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Play Like Duane Eddy

January 30, 2014
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He can make all of his riffs sound like open strings. His low-E string makes grand pianos envious. He made rock guitar instrumentals popular…with girls! He is the most interesting guitar man in the world. Recipient of the 2004 GP Legend Award, Duane Eddy stands as the rarest breed of guitarist—one whose name has become synonymous with his sound. Those who fell under the spell of Duane Eddy’s million-dollar twang include George Harrison, Dave Davies, Hank Marvin and the Shadows, the Ventures, Bruce Springsteen, John Entwistle, Adrian Belew, Steve Howe, Richard Thompson, Roger McGuinn, Phil Manzanera, Bill Nelson, Mark Knopfler, and even film composer Ennio Morricone. There is obviously something extraordinary going on here.

Eddy’s backstory is one of hard work and good timing. His first musical heroes were singers Hank Williams, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers—which may account for his simple, direct approach to melody—and he was later inspired by guitarists Chet Atkins, Les Paul, and Billy Byrd. After years on the Arizona circuit, the Corning, New York, native had the good fortune in 1956 to team up with producer/songwriter Lee Hazelwood—then working in Phoenix as a disc jockey—who recognized something unique in Eddy’s style. Together, the pair married the idea of Eddy playing his melodies on the bass strings— which was exactly the opposite of what his contemporaries Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore and their disciples were doing—to Hazelwood’s adventurous production techniques. And consciously or not, Eddy and Hazelwood may have also benefited from the popularity of low-toned, easy-listening piano artists of the day, such as Ferrante and Teicher. Regardless, Eddy soon infiltrated the public ear—male and female alike— creating a sensation with hits like “Rebel Rouser” (1958), “Peter Gunn” (1959), and “Because They’re Young” (1960), and the rest is history.

Essential listening from this period includes Have “Twangy” Guitar Will Travel (1958), Especially for You (1959), The “Twangs” the “Thang,” and $1,000,000.00 Worth of Twang (both 1960), but Rhino’s Twang Thang: The Duane Eddy Anthology (1993), which includes Dan Forte’s excellent liner notes, still stands as Eddy’s most definitive compilation. Eddy later chalked up credits as a movie and TV actor (A Thunder of Drums, Kona Coast, The Savage Seven, and Have Gun—Will Travel), and as a record producer (Phil Everly and Waylon Jennings). He recorded well over a dozen albums for the RCA Victor, Colpix, Reprise, and Capitol labels, the latter featuring collaborations with George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, and Ry Cooder. In 2011, Eddy traveled to the U.K. to record Road Trip with producer and Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley. Check it out—you’ll dig it.

The Duane Eddy sound has remained timeless for over a half century and has been referenced in everything from spaghetti westerns to techno dance music. Want to get in on the action? First, you’ve gotta...

1 MAKE TWANG YOUR THANG

He may have been the first rock and roll guitarist to receive his own signature model— the 1960 Guild DE-400 and DE-500—but the iconic Duane Eddy sound of the ’50s and ’60s emanated from a very special combination of hardware, specifically the treasured Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins model guitar sporting a Bigsby tremolo tailpiece that Eddy bought when he was 17, an unnamed Magnatone amp that he had modified to 100 watts and retrofitted with a 15" JBL speaker and a tweeter just before recording his biggest hit, “Rebel Rouser,” and an outboard DeArmond electronic tremolo unit. Add to this the 2000- gallon water tank that Eddy, producer Lee Hazelwood, and engineer Jack Miller hauled to the Phoenix, studio where they were recording and fitted with a speaker in one end and a microphone in the other for true reverberation, and you’ve got the recipe for authentic Eddy-style twang. Eddy currently tours with a Gretsch 6120-DE Duane Eddy Signature model guitar and Rivera Duane Eddy signature amps with onboard tremolo.

