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Duane Eddy, King of the Twangy Guitar, Dead at 86

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Duane Eddy, King of the Twangy Guitar, Dead at 86

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Duane Eddy, one of rock’s first guitar heroes and an idol of George Harrison, Jeff Beck, John Fogerty, Dan Auerbach, and many other guitar-slingers who followed, died Sunday at his home in Franklin, Tennessee. He was 86. A source close to the family confirmed Eddy’s death to Rolling Stone.

Released in 1958, Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser” wasn’t the first instrumental hit, but it was one of the most arresting. Arriving just a few years into the birth of rock & roll, “Rebel Rouser” announced that the raucous new genre was impacting even non-vocal music: The echoey, vibrato-drenched twang of Eddy’s guitar sounded like a space-age version of an Old West TV-series theme. Subsequent singles, like “Forty Miles of Bad Road,” built on that foundation.

Born in New York state, Eddy, who began playing guitar around the time he was in kindergarten, spent his teenage years in Arizona after his family relocated there. At a local radio station, he met producer and songwriter Lee Hazelwood and the two went on to record “Rebel Rouser,” a galloping blast of twangy guitar and saxophone.

“Rebel Rouser” ended up in the top 10, and Eddy followed it with other singles that capitalized on his signature sound, played with a red Gretsch guitar: The word twang appeared in the title of some of the nearly two dozen albums he released. Although he was associated with a style of music that sounded like landlocked surf music — inspired by the surrounding Arizona desert he once said — Eddy also pushed the boundaries of what was considered instrumental music at the time. He recorded an album of Bob Dylan covers gone twang, and another, Songs of Our Heritage, that focused on acoustic bluegrass. (Included was his version of “In the Pines,” later known to Nirvana fans as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”)

Eddy’s style of instrumental music dipped in popularity as the Sixties began to wane, and Eddy pivotedto a producer role, working with, among others, Waylon Jennings. Coincidentally, Eddy was married to country singer Jessi Colter from 1960 to ’68 before she married Jennings in 1969.

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A new appreciation for Eddy arrived in 1986. That year, Art of Noise recruited him for a techno remake of the theme for the Sixties TV detective series Peter Gunn, which Eddy had cut in 1960. That rebirth led to an all-new Eddy album the following year, with contributions from Harrison, Fogerty, Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Ry Cooder, and David Lindley. In 1994, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Foreigner’s Mick Jones.

Eddy returned to music with 2011’s Road Trip, produced by British songwriter and producer Richard Hawley. He also became a regular collaborator of Dan Auerbach who enlisted him for his 2017 solo album Waiting on a Song. “Working with Dan Auerbach in the recording studio has been great for me. His infectious excitement reminded me of how much fun it can be,” Eddy told RS then. “I haven’t come across a more prolific songwriter, or a harder working artist in many years, if ever. But the best thing about him is that he’s become a really good friend.”

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