By Ray Bennett
Duane Eddy, who turns 65 today, is celebrated rightly as one of the top rock ‘n’ roll guitarists of all time but there was a period after his first string of major hits that his career slumped into the doldrums.
It was August 1970 and he was just a member of a band when I interview him. In a story for The Windsor Star in Canada, I wrote:
They used to call him the Guitar Man when his twangy rock’n’roll music sold gold records along with Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.
With his group The Rebels, the well-scrubbed, fresh-faced young Arizonian was the supreme instrumentalist of the early rock’n’roll revolution. His driving twanging guitar made hits of tunes such as “Rebel Rouser”, “Ramford” and “Forty Miles of Bad Road”. He was on top.
Today, Duane Eddy at 32 is backing singer Al Martino at the Elmwood Supper Club. No solo spot, no limelight. He’s there as an expert and professional musician.
Duane Eddy 1970 is very different – at least in appearance – from the man who helped lead pop music into a whole new era back in the fifties. A quiet, soft-spoken man, now with longer hair and a beard, he gives the appearance of being a little weary, perhaps a trifle ravaged by the cruel business he is in.
But there’s no bitterness, not even the slightest suggestion of being defeated or down. The man is a fountain of quiet energies and enthusiasms that he reveals gingerly as if he’s been let down by people in the past. But his smile is warm and genuine.
If you didn’t mention it, he wouldn’t talk about the big days, the fame and subsequent decline. “They were good days”, he will agree. “It really was a time of revolution in pop music. For the first time, it began to be a youthful thing. Before Haley and Presley and those people came along there was the Top 10 but soon it became the Top 100.
“It’d be fun to think of a group of those guys playing together like the ‘supergroups’ – it would be difficult, though – Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry. All good people. That was one of the aspects of pop music in those days, the guys in it really were nice guys. It was all new to them and many of them got taken for a ride. Now, it seams to have gone the other way with some of the rock people – they look after themselves.”
Eddy has little tolerance for the myths of show business. He doesn’t react with indignation, though, just a knowing smile. “There are pressures in the business but you find the people who cannot handle it are those who aren’t really stable. The ones who do all the complaining about being harassed by fans and other things are the first ones to complain if it all disappears. But don’t believe that story about helping people on the way up because they’ll help you on the way down, either. When you’re on the way down, you never see those people.”
The Rebels’ last big hit was in 1963-64. “The guys reached a stage where it was tiresome doing endless one-nighters, constant touring. They wanted to get married and stay home. I got married too and felt the same way.
“Well, that’s all over with now. I have a little girl 6-years-old. When the marriage ended, I went to Europe – I’d still been recording and doing session work. I lived in London and formed a group called the Quotations – most guys from the old Merseybeats rock group. We toured all over Europe.”
The guys from the Rebels – pianist Larry Knechtel, sax and flautist Jim Horn and guitarist Al Casey – are the top session men in Los Angeles today, Eddy says, “When I returned from Europe, I was doing more recording work, then in March this year I was working with Al Martino and he asked me if I’d like to play for him in Las Vegas. It seemed like a good idea and we’ve worked together several times since.
“I’d like to get back into recording. I’ve just got a single out – a soft, gentle version of George Harrison’s ‘Something’. I don’t think I’ll get into the heavy rock sounds, though. In the fall, I’m going to get a group together and tour the Orient and see what comes out of that.”
Duane Eddy will be back. As his buddy, drummer Wayne Hudson, said: “Don’t worry, he’ll be there; he’ll get it together when he’s ready.”
This story appeared in The Windsor Star newspaper on Aug. 25 1970