2 TWANG THREE WAYS

Duane Eddy’s low-register, melodic twang-isms often fall into three general categories: Open strings with half-step Bigsby-bar dips, half-step finger bends paired with adjacent open strings, and half-step finger slides. To play Ex. 1a, which illustrates the first method applied to the open low E string, begin with the bar pre-bent down a halfstep to D#, play that note, gradually release the bar to sound E on the next eighth note, follow up with two down-stroked E’s, and then repeat the same moves on beats three and four. (Tip: Eddy often manipulates openstring bar bends with his fretting hand.) Next, the IV-chord move shown in Ex. 1b features a rhythmic, half-step, G#-to-A finger- bend played on the sixth string followed by a pair of open A’s. The third technique appears in Ex. 1c, where we use a simple, half-step, A#-to-B finger slide to simulate the previous techniques with fretted notes. (It’s also perfect for nailing the V chord.) To get the most bang for your twang, use down strokes and pick near the bridge.

3 TWANG THREE MORE WAYS

Speaking of maximum mileage, simply shortening the duration of the bends and slides in Examples 1a-1c reveals three new keys to twangdom. Ex. 2a reduces the eighth-notebased pre-bends and releases from Ex. 1a to grace-note dips, while Examples 2b and 2c follow suit with the finger bends and slides from Examples 1b and 1c. Ex. 2d—a harbinger of things to come—shows the kind of coolness that ensues when you combine eighth-note and grace-note bar dips within a single phrase. Try adapting Examples 2b and 2c to the same figure.

4 MOVE ’N’ GROOVE

You can hear exactly how Eddy brought all six of the previously illustrated techniques into play on his first side for Philadelphia’s Jamie Records, 1958’s “Movin’ ’N’ Groovin’.” Though the song didn’t chart significantly, it did lay the groundwork for almost everything the Eddy/Hazelwood team recorded in its wake. Following the E-based harmonized intro transcribed in Ex. 3a (if this sounds familiar, it should— the Beach Boys borrowed it verbatim for “Surfin’ U.S.A.”), Eddy segues directly into the twang-glorious, eight-bar figure notated in Ex. 3b. Note how each one of these IV-, I-, and V-chord phrases is based on a combination of the moves we learned in Examples 1a through 2c. Later in the song, Eddy elongates and varies the figure in similar fashion to the one shown in Ex. 3c. Adapt this figure to the IV and V chords (A and B) and you’ve got everything you need to assemble a complete 12-bar chorus. Fact: Eddy’s original recording is in the key of F, probably the result of either retuning or speeding the entire track up one semitone. Why? To put the song in a more saxfriendly key, as was common practice on several other Eddy tunes. Either way, Eddy definitely played it in open E position, as notated here.

5 JUMP THE “GUNN”

Learning how to play Duane Eddy’s cover of Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” theme was another early-’60s rite of passage, right up there with learning “Pipeline,” “Wipe Out,” and “Secret Agent Man.” (Fact: In 1986, Eddy and Art of Noise collaborated on a remake of the song, scoring a Top Ten international hit.) The song commences with bar 1 of Ex. 4a—a throwback to Ex. 1a—and then segues to the familiar noir-guitar riff in bar 2. Eddy’s take is slightly different from the line studio ace Bob Bain played on the original Mancini version, in that Bain played the two sixteenths on beat three a half-step higher, creating a momentary major flavor compared to Eddy’s all-minor reading. Got a floating tremolo and want to freak out your buds? Try this: Flip your whammy bar 180 degrees so you can’t use it (or better yet, completely remove it), and then play Ex. 4b. Here, your picking hand plays the part notated on the upper staff, while your fretting hand inaudibly performs the moves shown on the bottom staff. Silently bending the A string will cause the low E to sag. Get it right and it should sound exactly like bar 1 of Ex. 4a, but you never touch the bar! (Tip: You can move the inaudible fret-hand part to almost any string or fret.) It’s magic!




