Every since my
mouth dropped wide open watching Bill Nelson perform with Be Bop Deluxe during
an early ’70s concert at San Francisco’s Winterland, I’ve been entranced and
inspired by his guitar playing, his artistry, and his near-impossible (for mere
mortals) productivity. One of the major pleasures of my life was to finally
meet Bill in the ’90s, and enjoy a cherished “pen pal” relationship with him
So I was thrilled
when I was able to return the favor in a very small way by facilitating a
journalistic discussion between Bill and his hero, Duane Eddy. The still vital and rocking 74-year-old legend
released Road Trip in 2011, but it
took a while for schedules to clear in order for him and Bill to have a sit down.
Bill’s insights and enthusiasm—as well as Mr. Eddy’s open and honest
responses—exploded into a 12,000-word opus, and it’s a truly wonderful and
informative interaction between two incredible guitarists who have the utmost
respect for each other.
This is the
complete, unedited transcript of that conversation. An abbreviated version
appears in the January 2013 issue of Guitar Player. —Michael Molenda
Duane, it’s an
absolute delight to interview you for Guitar
Thank you, Bill. It’s a pleasure to get to talk
with you again.
As I think
you know, your music and guitar playing were tremendously inspirational to me.
When I first heard “Because They’re Young” over 50 years ago, it kick started
my own love affair with the instrument. Meeting you in London at the 2010 Mojo magazine awards ceremony—where I
was privileged to present you with a much-deserved Mojo Icon Award—was an unforgettable experience and a boyhood dream
What a night that was! You did a masterful job of
presenting, which made it an emotional and heartwarming experience for me
and the entire audience.
So now, I
get to ask you some questions! I’ll try to avoid topics that you may possibly
have covered in other interviews over the years, but, inevitably there will be
some overlap. First of all, I’d
like to take you back to your childhood. Whilst in later years you were
strongly associated with Arizona—and because of the recordings, Phoenix in
particular—you were actually born in New York State.
I was born and spent the first several years of my life
in upstate New York, a couple of hundred miles west of New York City.
What music did you
From the age of 5 or 6, I listened to the radio at
night. On the weekends, I tuned into WLS Chicago, WCKY Cincinnati, Ohio, and
WWVA Wheeling, West Virginia for their Barn
Dance program on Saturday nights. I also picked up WSM’s The Grand Ol’ Opry on Saturday nights
when possible. It was all country music, and I loved it. Every Saturday
afternoon during the summers from age 7 until I was 10, I went to the
movies to see cowboys like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, and others. I loved
the western music they played in those films!
I read lots
of American cowboy comics when I was a kid. It was a popular thing with boys in
England in the 1950s. I actually joined the Roy Rogers Club, and the Hopalong Cassidy Club, too!
So, how did the guitar enter your life? I read somewhere that you first took up
the guitar at the age of five—a remarkably young age! How did that come about?
I first discovered a guitar when I was almost six years
old. One afternoon, I saw a small acoustic guitar standing in a dark
corner of the cellar. I asked my father what it was, and he told me, explaining
that he used to serenade my mother with it when they were courting. He
showed me five or six chords—which was the extent of his
knowledge—and I just kept after it and fell in love with it. I was eight
or nine years old before I saw anyone play up and down the neck and
realized there was more to it than those chords at the end of the neck
down by the nut. What a wondrous revelation that was for me!
with my early experiences with the guitar. My father was a saxophonist, but in
his younger years had played banjo and guitar. My first guitar was a little
plastic toy with just four strings. My dad showed me how to play four ukelele
chords on it, and that was the only guitar lesson I ever had. Was your family
supportive of your developing talent?
Always. They encouraged me to perform at school
talent shows, and in the fifth grade in Bath, New York, I played lap-steel
along with a girl who played a violin. We performed a duet of a Stephen
Foster song. When I was 8 years old, my Mom took me down the road to a
neighbor who had a recording lathe and was able to record a 78 rpm
record. You only had one go at it, but I played and my sister sang, and we recorded
a couple of Christmas songs.
That seems so
wonderfully romantic! How did things develop from there?
By the time I was ten years old, we were living in a
little country store/gas station in the small farm community of Guyanoga—a
couple of miles north of the west branch of Keuka Lake. While there, I
played and sang a couple of songs at an assembly at Penn Yan Academy where I
attended school for the seventh and eighth grades. I also took three lessons on
the lap-steel, and then went to play on a radio show in Hornell, New
York. I played my first instrumental on radio there—a song called “The Missouri Waltz.” Somehow,
my parents managed to record that part of the show, and I still have the
vinyl disc of it somewhere. I didn’t continue the lessons on lap-steel,
because I wanted to learn guitar. But guitar lessons weren’t available to
me at the time.
It would be
marvelous to hear that disc! What age were you when you moved to Arizona?
We stayed in Guyanoga until I was 13, when we
packed up and went west to Tucson, Arizona. That’s where I began my
What music were
you exposed to at that
After we moved to Tucson, I began listening
to radio every day after school, and playing along with country records. I
taught myself to play that way. My heroes at that time were country artists
such as Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Carl Smith, and Ernest Tubb and his
guitar player, Billy Byrd. I also loved Louis Armstrong, and later, I
discovered Tennessee Ernie Ford. At age 14, I began hearing Les Paul,
and then Chet Atkins, and Les and Chet became heroes of mine, as well.
Atkins had a huge impact on me, too. He and Les Paul set the benchmark so high.
Did you ever think in those early days that you might be able to sustain a
career as a guitar player?
I had no idea of sustaining a career with
music before I was 18 years old. As a ten year old, I dreamed of
having a band someday, but with no concept or plan of making a career out
of music. In those times—and in my little world—no one gave thought to that
kind of idea.
Same here. I had pictures of you and Hank
Marvin of the Shadows pinned to my bedroom wall. There were also several guitar
instrumental records that I’d play on my family’s radiogram. But music seemed
like a magical, out-of-reach world—a world that a working-class kid from
Yorkshire could never enter. Did you ever consider formal lessons at all?
When I was about 11, I took a
class in music appreciation at school.
The teacher introduced us to classical music and played great
symphonies for us during the semester it lasted. One day, she asked each
student if they played an instrument. When she called on me, I said, “I play
guitar.” She got a great look of distaste on her face, and said, “Well, that’s
certainly a bad choice. You will never get anywhere playing a gee-tar. A
gee-tar is a gutter instrument!”
but a sign of those times, I guess. It must have hurt to hear that.
At first, it caught me off guard, and I was extremely
embarrassed in front of the class and hung my head in shame. I was
devastated. But then, I realized her vitriol was over the top and uncalled
for, and she was being far too judgmental for no apparent
reason. I decided to ignore her.
Damn right, too!
It was a strange experience, but I loved the
guitar and would continue playing it. Her comments had an effect,
however—a successful career playing guitar was further away than ever
from my consciousness.
But, oh my, how
you proved her wrong!
