Jeb Rosebrook:
In search of Duane Eddy

Jeb Rosebrook
Special for The Republic
June 25, 2000

"It was Lee's idea."

Duane Eddy, Coolidge High, Class of 1956, talks about legendary record producer Lee Hazlewood, then a 27-year-old DJ at Phoenix's KRUX.

"He got the idea to go to a junkyard down by the Salt River. We got two 1,500- or 2,000-gallon water tanks. Lee put speakers on one end of the tanks and a mike on the other."

The year is 1957. It is a time of Elvis, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers, Glendale's Marty Robbins, and a sound that brings rock to country, called Rockabilly. A year later, in a recording studio on North Seventh Street owned by a one-time square-dance record salesman named Floyd Ramsey, using that improvised echo chamber, Eddy's powerful, unique guitar sound gives birth to the Eddy/Hazlewood-written Rebel Rouser. Released on Philadelphia's Jamie Records, Rebel Rouser reaches No. 6 on the pop music charts. Just 20 years old, Duane Eddy has begun his journey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I find Duane Eddy by telephone from his home outside Nashville. Why me, looking for Duane Eddy? Because when I came to Phoenix to write advertising in 1958, Rebel Rouser rode the charts. I learn he had a '56 Chevy convertible. Mine was a Ford and a '57. He was married. I had met a girl I would marry. I was making $300 a month writing retail ads in Park Central Shopping Center. Duane Eddy was on his way to Dick Clark's American Bandstand with a red Chet Atkins 6120 model Gretsch Guitar. And there was Rebel Rouser, a song without words, playing the AM dial, for all of us rock 'n rollers, in that summer of 1958.

"I always wanted to sing like Hank (Williams) and play like Chet (Atkins)," Eddy says, recalling his teen years in Coolidge, where he purchased a Les Paul Gold Top model guitar at a local hardware store. The oldest of three children and musical since the age of 5, he moved with his family to Tucson in 1951 from upstate New York to escape the cold weather.

"My dad was assistant manager of a Safeway in Tucson. In '54, he got his own store to manage, in Coolidge." Here the young Eddy struck up a lifelong friendship with another aspiring singer/musician, classmate Jimmy Delbridge (later Jimmy Dell) and 24-year-old DJ Lee Hazlewood. "Lee had gotten out of the Army and gone to disk jockey school. KCKY in Coolidge was his first job," Eddy recalls.

I'd been told Eddy's first songwriting effort was a tune called Soda Fountain Gal. "No, no," he protests, laughing over a long-gone but not forgotten moment, Lee wrote. "The other side was going to be I Want Some Loving, Baby. We recorded them behind somebody's house in Phoenix." Hazlewood soon moved to KRUX in Phoenix. "Lee was the first DJ in Phoenix to play Elvis," Eddy remembers, "He nearly lost his job, insisting on continuing to play Elvis."

Pursuing a career as an independent record producer, Hazlewood produced Phoenician Sanford Clark's 1956 hit, The Fool, at Ramsey's Studio. "Floyd Ramsey's studio was next to a barbershop where they shared an adjoining bathroom. I recorded all my early hits in (Ramsey's) Studio A," Eddy says. The earliest Eddy/Hazlewood collaboration was Movin' and Groovin, their initial release on Jamie. Eddy remembers, "It got up to No. 72 with an anchor (as opposed to a Billboard magazine "bullet" for chart climber) and stayed there three or four weeks."

Eddy had spent 1956-57 playing regularly with Buddy Long's Western Melody Boys. Long, Jimmy Dell and Eddy joined Phoenix DJ Ray Odom's Arizona Hayriders on their weekly Channel 3 television show. "It was sponsored by the Colonel's chicken," Eddy says, "Every week we sang and played through the top ten country hits, or as many as we could get done in a half hour." Eddy also played and sang at The Cactus Garden on the west side, at Sciot's Dance Hall just off Central Avenue, in shows at Madison Square Garden near downtown Phoenix, or on the road with Long to such country hot spots as Mayer, where patrons are invited to "Dance and Fight to the Music of Buddy Long."

Rebel Rouser changed all that forever. In the next 42 years, Eddy would become the best-selling rock instrumentalist of all time. Ever evolving as a musician, he would record a brilliant 1989 album, Duane Eddy, His Twangy Guitar and the Rebels, including tracks produced by Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Art of Noise, and Ry Cooder. In 1994, he would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This past April, nearing his 62nd birthday, Eddy would be honored at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium as part of "Chet Atkins' Musician Days" presenting "The Twang Years."

Joining Eddy on stage are John Fogarty, Willie Nelson, Peter Frampton, Nancy Griffith and Bonnie Bramlett. Nashville Tennessean reviewer Peter Cooper noted, "Writing 'Duane Eddy played a low E-note' is like writing 'Patsy Cline sang' or 'Michael Jordan dunked.' Cline died and Jordan retired. But last night Duane Eddy stood tall and struck low E-notes as dense as boulders and as exhilarating as rock 'n roll itself."

It's the night he and Chet play Hank Williams' I Saw the Light on the stage where Hank once performed. More important, it gives Eddy "a chance to tell Chet how much I love him." Of the show (where he receives four standing ovations) Eddy says, "The first time is the best rehearsal."

Now there is talk of a tour. So bring it on home, Duane. From Rebel Rouser to the solitude of Dreams of Home to the rock sophistication of Paul McCartney's Rockestra Theme, it's now all about 42 years of your music and time for new generations to hear what John Fogerty calls "The biggest and most powerful guitar sound on earth."

"Twang" sound is for all of us, always has been. We'll all dance with "The Guitar Man." Just bring it on home.

Source: The Arizona Republic