6 DARE TO PLAY THE BLUES

Eddy also made a mark as one of the first white guitarists (along with Eddie Cochran) to record an original slow-blues instrumental. While 1958’s ominous-sounding “Stalkin’” (paraphrased in Ex. 5a) contained bluesy elements, the following year’s “Three-30-Blues” was the real deal. Ex. 5b features prototype root-5 power chords paired with low-register bends, and Examples 5c, 5d, and 5e highlight slinky, mid-register single- and double-note lines, all inspired by Eddy’s licks. (Tip: Combine Ex. 5b with Ex. 5c or Ex. 5e to form a complete four-bar intro or turnaround, and then follow up with Ex. 5d, which happens to work well with any chord in a G blues.) Milk it!


7 FRET LIKE CHET

When Eddy paid homage to his hero Chet Atkins in 1962 by recording “Trambone,” he couldn’t resist mingling elements of twang with the master’s signature style of fingerpicking. Ex. 6 shows how Eddy makes the song his own by beginning each barlong chordal pattern with a half-step bar dip into the root. The first three bars are built around an open-position I-VI-IV-V (C-Am-F-G7) progression, and the picking pattern remains essentially the same throughout. It’s all easier than it looks on paper, especially once you get the alternating bass moves together. In fact, if you sum the downstemmed and upstemmed parts, you’ll find in the first two bars a pair of repetitive rhythmic motifs that utilize first a two-eighth/two-sixteenth/ one-eighth pattern on beats one and two, and then eight consecutive sixteenths on beats three and four. Eddy begins bar 4 with a I-chord sting, follows it with a uniquely phrased descending blues lick, and tops it off with a bar-inflected Gaug chord. Swing it, baby!

8 ROUSE THE REBELS

If there’s one Duane Eddy song you’ve gotta know, it’s the one that started it all. Cut on the Gretsch 6120 through his hot-rodded Magnatone, DeArmond tremolo (set approximately to a sixteenthnote pulse), and Hazelwood’s cavernous tank reverb, Eddy plays his first pass at the classic eight-bar melody notated in Ex. 7 without accompaniment, creating a somewhat menacing vibe. It’s big fun and the melody isn’t particularly hard to play, but the tune presents a sonic challenge well worth pursuing. In a brilliant move following his twang-y bent-and-released pickup and open-E target, Eddy borrows the internationally recognizable opening pickup to “When the Saints Go Marching In,” but cleverly displaces it to the second half of bar 1. This rhythmic motif reappears throughout much of the song (bars 2, 3, 5, and 6), as does the opening pickup (bars 4 and 7). Wrap it up with the syncopated whammy dip and release in bar 8 and you’ve got a blueprint for the perfect rock instrumental. But we’re not done yet. Next, you’ve gotta…

9 KICK IT UP A NOTCH OR TWO (OR THREE)

After a few passes at Ex. 7, Eddy modulates choruses in half-steps, first to F, and then to F#, before finally settling into G for the remainder of the song. Ex. 8 reveals his fingering strategy for the first modulation to F. Note how Eddy frets all of the low F’s with his thumb and utilizes the open A and D strings. You can use the same line form when you modulate to F#—just raise each note in Ex. 8 one fret and adjust the fingering accordingly. Move the same fingering up another half-step to modulate to G and you’re home free.

10 KNOW WHEN TO KEEP QUIET

In January of 1994, Conan O’Brian asked Eddy what he considered to be his biggest contribution to rock and roll. Eddy’s response? “Probably not singing!” As one of the biggest selling rock-and-roll instrumental artists of all time, Eddy pioneered the genre, opening doors and paving the way for future rock instrumentalists from the Shadows, the Ventures, Dick Dale, and a host of surf groups, to Jeff Beck, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani. Thanks, Duane. Twang on and prosper!

SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

     
 
Have “Twangy” Guitar Will
Travel
Especially for You The “Twangs” the “Thang,” $1,000,000.00 Worth of Twang
       
Twang Thang: The Duane
Eddy Anthology
A Thunder of Drums Kona Coast Road Trip
 

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