After I began having success with hit records, I
remembered that teacher once or twice, and I thought how wrong she turned
out to be. I also recall thinking at the time that I wished I knew her
name and address so that I could have sent her a Christmas card for a
couple of years!
There was a
music teacher at my school who actually encouraged
me in my attempts to play guitar. She didn’t teach music theory or anything
like that—she just played recordings of
all kinds of music to open up our ears. She got me and my guitar-playing school
chum to play at the school Christmas concert as a duo—my first public
performance. I’d love to be able to thank her for encouraging me, but it’s so
long ago and far away. Were you an ambitious and confident youngster, planning
for your musical future?
I was ambitious when I was young, but with no idea of
which way to direct that ambition. I wouldn’t say I was all that confident
about many things during those years. I was very shy as a
teenager, and I suppose that could have been interpreted
as insecurity. I gained confidence as I grew older, began working in
bands, and started recording.
N’ Groovin’” went into the charts and got to number 70 or
so, I felt very encouraged and quite confident that I was on the
right path. With that mild success, I knew what I wanted to aim
for when I went back into the studio to write and record again. On
a March morning in 1958, “Rebel ‘Rouser”
and “Stalkin’” were the
results of that newly found confidence.
Did it all
unfold almost as if it was somehow destined to be?
Yes. I began working with local country musicians at 15
years of age at the VFW Hall, honky-tonks, dances at the Armory, and
small beer joints around Coolidge, Arizona. But I was still going to
school, and it was only a way of making a few extra dollars and having fun. I
never dreamed I would be able to make a career of music in those days. And I
recall wondering exactly what I was going to do with my life.
In early January 1954, my father met a local DJ named
Jim Doyle. Dad mentioned his son played guitar, so Jim invited me out to the
station to make a tape. I recorded a Chet Atkins tune I knew, and Jim played
the tape early the next morning on his show. Coolidge being a small farming
town, most everyone was awake at that time of day, and they tuned into the
That’s great, your
dad rooting for you.
As a result, I received a phone call from a local
country group, and I accepted an offer to work with
them that coming weekend at a dance at the VFW.
That must have
been exciting! What did that lead to?
At school, I met a kid named Jimmy Delbridge. We
became friends and began playing and singing together at his house almost every
day after school [Jimmy later
shortened his name to Jimmy Dell]. Jim played piano much like
Jerry Lee Lewis, but that was before we’d heard Jerry Lee. Jimmy just
played that way from playing and singing at his Church. Then, one day
in March of 1954, a new disc jockey came to our local radio station. His
name was Lee Hazlewood, and it was his first job as a DJ after graduating from
Columbia Broadcasting School in Hollywood. A school mate of mine, Ed
Myers—who aimed to be a disc jockey—told me I should meet this new DJ. “He’s
a very funny guy, and I think you’ll like him,” he said.
That, seen with
hindsight, was an amazing and fortuitous encounter.
I could not have imagined at the time how both Lee’s
and my life would benefit from our meeting—or that I would know Lee
until he died in 2007.
He was an
amazing artist and so right for your career at that point in time.
In retrospect, I’d have to consider all that “some
kinda destiny,” as you suggested.
Do you now read
music, or have any academic understanding of harmony and so on?
No. I had no formal education reading music, music
theory, harmony, or any of it. I’ve often wished I could have had that.
Me too, Duane.
There is so much to learn and explore in music. I
would have liked to learn to write out arrangements and not depend on arrangers
and other educated musicians to do it for me. I could guide them and suggest
how the arrangements should be—and I did—but I couldn’t write out those
arrangements exactly the way I heard them in my head. Don’t get me wrong—I am
not unhappy with what I did accomplish, and I wouldn’t change my
history in music for anything. I love doing what I do. My life has been
amazing! There were just a few directions and ideas that I would have liked to
execute—and be able to add to my musical repertoire—that weren’t possible due
to my limited musical education. For instance, I would have liked to score
movies, and be able to write the orchestration exactly the way I hear
it. There’s no telling how far I could have gone, or what I could
have done if I had been schooled in music. Teaching myself limited me to
what I could listen to on the radio in those days, and there wasn’t a huge
diversity to choose from back then.
young guitarists have so much information at their fingertips. It’s all out
there waiting for them. Sometimes, I think it might be a little too
easy. Having to figure out things on your own—almost in an information vacuum—helps
you develop an individual, personal, and unique approach that becomes a musical
signature of sorts. You really have to want
At the time I was teaching myself, there was only
a Top Ten in either country or popular music. It wasn’t until 1956 or
1957 that the Top 40 came along, and not until June 1958 that Billboard magazine introduced the Top
100 chart. And the first week they published it, “Rebel ‘Rouser” was number 6 in the nation.
That’s quite an
achievement! In the music scene surrounding
your earliest bands, what sort of standard did local players attain? Did they
have a formal musical education of some sort and read notation, or did they
simply learn from listening to records and play intuitively by ear—as myself
and many of my own generation did?
The local guys I played with first in
Coolidge were not that accomplished. When I moved to Phoenix, I
discovered some good players there. Some had taken lessons growing up, and
there were even a couple of world class players, such as Bud Isaacs and Jimmy
Troxel. Other than that, there were only a few guys who played fairly well. At
the time, I thought they were quite good, but I discovered another,
entirely new class of musicians when I began recording in
As a side-note, I have to tell you that
since those early days, I’ve had the pleasure, the privilege, and the
honor of playing with so many of the very best musicians in the entire world.
When I was a kid, I could never have even dreamed that something like that
would happen to me.
You have an absolute dream resume, Duane—one that so many
of us guitar players are envious of. Let’s dig a little further into your
roots. Early rock and roll had its foundation in country music and blues, with
a little hint of jazz and western swing—all of which you must have been exposed
And just for the record, a lot of southern
gospel from both white and black churches, as well. Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke
were but two examples of the many artists who incorporated that influence into
their mainstream rock and roll music.
I know that
country music is close to your heart, but how about jazz and blues? Were you
aware of the different threads that wove rock and roll’s still blossoming,
colourful tapestry when you first began to make your own recordings?
I was aware of most all the different genres by
the time I began recording, but hearing them and playing them are two
different things. I couldn’t play jazz, but I did learn how to play blues in February 1958, while I was doing
a weeklong rock and roll show in downtown Los Angeles. I only had one record
out, Moovin’ N’ Groovin’, but I was booked on the show, and it was like
going to college for me. I worked with Roy Hamilton, Don and Dewey, Thurston
Harris and The Sharps, and other R&B acts for the first time. I plunged
head first into that culture.
Was that a kind
I was very green, and it was quite obvious when I ran
on stage to do my one song. But the Sharps took me under their wing and
pointed out things that were extremely helpful, and by the end of that week, I
was getting a fairly good idea of what to do on stage. We also went out
together after hours. They took me down to Watts—to the 5-4
Ballroom on Central Avenue—where there was a big orchestra playing nothing
but blues. They had a full horn section, four guitar players,
keyboard, bass, drums, and percussion. The band also had a
lead male singer, a female lead singer, and four background singers. There was
a bandleader/conductor, and it was like the big bands of the 1940s, except
they only played rhythm and blues. At the invitation of the bandleader—and
at the Sharps’ urging—I sat in with the band for an hour or so, and that
night, I learned how to play the blues.
