Duane Eddy

Of DeArmonds and Details
Duane Eddy

(Ed. Note: Duane Eddy was featured in the June ’95 issue of VG, following the release of his Twang Thang box-set anthology, which included 40 songs he helped re-master and liner notes by Dan Forte, who became a VG contributor a few years afterward. The conversation expanded to include Eddy’s life and career. Here are select passages.)

Do you remember the lap steel you got for your ninth birthday? 
It was an Electromuse; my aunt bought it [and] I used an E6 tuning for Hawaiian stuff and an A tuning for country.

Did you ever think you’d want to be a steel-guitar player? 
No. I’d played around on an old Dobro, and that’s why my aunt bought that lap steel. My parents liked Hawaiian guitar and wanted me to take lessons, but I wanted to play what I called “guitar,” meaning Spanish-type. I argued with my folks about it and ended up not getting any lessons on any instrument (laughs)!

Your family moved to Arizona when you were 13, after which you couldn’t listen to WCKY, WWVA, or WSM. What did you listen to? 
I heard Mexican radio stations for the first time and loved the music, but I listened to the country stations. I used to come home from school, turn on the radio, pick up my guitar and play along with the records I liked.

Being near the West Coast, did Hank Thompson, Spade Cooley, etc. influence you? I started working in clubs when I was 15, and by 17 or 18 I was a full-time musician playing dances and on T.V. and radio shows. We did Hank Thompson and Bob Wills tunes, and there had to be drums for dancing. We were also doing rockabilly, though we didn’t know at the time that’s what it was called (chuckles). We did Top 10 country songs, [but] with drums, so we weren’t as authentic as a Nashville group.

I talked with Glen Campbell years later, and he was doing the same thing at clubs in Albequerque.

Was the Les Paul goldtop your first electric? 
Yes. I bought it at an appliance store. They had four

or five hanging there; I wanted an electric guitar and it was the only one they had. My first amp was made by a local guy who used chicken wire across the front of the cabinet.

You traded your Les Paul for a 6120 when Gretsch necks were hand-made, and varied widely in feel. 
I got lucky with the neck on mine. The store also had a White Falcon, and its neck felt like a baseball bat! It wasn’t user-friendly.

Duane Eddy with a Gibson Custom Shop Corvette. Photo by Miki Slingsby. Eddy with his Electromuse lap steel.

Dd you note any difference between the P-90s on the Les Paul and the DeArmonds on the 6120? 
No, it was simply a trade. I liked the way the neck felt on the 6120, plus it had a vibrato bar. I suppose I noticed a difference between the sound of the two, though my amp wasn’t that wonderful (chuckles).

You also noted modifications to the Magnatone amp you got when you had the 6120. What did you have done? 
Dick Wilson, who was a great jazz player, and Buddy Wheeler, who was a steel player in town, hopped it up to 100 watts and put a 15” JBL in it, plus a tweeter. They covered it in black Naugahyde with a white grille, so it looked really sharp. We thought it made a Spanish electric guitar sound glassy and warm. Buddy ended up playing electric bass on “Rebel Rouser” and most of my hits were cut in with a bass amp as powerful as mine with two 15” JBL bass speakers and a tweeter, which is why you hear the [pick attack] on those records. Those amps looked like early Standels, only a lot more luxurious.

The DeArmond tremolo unit you used was an unheralded gizmo. 
It was definitely part of our sound back then. I had another, but Ry Cooder and I plugged it in one day and it went up in smoke (laughs)!

Did you have any input into the design of your signature Guild? 

Somewhat, but they screwed it up at the beginning and reversed the location of the Master Volume knob and the pickup switch. I wanted the switch on the upper part and the Volume on the lower cutaway, just like my Gretsch, so the publicity photos on the cover of the anthology show the guitar set up the wrong way. I made them change it.

