Grammy-Winning Guitarist Duane Eddy, Known for ‘Peter Gunn,’ Dies at 86

Duane Eddy, the trailblazing rock ‘n’ roll guitarist who achieved stardom in the late ’50s and early ’60s with a series of instrumental hits such as the iconic theme to the TV series “Peter Gunn” and “Rebel Rouser,” passed away on April 30 in Franklin, Tennessee. He was 86 years old.

The guitarist’s representative announced that he was in the company of his devoted wife, Deed, and his family. According to the representative, Duane’s unmistakable ‘Twang’ sound served as an inspiration to countless guitarists worldwide. Not only was he the first rock and roll guitar legend, but he was also a remarkably humble and incredible individual. His absence will be deeply felt.

Duane Eddy achieved great success in his career, with an impressive record of 16 top-40 singles and three top-10 45s between 1958 and 1963. Historian Dan Forte, in the notes for a 1993 Rhino Records compilation, recognized the impact of Eddy’s work, stating that his first hit, “Rebel Rouser,” played a significant role in establishing the concept of the guitar hero.

According to the CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Kyle Young, Duane Eddy’s electric guitar had a distinctive voice of its own. Young describes Eddy’s sound as powerful, masculine, twangy, and tough. Eddy achieved over thirty hits on the pop charts, but his true impact lies in the inspiration he provided to countless musicians. Artists like the Ventures, George Harrison, Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, and Marty Stuart were influenced by Eddy’s style, which moved people to their core. The Duane Eddy sound has become an integral part of both country and rock & roll music.

Duane Eddy rose to fame with his unique and influential “twangy” style, which focused on a melodic approach to picking the low strings of his Gretsch 6120 guitar. This distinct sound had a significant impact on younger British musicians like George Harrison of The Beatles and Hank Marvin of The Shadows. Additionally, it inspired the emergence of numerous instrumental surf bands in Southern California during the early 1960s. Later on, Bruce Springsteen would pay tribute to Eddy’s powerful guitar sound in the expansive atmosphere of his iconic track “Born to Run.”

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Eddy experienced a decline in his string of hits when the British Invasion took over the American music scene in 1964-65, causing a shift in the preferences of American listeners. However, his timeless tracks continued to be featured in more than 30 films and TV shows throughout the years. He made memorable comebacks from time to time, and even managed to reach the charts in 1986 with a new version of his 1960 single “Peter Gunn” in collaboration with the U.K. group Art of Noise.

In 1994, he received the prestigious honor of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He came into this world on April 26, 1938, in Corning, N.Y., and his journey with the guitar began at the tender age of 5. By the time he turned 9, he had already mastered the art of playing the lap steel. He showcased his musical talents on local radio shows, drawing inspiration from the likes of iconic singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. As time went on, he found himself embracing the groundbreaking work of pop pioneer Les Paul, as well as the captivating sounds of country legends Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, shaping his own unique style along the way.

At the age of 13, his family relocated to Arizona. It was during this time that he got his hands on his beloved red Gretsch guitar. He formed a duo called Jimmy and Duane with his friend Jimmy Delbridge, and their talent caught the attention of local DJ and aspiring producer, Lee Hazlewood. Hazlewood saw potential in the duo and decided to record a single with them.

In November 1957, Eddy, who was only 19 years old at the time, released his debut solo single titled “Movin’ n’ Groovin'”. The song, which was co-written by Hazlewood and Eddy himself, was produced by Hazlewood and his partner Lester Sill. Although it didn’t reach the top of the charts, the song managed to make its way into the lower ranks of the national hot 100.

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In his second single release, musician Eddy-Hazlewood had initially planned to include a pair of new tunes. The first one, “Stalkin’,” was a down-tempo and moody track that was chosen as the A side. However, it was the flip side of the single, the energetic and thumping “Rebel Rouser,” that gained significant attention. DJ and dance show host Dick Clark took notice of the track’s popularity at a record hop and started playing it on his ABC network show, “American Bandstand.” This exposure led to the song’s rapid rise on the charts, reaching No. 6 nationwide. Released by Philadelphia’s Jamie Records in 1958, “Rebel Rouser” became a sensational hit.

Eddy and his production team quickly found a successful formula that would push several other instrumental songs to the top of the charts. A number of Eddy’s later hits featured a combination of his guitar melodies and the powerful tenor saxophone solos from studio expert Steve Douglas. Douglas would later go on to work on several “Wall of Sound” productions with Phil Spector, who was Sill’s partner in Philles Records.

Eddy achieved notable success on the charts with several hits, including “Cannonball” (reaching No. 15 in 1958), “Forty Miles of Bad Road” (reaching No. 9 in 1959), a rendition of Henry Mancini’s theme for “Peter Gunn” (reaching No. 27 in 1960), and the theme song for “Have Gun — Will Travel” titled “The Ballad of Paladin” (reaching No. 33 in 1962). His first album, titled “Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel,” peaked at No. 5 in 1959 and was one of his ten albums to make it onto the charts.

His most successful song was the unconventional title track for the 1960 film “Because They’re Young,” a teenage drama featuring Dick Clark. Recorded in Hollywood with renowned session musicians Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts, and Shelly Manne, the single reached its peak at No. 4 on the charts. In addition to his musical accomplishments, Eddy also ventured into acting, appearing in various Western films, exploitation pictures, and television shows such as “Have Gun – Will Travel.”

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In 1964, Eddy released his final chart single of the 1960s, titled “The Son of Rebel Rouser,” which reached No. 97. During this period, he had transitioned from Jamie to the major RCA Records and experimented with various genres including classic country, twist numbers, and songs by Bob Dylan. Despite his efforts, his later albums for Colpix and Reprise, which were out of sync with the prevailing music trends, failed to gain traction and he gradually faded from the commercial spotlight.

In the 1970s, Eddy was actively involved in production work. He collaborated with notable artists such as Waylon Jennings, Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, and BJ Thomas. It’s worth mentioning that Waylon Jennings had married Eddy’s ex-wife Jessi Colter in 1969.

In the late ’80s, Eddy’s career saw a sudden resurgence in the limelight. A revitalized version of “Peter Gunn,” dominated by synthesizers and featuring Art of Noise, propelled him to the top 10 of the U.K. charts. The accompanying music video, marked by a witty noir style, added to its popularity. This remarkable achievement earned Eddy the prestigious 1986 Grammy Award for best rock instrumental.

In 1987, Eddy garnered a remarkable lineup of fans with the release of his self-titled Capitol album. The album was produced by music legends Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne of ELO, and Ry Cooder, and also featured contributions from George Harrison and John Fogerty. Eddy’s contemporaries James Burton and Steve Cropper also lent their talents to the album. One standout track from the album, “The Trembler,” was a unique collaboration with Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar. Interestingly, this track would later be featured on the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” in 1994.

In the new millennium, Eddy remained active, making appearances at the Ponderosa Stomp, a roots-rock festival in New Orleans, in 2010. He also recorded a 2011 album titled “Road Trip” in the U.K.

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