Oh, man, how I
wish I could have heard that!
Later, for my first few albums, I attempted to play
different styles of music. I was pretty basic, funky, and crude with my playing
in those days—I still am, though I’ve refined it somewhat—but it was all great
fun to do. That was the beauty of recording albums in those days. You had to
buckle down and work at recording something you thought might be a
hit when recording a single, but when recording an album, we
were free to do as we pleased—experiment with unusual ideas,
try different types of music, and so on.
Who were the
people you thought of as your contemporaries or peers at that time?
All the rock and roll artists were my contemporaries at
the time. Bobby Darin, the Everly Brothers, Dion and the Belmonts, Sam Cooke,
Brenda Lee, Connie Francis, Chuck Berry, the Platters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jack
Scott, Jimmy Clanton, Lloyd Price, Jackie Wilson, the Shirelles, Little
Richard, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper,
Eddie Cochran, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Annette Funicello, Dinah Washington, etc., etc.,
etc. We all worked together on shows at one time or another, and I became
good friends with most of them.
What a fabulous
roll call. Which of them impressed you the most and why?
Who impressed me the most? All of them—but each for
distinctly different reasons. In those days, each artist was unique. Jackie
Wilson wasn’t anything like the Everly Brothers, for instance, but I
loved Jackie’s singing—especially his blues—and, at the same time, I
loved the harmonies of the Everlys. There’s no more beautiful sound in the
world than those two brothers singing together.
I loved their music, too. Hearing “Cathy’s
Clown” played over the big Altec Lansing speakers in my hometown dance hall in
my early teens was transcendental. I loved hearing so many great records in that environment: Buddy Holly, Eddie
Cochran, Elvis, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Connie
Francis, Brenda Lee...
At 16 years old, Brenda Lee could break your heart
singing a sad song. She could also rock with the best of them on an uptempo
song. She cut her first record when she was nine years old!
amazing! “Sweet Nothings” and “Let’s Jump the Broomstick” are just as exciting
now as they were when first released—just timeless. How about that rolling
piano-driven Fats Domino stuff?
Fats Domino’s New Orleans rock and roll was an entirely
different thing again, but it was the best. As much as you can say anyone
was the best when everyone is doing fantastic work and making such great
music. No one is the best”—they are all different and great at the same time.
My friend, Chubby Checker, had the biggest dance records of the 20th
Century with “The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again (Like We Did Last
Summer).” On stage, we only heard Chubby do the Twist
songs, but he could sing a ballad with unbelievable strength and sensitivity.
Again, I first
heard Chubby’s records at the local dance hall. The Twist was a liberating
dance for those of us who were usually holed up in the balcony near the Altec
Lansings, too scared to jive.
Lloyd Price used to have a fairly extensive cast on
stage with him, and they would all act out the song he was singing—such as “Stagger Lee.” It was
amazing to see. Bobby Darin was the consummate performer, a great songwriter,
and he later became an excellent actor. He didn’t continue doing rock and roll,
but when I met him in 1958, his big hit was “Splish Splash”—as rockin’ a record as you could ask for. Chuck
Berry’s playing, singing, and writing was superb. His songwriting is still
being studied today because of the clever way his lyrics are so syncopated
with his rhythmic melodies.
Chuck has influenced so many well-known English guitarists
of a certain generation. The early Rolling Stones benefitted so much from him.
Me, as well, when I was in a band called Group 66 in 1964. We covered lots of
his recordings. Buddy Holly had an equally powerful influence...
Buddy Holly and the Crickets were fun to watch, as were
Dion and the Belmonts. From the Bronx to West Texas, from Philadelphia to
Phoenix, and all over America, it was all rock and roll with an
unbelievable array of talent.
And a genuine
Golden Age for the electric guitar. Electricity plus passion equals rock and
I can safely say that we artists all loved our rock and roll. It
was a happy music, and pure joy to jump in and put your whole body and
soul into the playing of it. And we all loved and enjoyed each other’s
versions of the music.
memories have stayed with you from that time?
Besides being impressed by my peer’s talents, I
was also impressed by them personally. For example, while doing an Alan Freed
show at the Brooklyn Fox Theater, I first met the Everly Brothers and
discovered their father, Ike, was a thumbpicker along the lines of Merle Travis
and Chet Atkins. And those great thumbpickers and the Everlys all knew
each other—which impressed me mightily at that time. In that same theater
during that same week of shows, I also sat in a dressing room one afternoon and
jammed with Chuck Berry. I asked him what put him onto playing his style with
the two notes at once that he constantly did. His answer was, “It gives me
a heavier sound with more power—same as your playing on the bass
strings gives you such a strong sound.”
I was also impressed with most all the artist’s
niceness as people. They were all young—most beginning their careers in
their teens, with a few in their early 20s. Just a bunch of kids really—all
acting as grown up and professional as they knew how. I’m glad I knew
every one of them. I loved them and I miss them to this day.
How about Elvis?
I never really considered Elvis Presley a peer. I
always thought of him as being on a level of his own—much higher than the
rest of us. That is, until I met him and spent an evening with him and
Priscilla in Las Vegas in 1971. After talking with him, I realized he thought
of all of us as his peers, and he loved our music. He treated me as an
equal, and it was an amazing evening. I was able to thank him for what he did
for me personally—and for all of us—by enabling us to have careers we might not
have had if he hadn’t opened the door by defining rock and roll and
setting the standard. He made it so popular and successful that it allowed
the rest of us to jump on his bandwagon.
In the late 1950s
when you were recording those iconic tracks for the Jamie label, how
important was the producer’s role in the process? History tends to depict
producers from the ‘50s and ‘60s as all-powerful Svengali characters,
ruthlessly manipulating young artists to conform to the commercial marketplace.
Your producer at that time was the now-legendary Lee Hazlewood. How did the
relationship between yourself and Lee work?
As you know, things always appear different from
the inside than from the outside, and much more important looking backward than
they seemed going forward. First of all, Lee and I had become friends
while he was in his first job as a disc jockey, and I was going to high school
and singing and playing locally. We became friends and began experimenting
with musical ventures. One of those early experiments was Lee writing and
producing two tracks on Jimmy Dell and myself singing together. Nothing was
ever done with it, but it was a fun experience for us. That was the first time
for either Lee or me in a recording studio, and when we started working in
the studio again a couple of years later, we just picked up where we left off
and worked well together.
Was it a
comfortable, natural process, or did you sometimes experience friction and
conflicts of opinion?
