Wednesday, June 8, 2016

DUANE EDDY: Twang’s the Thang [1981]

Text by David Post / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981. It was written by David Post. This Hoboken resident came to my attention as the bassist of Ronnie and the Jitters, who were the last band to ever play upstairs at Max’s Kansas City (I was there). He would later be one of the co-owners of the club Maxwell’s, and is now in a more formal swing band called Swingadelic, using a stand-up bass. He’s also a great guy.

As for Duane Eddy, who was born in Upstate New York before his family moved to the Southwest, he is still around and kicking as of this reprinting, at age 78. Even as late at 2010, he sold out London’s Royal Festival Hall. Along with numerous awards, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, before the Hall became a joke. – RBF, 2016

This year marks the 23rd anniversary of “Twang.” You say you don’t know what “twang” is? Well, where in God’s name have you been? Webster’s defines it like this:
“twang”/n 1: a harsh quick ringing sound like that of a plucked bowstring 2: nasal speech or resonance 3: the characteristic speech of a region.”
Everyone else who knows (like Dave Edmunds, whose new LP is entitled Twangin’, and New York City’s Rousers, who’ve penned their own tune called “Twanged”) defines it as the guitar sound that Duane Eddy used as his signature.

Duane Eddy came out of Phoenix in the mid-Fifties, and didn’t stop churning out instrumental hits until the British Invasion of the Sixties came along and provided a new sound for America’s rock’n’rollers.

Eddy’s cool guitar style consisted of flipping on his amp’s tremolo switch and playing simple, bluesy riffs on the bass strings of his hollow body Gretsch guitar, using the Bigsby “whanger” bar to get that real lowdown “twang.” His band, the Rebels, would play an easy rambling beat at a medium tempo while Eddy would alternate verses with a raunchy tenor sax. Hoots and hollers were always interjected by the band, and ultimately featured on a number called “Yep!” This formula (along with the help of Lee Hazelwood, Eddy’s producer and sometimes co-writer) brought Duane Eddy and the Rebels nearly twenty Top-40 hits.

One of Eddy’s earliest and most famous singles was “Rebel Rouser.” This simple driving riff really kicked off his career, reaching number 49 in Cash Box’s 100 in 1958, the year of Danny and the Juniors’ “At the Hop,” David Seville and the Chipmunks, and [Sheb Wooley’s] “The Purple People Eater.” More hits quickly followed, such as the up-tempo “Ramrod” and the toping shuffle of “Forty Miles of Bad Road,” and Duane Eddy was well on his way to becoming one of America’s biggest international stars. He was in demand for soundtracks and parts in movies and television, and made several guest appearances in “Have Gun Will Travel.”

Soon everything was “twangsville,” especially the names of Eddy’s albums, which included Have Twang Guitar Will Travel, Twang’s the Thang, Million Dollars’ Worth of Twang, Twangy Guitar, Twangsville, Biggest Twang of All, and of course, The Roaring Twangies. Most of Eddy’s albums and singles were recorded in Phoenix on Philadelphia’s Jamie label, and RCA has put out several re-issues. A good bulk of the material can still be obtained through the mail from Jamie.

In the early Sixties, instrumental artists like Duane Eddy were starting to get quite a bit of competition from the vocal “girl-group” bands and the oncoming British Invasion. Like everyone else, Eddy tried to cash in on the various bandwagons. The resulting product was Twistin’ with Duane Eddy, Surfin’, Duane a Go Go, and his own band of girl singers, the Rebelettes. Production qualities started suffering about this time. Gone was the old, raw, raunchy style, and in was a newer Muzak-like production complete with strings and the Rebelettes high harmonies. Instrumentalists were a dying breed.

Though he continued recording for various labels until the mid-Seventies, it’s ironic that the last hit on which Eddy appeared, he wasn’t the featured artists. Remember back in 1966, Nancy Sinatra came out with “These Boots Are Made For Walking”? You know that growling, descending bass line? Yep. That’s Duane Eddy.

"Rebel Rouser":

"Cannonball" live

"These Boots":

Ronnie and the Jitters:


1 comment:

  1. Duane won The Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental of 1986, for their recording of Peter Gunn. Actually, Chuck Berghoffer played the famous descending bass line on These Boots Are Made For Walkin'.