Duane Eddy Dies: Influential ‘Rebel Rouser’ & ‘Peter Gunn’ Guitarist Was 86

Duane Eddy Dies: Influential ‘Rebel Rouser’ & ‘Peter Gunn’ Guitarist Was 86

Duane Eddy, the twangy, Grammy-winning rock guitarist who had Top 10 instrumental hits including “Rebel Rouser” and “Forty Miles of Bad Road” and scored with a version of Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn,” died Wednesday of cancer at a hospital in Franklin, TN, his wife Deed Abbate told The Associated Press. He had turned 86 last week.

Eddy, who influenced generations of guitar legends including George Harrison, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, Ritchie Blackmore, Mark Knopfler and The Ventures’ Don Wilson, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

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Born on April 26, 1938, in Corning, NY, Eddy began playing guitar at age 5. He moved at 13 with his family to Arizona, where he met local DJ Lee Hazlewood, and the two would share a long, fruitful association. Eddy first recorded with Jimmy Delbridge as Duane & Jimmy in 1955, and his debut single as a solo act to dent the charts came three years later with “Moovin’ N’ Groovin’.”

Duane Eddy in 1958
Duane Eddy in 1958

His next hit, featuring Eddy’s signature late-’50s Chet Atkins Gretsch 6120, would change the game.

“Rebel Rouser,” which Eddy co-wrote with Hazlewood, was prime twang — played low with plenty of reverb and instantly recognizable. Billed on the label as “Rebel-‘Rouser,” the song hit the Hot 100 just as Jody Reynolds’ reverb-drenched “Endless Sleep” was in the Top 5. That track featured guitar work from Al Casey, who played piano on “Rebel Rouser” and was part of Eddy’s backing band The Rebels.

Eddy often was backed by The Rebels during his career heyday, when instrumentals flooded the pop charts. Several of the group’s members including Larry Knechtel, Jim Horn and Steve Douglas went on to become part of legendary Los Angeles session collective The Wrecking Crew.

Providing “rebel yell”-like whoops and handclaps on “Rebel Rouser” were members of The Sharps, who would go on to have a memorable, if minor, 1962 hit with “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” as The Rivingtons. The Trashmen famously incorporated that song into the hook of their hit “Surfin’ Bird” the following year.

Eddy would follow “Rebel Rouser” with two dozen more chart singles through 1963, most notably “Forty Miles of Bad Road” and another U.S. Top 10 record, “Because They’re Young,” the title tune from the 1960 film starring American Bandstand host Dick Clark.

Creedence frontman Fogerty, who was famous for his swampy guitar sound and had lobbied hard to get Eddy into the Rock Hall, once called him, “The front guy — the first rock ‘n’ roll guitar god.”

Watch Eddy perform “Rebel Rouser” at the 2013 Americana Awards here:

Eddy had more chart success in the UK, where 10 of his singles went Top 10, with “Because They’re Young” reaching No. 2 and “Shazam!” — another track from the movie — hitting No. 4. Also among his Brit hits was “Peter Gunn,” the TV show theme song whose riff would influence guitar rock going forward.

He won a Best Rock Instrumental Grammy for his six-string contributions to Art of Noise’s wild 1986 cover of “Peter Gunn.” Eddy also scored a 1992 Grammy nom for Best Rock Instrumental for his work on Doc Watson track “Thunder Road/Sugarfoot Rag.”

Eddy was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008. Here’s a clip of him playing “Peter Gunn” at his induction ceremony:

Five of Eddy’s albums also made the UK Top 10 as he influenced the legion of young British guitarists who would dominate the latter half of the 1960s. His debut LP in the States, Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar – Will Travel, reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200, but subsequent albums missed the Top 10. His 1960 compilation set $1,000,000.00 Worth of Twang, reached No. 11 stateside. A box set, Twang Thang: The Duane Eddy Anthology, was released in 1993.

“I had a distinctive sound that people could recognize, and I stuck pretty much with that. I’m not one of the best technical players by any means; I just sell the best,” he told the Associated Press in a 1986 interview. “A lot of guys are more skillful than I am with the guitar. A lot of it is over my head. But some of it is not what I want to hear out of the guitar.”

Eddy recorded only sporadically after 1960s. He was featured on a couple of tracks on The Ventures’ 2002 album Twangin’ Guitar. The iconic instrumental guitar group had covered some of his songs including “Rebel Rouser” during its heyday.

With his matinee-idol good looks, Eddy also appeared in several 1960s movies, including A Thunder of Drums, The Wild Westerners and The Savage Seven, along with Because They’re Young.

Along with his wife, Eddy is survived by four children, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Here’s a clip of him talking with that Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum founder and CEO Joe Chambers in 2019 about how a mistake helped make “Rebel Rouser” a hit.


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