The only occasional friction between us was
when he would berate some of the musicians. The sidemen in Phoenix were
made up mostly of country players who worked in honky-tonks six nights a week,
and then showed up to help us make records at nine o’clock every morning. They’d
be a bit bleary eyed and quiet, and occasionally they’d play a
wrong note. Once in a while, Lee would jump on them for that and
not let up. When it was getting to the point of really pissing off the
musician, hurting his feelings, or embarrassing him, I would speak up
and make a comment to lighten the situation. Lee would drop it, and the moment
He was an equal opportunity insulter, though. I’ve
talked to musicians in Hollywood who were upset with his style of communication.
I recall one well-known guitar player who was somewhat disgusted—and a bit
surprised—when Lee addressed him as “guitar player number five” over the studio
There was one time early on, when he and I had an
important disagreement and serious conflict regarding music. We had
recorded a song called “Mason Dixon
Lion.” Lee wanted it to be the follow-up to “Rebel ‘Rouser.” I said, “Absolutely
not!” He looked at me in surprise and asked, “Why not?” I explained that
it sounded too much like “Rebel ‘Rouser,”
and I thought it would be a huge mistake to release a somewhat
similar-sounding track as a follow-up. We went round and round about that
for a while. But I was adamant, and he finally gave in.
In any event, my follow-up to “Rebel ‘Rouser” was decided for us when I played a song named “Ramrod”
live on the Dick Clark Saturday Night
Beechnut Show, which was an ABC Network TV show broadcast all over the
country. The following Monday morning, the label received more
than 150,000 orders for the record, so it became my third single.
I didn’t know of any Svengali type producers,
although I did hear that word bandied about in conjunction with Nancy
Sinatra and Lee in later years. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Nancy was a very strong and independent young lady who didn’t take
crap from anyone. And although she never traded on the fact, she was Frank
Sinatra’s daughter, and for that reason alone, Lee wouldn’t have dared
give her any grief. She was very aware musically, and she picked the songs she sang. Lee
was inspired to write great material for her, and he worked with her to get
those songs recorded like she envisioned, but he was no Svengali.
Is it possible
he started that rumor himself to spice up the PR aspect of their working
relationship, give himself more credit for their success, and possibly
make for a more interesting story? It wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Not that he didn’t come up with great ideas and
contribute immensely, but Lee was still prone to exaggerating his role in
producing hit records and taking more credit then was due him for
ideas that really belonged to his artists. For the most part, when I heard
about such comments, it made me laugh.
Lee was easy to work with regarding music. He was
untrained and uneducated musically, and he simply knew what he liked and what
was going on in the charts. He was always open to new ideas, and the only
thing he was firm and resolute about was the sound on the tracks. Lee
knew exactly what he wanted to hear on each and every instrument and was
He had listened to hundreds of records while he was a
disc jockey, and he analyzed the sound of those recordings on the good
equipment that radio stations usually had in their studios in those days. He
knew what bass sound he wanted, what drum sound, piano sound, etc., and he’d
work until he got it. I believe he made better-sounding records than
anyone else in the business in those days. He deserves all the credit for
those old records of ours still sounding good and holding up fairly well today.
But your characterization of 1950s and 1960s
“all-powerful Svengali characters, ruthlessly manipulating young artists
to conform to the commercial marketplace” is a myth that’s way off the mark.
Nobody had to manipulate me—or
anyone else I knew in those days—toward a commercial market place.
I wanted to get a hit as much as Lee did. That was always our goal from
In England, back
in the early ‘60s, there were producers and managers who created the artist’s
entire persona and were kind of control freaks. I’m thinking of producers like
Joe Meek and Larry Parnes. Of course, this was all done to target a mass
audience, and it generally worked in terms of getting hit records, but quite a
few of those artists later revealed themselves to have more under their
hats—particularly when the later ‘60s counter-cultural rock scene emerged, and
artistic-expression became fashionable.
There were no record companies back then who would
allow us to record for the sake of “artistic expression.” It cost money to make
a record, and if you didn’t make some money with the first effort, you
seldom got a chance at a second one. Of course, no one knew for certain
what constituted a hit. We just went with our gut feelings. I went with
what was happening at the time, and what I thought the public might
like—which, if I was in tune with them, was usually the same type thing I
liked, multiplied a few million times over. It was music for people of my age
and younger, and the so-called “Establishment” thought we were all rebelling.
But we weren’t. We were just musically having the time of our lives. I loved
making the music, and the world’s teenagers loved listening to it and dancing
to it. It was as simple as that. It was new, it was exciting, and it
There was a
certain amount of controversy attached to rock and roll though, at least as far
as the popular press of the day was concerned.
I think those stories of riots were manufactured by the
Tin Pan Alley music crowd. They were losing out on a great amount of revenue
with the advent of rock and roll. They hated us, and the cry came right
from their camp as they screamed, “Rock and roll will never last!” Now, there
might have been a fight or two outside a rock and roll venue, but not riots.
Still, they banned certain songs from being played on the radio by saying they
were too explosive and a bad influence on the youth of the nation. My
record, “Rebel ’Rouser,” was
banned in Boston. Of course, to us, that was an inverted honor, and Lee
and I were quite pleased. It was great publicity, and a dark
validation of the fact that we had a successful rock and roll record.
experienced a fair amount of that kind of mis-reporting myself over the years.
Sometimes it’s been quite funny, other times damn frustrating, but once
something gets into print, it multiplies like a virus.
If there was manipulation in those days, it took the
form of changing the story after the fact. There is so much fiction
written, and so many false stories told about me inventing my style of playing
and developing my sound on the guitar, that if they were to be believed, you
would think I had little or nothing to do with any of it. For example, years
after I’d had my hit records, I began reading interviews where Lee said he had
told me to play on the bass strings. According to his story, he had gotten the
idea for my style from a piano player in the 1940s who played single-note
melodies. The truth is, the idea for my style was totally my own. There was
even a local Phoenix musician—whom I considered a good friend—who began to take
credit for teaching me how to play guitar, and for coming up with my sound. He
even claimed to have played my parts on several of my records! All his claims
were so obviously false that it really pissed me off at the time. But I
eventually wrote it off as an example of the damage caused by his lifelong
battle with alcohol.
that you have produced other artists. Do you find it an enjoyable experience?
What would you say defines your personal approach to production?
Then—as now—I believe the producer’s role is to listen
carefully, sense where the artist is going, and help them make his or her own
record. As a producer, you’re there to keep the artist from going off the road
with some of their wilder ideas, and if they get jammed up, to help
untangle the mess. Along the way, a producer will shape the direction of the
project by suggesting ideas to the artist. A producer’s job is to set the
session up, take care of business necessities such as the budget, book the
studio, pay the musicians, etc., He also coordinates the sound with the
engineer, guides the musicians in the studio, and is there to take the pressure
off the artist so that he or she is able to be creative, and to feel free to
perform without worrying about anything else.
What was a
memorable production job for you?