I kept the design of that guitar like the Gretsch; it had DeArmond pickups but I had wanted it to be deeper-sounding. Other than that, there were cosmetic things such as the original gold and black color scheme. That was supposed to be the only color combination, but they took it upon themselves to make the model in other colors, as well. The deal I made with them was that the one like I played would sell for around $700, and they were to build a cheaper version that had a Bigsby for around $400. They fudged on that too; the $400 guitar ended up with a plain tailpiece, though I did see a few with a Bigsby.

Eddy playing his Gretsch with a Howard amplifier in late 1958/early ’59.

In addition to other notable guitarists cited in the anthology booklet, who else have you played with that you think should be noted? 
Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Albert Lee, and I all did concerts together. I’ve done studio work with Steve Cropper, John Fogerty, and others.

Do you collect? 
Not really, but I’ve kept every one of my guitars with the exception of the Les Paul I traded in on my 6120. I had two Martins that were in a California store needing some work when the store burned down, so I lost those. The only new instrument I have is a fine solidbody that was the last instrument made by Mike McGuire before he left Valley Arts. I think Valley Arts top of the line in solidbody guitars these days.

When and why did you move to the Nashville area?
About nine years ago. We were living in Lake Tahoe and decided to move because everybody started calling me a recluse (laughs), and I was tired of being retired. I got to looking at my phone book and realized that I knew a lot more people in this area. Things started to happen right after we got settled in; I did a recording with the Art of Noise…

Which is one of the most-unusual collaborations of all time.
I know (chuckles). They were pretty avant-garde, but it worked great. Anne Dudley is a skilled and educated musician; she arranges for the London Philharmonic and does a lot of session work. She wrote music for The Crying Game and other movies. J.J. Jeczalik has produced the Pet Shop Boys; he’s very clever with his computers and Fairlights. My friend, Eddy Pumer, mentioned that he’d spoken to me and Derek Green, the head of China Records, jumped up and said, “That’s it!” The Art of Noise liked the idea, and when I heard what they did I thought it was far out and different, but I thought such a joint venture would work well. It was a remarkable experience and there was a concert recorded in Newcastle, England, that was shown on “The Tube.” 

What do you especially appreciate about guitar-instrumental music? 
I think it’s the cleverest thing in the world when players can pick up an instrument that has basically the same six strings and neck length and get many different kinds of music and sound that express so many different feelings with it. It’s truly amazing. Each person can get his own sound with his personal touch and technique. It makes for fascinating listening; you can go from player to player and say “Look at what he’s doing.”

One thing I’ve noticed in Nashville is that some stars are not only great singers and songwriters, they’re phenomenal players – guys like Vince Gill, Steve Wariner, and Ricky Skaggs. Get them with someone like Albert Lee and they’ll blaze you right off the planet (chuckles)!

What’s kept you busy recently? 
I’ve been real busy this year; I played on a track with Carl Perkins and the Mavericks. Carl’s an inspiring person. The track we did was “Matchbox,” and it’s as good as I’ve ever heard him sing it. The Mavericks were great to work with! The track is on the album Red Hot + Country, and we’re doing a TV special that was filmed live at the Ryman.

I also recorded a track with Foreigner; Mick Jones was kind enough to induct me to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in January of last year. He did a fine job and it was a nice evening. I sat with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Mick; at the next table were Dion and Chuck Berry, so I had old friends and new friends there. Later, Mick came down and we recorded “Until the End of Time.” They’re totally professional and extremely talented. Mick and Lou Gramm are fantastic men to work with.

We’re preparing a TV special doing my old hits with guests. Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, and Roy Orbison all had similar projects. It’ll probably be sort of a “rockumentary” and we’ll also do a live show. 

I’ve had songs in three hit movies during the past few months; “Rebel Rouser” was in Forrest Gump and on the soundtrack album that went to #2. Three of my tracks were used in Natural Born Killers – “Rebel Rouser,” “Shazam,” and “The Trembler.” I also had a track in Milk Money. And the Art of Noise/Duane Eddy version of “Peter Gunn” was used in commercials for Bud Lite and Mercedes. So, it’s been good.

This article originally appeared in VG’s June 1995 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

Read the 2019 Peter Stuart Kohman article.

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