find a way to do very well. But it’s harder today than it has ever been.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

It’s a job like everything else. It’s a profession and if you start thinking you are special because everyone is looking at you or buying your records and coming to your shows then it’s going to end in disappointment. Some day that will all probably go and, even if it doesn’t, why should you think you are better than anybody else just because you do that?

That is one thing I can’t stand to see in artists. That’s why I love Richard [Hawley] and Jarvis [Cocker]; there are no affectations there.

They are straight-ahead good, honest, people – normal, or as normal as one can be in this business.

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