I produced Phil Everly’s first solo
album. All I did was to make it as easy as possible for him to do what he
wanted. He already knew how to make hit records. He’d written most of the
album, but he did agree to do one outside song I suggested for the project. I
was not about to ask him to sing harmony with himself, but when he
suggested it, I was very pleased. When he actually did it, I was over the moon!
He has such a great voice, and he is without question the best harmony
singer in the past century. He just thinks a bit differently than all the rest,
and executes his harmony better than anyone.
How did the role
of producer sit with you?
I have to say that I probably would have enjoyed it
much more if I’d produced a hit record. I thought I might get one with Phil. I
asked both RCA and Phil’s management repeatedly to release the song I’d brought
to the project as the first single. They all refused me, so that was that. But
there was a group in England who told me later that they were listening to
Phil’s album because they were fans of both of ours, and when they heard that
song, they felt that it must—absolutely must—be
the single from our album. When they found out it wasn’t, they went right into
the studio that night and
recorded the song. The group was the Hollies, and the song was “The Air That I Breathe.” After
they had sold two million copies, Phil called me, and said, “Well, you’ve
been vindicated.” Then, I
produced three or four tracks for Waylon Jennings and the Crickets, but they
weren’t intended to be singles, and they didn’t impress anyone. So I went back
to work on the road, went on to have another hit record of my own, and I
lost interest in producing records.
The guitar sound
you originated—which gave birth to the term “twang”—is very much a Duane Eddy
trademark, and still instantly recognizable, despite being adopted, referenced,
quoted, and appropriated in the playing of many other guitarists of subsequent
It’s often said that imitation is the most sincere form
of flattery, and I am always completely flattered when I know that someone was
influenced by my sound. I love hearing others play that
sound, and all is right with the world when a certain song cries out for
the sound to be there, and it is there—even though I didn’t
play it myself. And, sometimes, especially since I didn’t play it
I have also often noted with wry humor that
plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery, but I don’t mean it. There
was only a couple of times when I was really plagiarized, and that was in the
1960s when a New York City guitar player named Al Caiola copied my sound as
best he could and had a few hits. He did songs like “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Bonanza Theme,” and so on. I didn’t
find it flattering, and I didn’t feel they were great records, but they did
very well—mostly on the strength of my records being so popular at the
You’re very much
what I would consider to be a “musical stylist,” in that there seems to be a
relatively consistent musical design or motif at work throughout your career.
However, albums such as Songs Of Our
Heritage showed that there are other facets to your playing and your
creative sensibility. As commercially successful as it has been for you, have
you ever felt, no matter how slightly, a little frustrated or musically fenced
in by the “Twang Thang?”
I’ve never thought of it that way. That sound on
the guitar is my voice. If I were a singer I couldn’t change it, and it doesn’t
hold me back from doing any idea I can think of. When I deviated from the bass
strings of the electric guitar on several occasions, I did so in response
to an idea, a thought, or a wish to explore something entirely different than
what I usually do. I imagine a guitar player of unusually great skill
and diversity might find themselves feeling “fenced in” by perceived
limitations of the “Twang Thang.” But why would they be doing something like
that anyway? Every guitar player has his or her own approach to the instrument.
I have discovered that it is extremely interesting and challenging to fit my
sound and style of playing into different settings, and make it seem as though
it belongs there. I’ve worked with small groups and orchestras. I’ve done pure
country music—such as my Twang A Country Song album with Buddy
Emmons, the world’s greatest pedal-steel player—and I’ve also recorded a few
tracks of Hawaiian music with Jerry Byrd. I’ve done Blues and approached
Jazz and Dixieland. I recorded an album of Tin Pan Alley songs of the 1940s
with a big band. I’ve put the Twang into weird, avant-garde sounds
such as The Art Of Noise. And I’ve worked with different producers, from
Lee Hazlewood, Jimmy Bowen, and Dick Glasser, to Tony McCauley, Ann Dudley,
Paul McCartney, Ry Cooder, and Richard Hawley with Colin Eliott. They all
introduced their individual stamp on what I do, but, through it all, I
believe I’ve still managed to maintain the integrity and the
character of my sound.
important point. I’ve placed my own playing in all sorts of contexts, but
people always say that, no matter how outside or experimental things might get,
my playing is recognizable. I’ve sometimes wanted to sound like one or other of
my heroes, but it still somehow
ends up sounding like me. It seems we’ve got no choice in the matter!
I’ve always attempted to push the envelope—or at least
give it a nudge one way or the other. I like exploring different textures on
tracks in the studio, and different types of arrangement ideas. For me,
it’s not just playing the instrument, it’s also making the record. I
guess a better way of explaining it is that I don’t write or
as such. Instead, I think of it as writing or arranging records. My sound is the
common denominator that pulls all the threads and knits them together. This
allows me to go in any direction I can think of, and still have a recognizable
product when I’m finished. As a result, I have never felt the
slightest bit frustrated or musically fenced in. As long as I am exploring
new territory, trying new ideas, and playing simple-sounding licks that
are sometimes quite complicated and difficult to execute, I can love both
the challenge and the results.
Les Paul and
Chet Atkins are two other hugely influential guitarists, and I know that you
admired their playing. Your recordings of “Lover” and “Trambone” were, I’m
guessing, an affectionate nod to Les and Chet. But these tracks beautifully
illustrate your gift for playing in the broader context I was referring to in
my previous question. Would an album built entirely along similar lines ever be
You are right. Those songs were my attempts at tributes to Les and Chet. I
am not a smooth thumbpicker, though, and I can only approximate what Chet
does. It’s the same with Les. I was totally impressed with Jeff Beck’s Les
Paul tribute on the Grammys right after Les passed away. He and [vocalist]
Imelda May did an astounding job of sounding like Les Paul and Mary Ford’s
recording—not an easy feat to accomplish!
As for an album of mine built entirely along similar
lines—I rather doubt it. I’d like to, but I don’t know if or when I’ll have the
opportunity to record again. Though it’s always a possibility, I suppose. Only
a couple of years ago, I certainly never expected to be recording with Richard
Hawley and his Merry Men in Sheffield. So I guess that shows that anything
can happen. But I
have no idea whether Road Trip sold enough to encourage the record
company to come back for more. But if someone asks me to record, I’m
ready, willing, and still able.
Going at this
from a different angle, I think it would be fascinating to hear your signature
sound and style within an experimental, more abstract framework. You’ve made
some very contemporary-sounding recordings over the years—I’m thinking of your
collaboration with Art Of Noise in particular—but I wonder if there’s an album
of dark, drifting, deeply atmospheric, improvisational, haunted, almost
ambient music lurking in some mysterious corner of your soul?
Good Heavens, I hope so! Your description sounds
so great, it makes me want to stop writing this, pack up my guitar and amp, and
head for the studio right now! Because I think you are right—I have always
had ideas such as you describe floating around in the back of my
mind. And I would love to
give that type of thing a try. Actually I think Richard and I approached somewhat close to your description
with “Desert Song” on
the Road Trip album. It had some of those elements in that it was
drifting, atmospheric, and improvisational. But I’d still like to
have another go at doing a track with all the
elements you mention. I believe I could do haunted and dark, as well, and
I would certainly love having a go at it.
I’d love to hear
I thought it sounded as though you are doing
that sort of thing on some of the tracks on your albums, Bill. Your
playing is gorgeous, and you really take us on an atmospheric and
mysterious journey. Perhaps you and I could get into the studio
at some point and do a track or two like that.
flattered that you’d consider such a thing. I would love that. It would
certainly be a dream come true for me! There’s
a “golden chain” of unique guitar players, which stretches from players such as
Charlie Christian, Eddie Lang, Django Rheinhardt, and Merle Travis through Les
Paul, Chet Atkins, yourself, and others—right up to the present day. Do
you feel that new ground is being broken by the current crop of players? Or is
it more a matter of younger musicians mainly revisiting older styles and
I often hear new, young musicians who are fantastic,
and I believe there will always be someone who comes along and breaks new
ground with a guitar. I’d bet they’re doing it right now, but we just haven’t
heard them yet. Among them are many who are revisiting older styles and attitudes,
and that is, ironically, a great way to break new ground. You revisit the
old established sounds and styles, and then with those influences in your
subconscious, you work to invent your own style or sound. That’s one of the
ways it can be done—taking elements from here and there, blending them
together, adding your own ideas, and thereby creating something new and fresh.
Something not heard before, but with just a tantalizing hint of
Another way of doing it is to begin with a totally
clean slate, and create something new and different that comes from within your
brain. Something you’ve never heard or thought of before, and no one else has
either, as far as you can tell. That’s a bit more difficult to do, but
immensely rewarding and satisfying to accomplish.
Unfortunately, it’s more difficult these days to
get noticed, played on the radio, and get to the top with something original
and new. Although with the advent of the Internet and YouTube, there are new
ways opening up for the public to find the artists whose music is exactly what
they want. As it always has, the music business evolves and changes with the
times. One group I like very much, the Black Keys, are doing great and making
fans all over the world. Their success certainly proves that it can still be
Two of my favorite
contemporary guitarists are Bill Frisell and Fred Frith. Their approach
respects and upholds elements of tradition, whilst simultaneously looking to a
more radical future. Their playing is complex, fearless, and beautiful, but
perhaps not what people would consider mainstream. What I’m trying to say is
that the guitar—whilst being the most popular instrument of all time—is capable
of a widescreen range of sounds and moods, yet relatively few players are given
credit for getting “out there” into realms that are considered avant-garde. I’m
curious as to what your take might be on this sort of thing. After all, you
were pushing the sonic envelope in a very fresh and exciting way on those now-classic
recordings. What, for instance, were your thoughts on Jimi Hendrix when he
first came on the scene? Did you relate to him and his music? Are you still
open to wild guitar adventures?
I am always open to wild guitar
adventures! When I was a young man and constantly exploring new things, I
was able to see and hear great players like Barney Kessel and Howard Roberts. I
saw Segovia at the Town Hall in New York City. I went to see flamenco players
at clubs in Los Angeles. I saw B.B. King play live, as well as Chet Atkins and other
great players and guitar heroes of mine. I even hired some of them to be on my
recording sessions in Hollywood. But I never saw Jimi Hendrix—except on
TV, and I certainly loved that. He had to be one of the best—if not the best—showman
with a guitar of all time. I wish I could have met him, and felt his attitude
and charisma in person. I believe I would have liked him a lot. Apparently,
according to all his friends from his teenage years, he was a huge fan of my
records—which was great to hear.
I agree with you about Bill Frisell and Fred
Frith. And, no, I don’t believe they could be considered mainstream.
That’s not to say that either of them couldn’t come up with something that
would appeal to the mainstream. I remember that guys somewhat like them back in
the ’50s and ’60s occasionally did something unusual that would make its way
into the mainstream and open up new worlds to the music public. Antonio Carlos
Jobim introducing the world to bossa nova in the 1960s comes to mind.
Let’s talk about
specific guitars a little. Throughout the years, you’ve played the three big ‘Gs’—Gretsch,
Guild, and Gibson. But for many fans—myself included—the Gretsch 6120 will
always be the ultimate Duane Eddy guitar. You’ve recently returned to
Gretsch, who have issued a new Duane Eddy signature model. Did you have
personal input into the design of this instrument? How closely was it based on
your original 6120?
It is very
closely based on my original 6120. Fender’s Master Builder Stephen Stern
came to Nashville, and he measured my original guitar and studied it carefully
before he went back to California and built the prototype. He discovered
several differences between the 1957 Gretsch 6120 and the ones they make today.
In what way?
First, the body on the ’57 was an eighth of an
inch deeper. Then, the neck was much narrower, and the binding was wider.
Stephen also added bracing inside to soak up some of the feedback those guitars
can produce when put through a powerful amp. I also made a few minor
changes. I had the idea of putting longer pins in the Bigsby to make it easier
to change strings. Anyone who has ever changed strings on a Bigsby knows that
it is extremely difficult to hold the string on the pin while you attempt to
thread the other end through the tuner key. I solved that a few years ago by
having my luthier friend Mike McGuire lengthen the pins on the Bigsby. It works
wonderfully, and it solved that irritating little problem nicely. So I asked
that the pins be lengthened on all the Bigsbys on my signature model,
and Fred Gretsch complied. I also asked for a Tru-Arc bridge to be a
feature, as it gives the guitar a bit more sustain and a somewhat clearer
tone—or more twang, if
How about the
pickups? Your original guitar used those now classic DeArmonds.
The pickups on my old ’57 are fading a bit. I have to
turn the amp up more to get the full sound from them. But the new
guitar with the DynaSonic single-coil pickups that were modeled after the
DeArmonds on my original ’57 Gretsch—and with the same maple body—sounds
exactly like my old original Gretsch. It’s like having the ’57 back all
new again! It plays the same and sounds the same as my original. The
minor changes I made only improve the new guitar.
If you want to hear
what I mean, check out Road Trip. You
can hear the sound hasn’t changed, and yet it was recorded with the new signature
model. That album is the first thing I’ve ever recorded that I didn’t use the
original ’57 on. Except, of course, the tracks where I used the
Danelectro bass-string guitar, or an acoustic or gut string.
It’s only in
more recent years that I discovered “Because They’re Young” was actually
recorded on a Danelectro Baritone, rather than on a Gretsch archtop. Can you
recall which other of your classic tracks were done with the Dano?
Mine was the Danelectro bass-string guitar. I believe
they tune a baritone guitar to a B,
whereas the Dano bass guitar is tuned to E,
but one octave lower than a regular guitar. I recorded most of my third
album, The Twang’s the Thang, on the Dano. I’d just discovered and
bought one not long before I began working on that album.
suited those tunes.
At the time, I felt the Dano might have been designed
especially with me in mind. In retrospect, I don’t know that it
was, for I never got to meet [Danelectro founder] Nate Daniel to find out
if he’d had any thoughts of my sound when he came up with the idea for the
guitar. But it works well for me, and when I have to play in a key that doesn’t
suit my sound as well on the Gretsch, I get out the Dano and use that. Just a
few years ago, I used it when I worked with Hans Zimmer on the soundtrack for Broken
Arrow, starring John Travolta and Christian Slater. The music Hans had
written for the soundtrack was in the key of C. For the ominous low notes needed, I had to go to the Dano
to get them to sound the way I liked to hear them in that key.
Forgive me, but
the following is, I guess, real geek stuff. When I was 11 years old, I made a
cardboard replica of your Gretsch 6120—which I copied from the photographs on
the covers of the Especially For You and
The Twang’s the Thang albums. I
painted this cardboard guitar red, as that was how the color came across on the
album sleeves. Of course, I later discovered that 6120s were actually orange.
Did your original Gretsch have more of a red tint, or was that an illusion
created by the printing process back then?
That is a good question—nothing geeky about it at
all. Well, maybe a little geeky. But
aren’t we all a bit geeky as kids? Nobody grows up already being a wise
old man. Back to your question, the guitar is orange, but it always photographed as red. Even
with the digital cameras of today, it still tends to photograph more red than
orange. The new signature model seems to do the same thing, and pictures I’ve
seen of me playing it make it look more red than it actually
is. I think if you put the guitar next to another guitar that was actually
painted red, it might show up as orange, but I haven’t tried that yet.
Before you got
your original Gretsch 6120, you played a Gibson Les Paul. What was it that made
you switch guitars? Was Chet Atkins’ endorsement of Gretsch an influential
No. Chet’s endorsement had nothing to do with it—nor
did the weight of the Les Paul or the sound/feel of the Gibson or the Gretsch.
I simply wanted a guitar with a Bigsby vibrato on it. Of course, when I first
held the Gretsch in my arms and played a few notes I fell in love with the
neck. It still is the best I’ve ever played. But my reason for going to
Ziggie’s Music Store in Phoenix that day in the spring of 1957, was to
look at a guitar with a vibrato on it. I just had a feeling it might be
fun to have, and might work out well for me. Was I right?
were! The vibrato arm also helped define Hank Marvin’s sound back in the 1960s—though
you both used it in your own individual ways. It’s an essential item for me,
too. What amps were you using on those early albums? I seem to recall Magnatone
and Standell amps being mentioned in connection with your work. Was that the
case? What are you using these days? I saw two huge Fender speaker cabs at your
concerts in the U.K. a while back. They looked like bass cabs with 15"
When I first bought my Gibson in a hardware store in
Coolidge, Arizona, I also bought a homemade amp from a local guy who made them
out of orange crates with chicken-wire grill. It served for a year or more
until I’d earned enough to buy a new Magnatone amp. I played through the
stock amp for a few weeks until I had it modified by Buddy Wheeler and
Dick Wilson, who were doing modifications for musicians in Phoenix. They would
modify the power plant to over 100 watts and exchange the two 8"
speakers—Jensen, I think—for one 15" JBL speaker and a tweeter. Then they
covered the amp in black Naugahyde with a white grill cloth, and it looked
great. And, of course, it sounded great. They had just finished doing my amp
when I got my new Gretsch, so I was set. I went to work that night a happy man.
Oh, how great it all sounded to me! I had unlimited power and clarity. It
was a wonderful experience.
A couple of years later, I had the opportunity to A/B
my amp with a Standell at Manny’s Music in New York City. No contest. Standell
was supposed to be the best, but my reworked Magnatone blew it away. I had more
level, more power, more clarity, and I could hit high notes or low, with more
force than I could on the Standell. On the Standell, if I hit a note that hard
and loud, the amp would break up. Don’t get me wrong—it was a lovely
amp, but not a patch on mine.
I’m pleased to
hear that you are working with ace guitar tech Gordon White when you tour the U.K.
You couldn’t be in better hands. Gordon is an absolute treasure, and he has
been my personal choice of “guitar-fettler” for several years. Gordon told me
that he’d made you a pedalboard for the U.K. concert dates, and that you’d
never had such a thing before. I was greatly intrigued by the idea of Duane
Eddy with a pedalboard, and I wonder if you could tell us what resides on it.
I absolutely love Gordon White! Everything
you say about him is true 100 times over. He’s the best I’ve ever seen. He’s a
mind reader. Just when I have any kind of a problem and think about
looking around for him, I turn and there he is beside me, already working on the
solution to whatever the problem might be. He’s totally amazing. The
pedalboard he made for me is extremely minimal. It has my Dunlop tremolo,
a tuner, and a Nocturne Dyno Brain boost pedal.
successful instrumentalist in pop and rock isn’t an easy accomplishment. Were
you ever under any pressure to sing, as well as play guitar?
Thank you. It’s a strange accomplishment. As Willie
Nelson says, I was “one in a row.” Conan O’Brien once asked me on his show,
“Duane, you’ve been in this business for many years now. What do
you consider your greatest contribution to music?” I answered, “Not
singing.” I never felt that I had a good voice for singing. When I was
young, this frustrated me a lot, so I took it out on the guitar.
Not only did you
take up the instrument at a very early age, but your commercial success came
early in life, too. The music business is notorious for unfairly exploiting
artists. Nowadays, there’s much more available information to forewarn young
musicians of the pitfalls and rip-offs that might eventually hurt them. When I
started my professional career, I was a complete innocent, and, like so many
musicians, I later suffered the consequences. I’d be interested to know what
your own experience of the industry has been.
Believe me, it would ruin your entire day to learn
about all the crap I went through. I fell in with a nest of snakes and a den of
thieves, and I didn’t even realize it for several years. That was probably a
good thing, because I just kept going—even though I subconsciously felt something was very
wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I kept thinking that this kind
of life should have been better than it was turning out to be. Years later, I
found out exactly what the labels, agents, management—and even some of those folks
whom I thought of as good friends—were doing to me. But that’s another
story for another time.
Well, I can
empathize with you there. We can exchange horror stories next time we meet! Do
you have any words of hard-won wisdom to pass on to younger players?
As pedal-steel player Buddy Emmons said in an interview
when asked the same question: “Not one damned thing!” Later on,
I asked him why he said that, and he explained, “Every young musician has
to make his or her own mistakes and learn the ropes themselves to really
get educated. If I gave them advice, they would not understand much of it, and
probably wouldn’t believe any
I’ve pretty much adopted that credo for my own. Young
kids don’t want to hear how the old Geezers did it. That was way back in the
Stone Age. They live in more modern times now, and it’s all new and
different from what the old folks went through—or so they think. However, when
I am asked by a young artist who sincerely wants to know, I give them this
general advice, which is to find their own style, do it with authority, and let
their emotions show through when singing or playing. I learned to do that by
listening to country singers when I was growing up, and it worked out very well
Perhaps this is
a tender subject, but although we both remain passionate about music and
guitars, we’re older now. And yet, I noticed while watching your live
performances a couple of years ago, that you have managed to maintain a
wonderful sense of physical stamina and mental focus in your playing. What’s
the secret? Do you have a special pre-show regime? Do you follow a healthy
lifestyle at home? So many rockers fall foul of one thing or another. How have
you maintained a distance from such negative influences?
No pre-show regime. The only thing I consciously do is
to try to avoid stress. I have a wonderful group of people around me to help me
do just that. My wife, Deed, is my number-one partner in the team, but
there’s also my friend and manager Graham Wrench, my friend Richard Hawley, and
our musician friends Jon Trier, Colin Elliot, Shez Sheridan, Dean Beresford,
Paul Corry, Tina Peacock, and Louise Thompson. Also Graham’s assistant,
Tilde Bruynooghe, is on top of everything that’s going on. And, of course, the
man you mentioned earlier, Gordon White, and also our soundperson, Mike
Timm. These are all the most professional, hard-working, and most
talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. They seem to turn
up at the most advantageous times, so whenever there is a problem, I soon discover it’s being handled. All I end up
having to do it seems, is to strap on my guitar and walk on stage. And for
all of you musicians who may read this and experience a twinge of envy or
jealousy—just remember it took me nearly 50 years to finally fall
into this situation!
As for my health, I finally gave in and went to the
doctor. As I’ve always feared, they immediately immersed me into their
system. They found enough wrong with me that I had to quit smoking and change
my diet. I lost 30 pounds and I have to exercise, so I am now disgustingly
As for the negative influences you asked about, I’ve
been lucky. I never cared much for the taste of liquor and beer—except I do
like English beer—and I was always scared of drugs. So I’ve been lucky—I never
succumbed to negative influences. I certainly understand the temptation, and it
is very conducive to a musician’s lifestyle. Then, there’s the romantic
image of the great musician who will play even more amazing stuff when he’s
high or strung out on drugs. I never believed that myself. I believe that if
you “get out of it” and go on stage in front of an audience, you not only
look like you’re a bit demented, but your adrenaline conflicts with the alcohol
or drugs in your body and messes your mind up. Yeah, you might lose some
inhibitions and play a few things you wouldn’t have played, but you probably
could have mentally worked on losing your fear and played even better stuff
sober. All the great musicians I’ve known did their best work while sober and
straight. The great ones save the partying for when they aren’t working. Some
didn’t, of course, but most of them
are dead. I never understood that mentality. A banker, a firefighter, a bus
driver, or an accountant would never go to work stoned out of their minds. Why
do musicians think it’s a good idea to get loaded just to go to work?
I was so pleased
to see, when we met, that your gracious wife, Deed, seems to be a pillar of
strength for you. My own wife, Emiko, likewise provides the kind of emotional
support that I very much rely on in my public role as a musician. Has the fame
and adulation you’ve generated over the years been easy to deal with, or has
the presence of a strong and loving wife made the situation more comfortable
than it otherwise might have been?
I never took fame seriously, or let it go to my
head or make me conceited. I’ve always considered myself a professional
doing my job, just as any other professional does. The fame is great for
procuring more work, and who finds fault with adulation? But Deed is a source
of great strength to me, and without her I’d be lost. She makes me laugh and
cheers me up when I’m down, and I’ve learned things from her I never would
have known otherwise. She’s an intellectual partner, and, in fact, an
equal partner in everything I do. She is invaluable when it comes to
organizing our day, sorting our schedule, and making sure that I get to see old
friends and fans while out on tour. She’s the love of my life, and I can’t
imagine living without her. She has made everything happier
and better in my life.
album, Road Trip, was recorded with
Richard Hawley’s band in Richard’s Sheffield studio in South Yorkshire. For
me, as a Yorkshireman, Phoenix seems a much more glamorous and exotic location
for recording than Sheffield. I actually performed at Phoenix’s Celebrity
Theatre a few times back in the 1970s. When I was a teenager, the idea of Duane
Eddy making a record in Sheffield would have been unthinkable, and yet you seem
to have enjoyed the experience tremendously. Are there things that link
Sheffield with Phoenix in some way?
One similarity that’s not apparent at first is the
landscapes surrounding both cities. A few minutes drive out of Phoenix,
and you are in the Arizona desert—an arid land of big sky,
the Superstition Mountains, Saguaro cactus, and beckoning trails. A few
minutes drive out of Sheffield, and you are in the Yorkshire moors with canyons
leading down into beautiful pastoral valleys with flowing rivers, forests, and
charming ancient villages. The scenery in both places couldn’t be more
different, but also couldn’t be more inspiring. I’ve always had the idea that
nature’s beauty reflects itself in music, and my music was certainly influenced
by the southwestern desert. I draw musical inspiration just as much in
Yorkshire—in the spectacular hills, mountains, and moors around Sheffield—as I
do in the Arizona desert, though in a different way.
Recording at Richard’s Yellow Arch Studios was a treat
for me. It’s the first time since the 1960s that I have written and recorded an
entirely new album in the
studio with live musicians. Recording in this manner zapped me right back
to the early days at Ramsey’s studio in Phoenix. Other similarities that
link Sheffield and Phoenix are the attitudes among the musicians. When I
recorded in Phoenix in the early days of rock and roll, we figured we had an
idea of how it was done in the big time in musical cities such as Los
Angeles, New York, and Nashville. Actually, we didn’t have the slightest clue.
But the desire, the love of the music, and our naive ideas of how we
thought it should be, carried us through. Along the way on
our musical journey, we learned. There was a naive sophistication
that carried us through. In other words, we actually knew what we were doing,
but we didn’t realize it. Because we were not in London or New York City, we
weren’t supposed to know what we were doing. I came
to believe that when no one tells you that you can’t do something, there’s
nothing to stop you from doing it. So we were able to make records that
successfully competed in the world market.
You have created
an enduring legacy for guitarists of all generations. Do you feel it’s enough?
Or do you still have the hunger? I don’t mean in terms of fame or
celebrity, but in that old hard-won, “love it/hate it,” inch-by-inch
advancement that keeps us opening our guitar cases and staring at the
instrument as if it’s an entirely new, beautiful, and yet scary thing?
Thank you for the kind words regarding “enduring legacy,”
but I never set out to do that. In the beginning, I was just having a great
time playing honky-tonks and bars to make a living. On a different scale, I’m
still pretty much doing the same thing today.
As for it being enough, I don’t think any of us ever
lose that hunger. Playing guitar gets in our blood and seeps into our soul, and
we never stop learning new things about it. That is a lovely way you put it
when you suggested the guitar being “an entirely new, beautiful, and yet scary
thing.” It is also a comfortable and familiar friend that is not only the tool
we work with, but can even be used as therapy on a bad day when you feel down
and out and nothing seems to be going right. Playing your guitar will take your
mind off your troubles, and help to get you on a path to feeling better again.
And, in the process, you might just accidentally come up with that one idea
you’ve been looking for.