The Return of the Twang!
“It came up in the studio as a joke one day. Someone said, that sounds ‘twangy’ - and that cracked everyone up. For some reason a couple of people had never heard the word before - and after that it became a joke - like “Is that ‘twangy’ enough? So when we put the first album out the producer Lee Hazelwood thought it would be funny to call it “Have Twangy Guitar, Will Travel”…and it stuck with me every since.”
DUANE EDDY - “Front Row” - BBC Radio 4 . 28th June 2011
In April 1960 I went with my friend Dave Cooper to Finsbury Park Empire and our very first pop concert. It was a freezing cold rainy night and the Finsbury Park Empire was a dump and within a month of being closed for ever but we didn’t care. We were only 14 and the star of the show that night was our hero, the guitar playing “twang meister” Duane Eddy.
Duane had already enjoyed several instrumental hits in Britain including “Rebel Rouser”, “Cannon Ball”, “Peter Gunn” and “Forty Miles of Bad Road” and Dave and I were looking forward to an evening of some serious twanging and saxophone honking! Of course in those days “pop packages” still hadn’t been invented so first we had to wade through what was known as ‘light entertainment’ - Alan Randall ‘Modern Man of Music’, the Taylor Maids ‘Sophistication with a Difference’ and “Australia’s Personality Singer” Frank Ifield, much to the despair of the audience of twang addicts and teddy boys. Fortunately our M.C (Master of Chuckles!) Mr ‘Just fooling’ Des O’Connor managed to keep the Teds at bay with a series of witty shrivellers like “Why don’t you go and play in the traffic?” and that all time crowd cooler, “How many times do I have to flush before you go away?” But then came a point in the proceedings when even Des couldn’t hold back the rising tide of twang mania. From somewhere behind the curtain came one solid carpet lifting BOOIIINNG! then another and another again. Duane, supreme ambassador of twang, was on stage tuning up… and so was his audience.
Duane Eddy holds an important position in the long history of British guitardom. Skiffle king Lonnie Donegan showed us the basic chords, Hank B Marvin of the Shadows demonstrated how to play beautiful and increasingly complex single note melodies and in between the two was Duane Eddy. His style was simple tunes laid on top of a thunderous rhythm section. He didn’t go in for complicated licks or finger busting solos. He left all that fancy stuff to his raucous saxophone player, Jim Horn. The theory went if you could pick one of Duane’s tunes out on your guitar then you were well on your way to playing like Hank M or Buddy H or even Chuck B!
Duane also had a unique sound - a deep tremulous echo that came from playing on the bass strings and recording the resulting ‘twang’ through an echo chamber made from a large empty water tank in the studio yard. Add a few hysterical “rebel yells” from the band and the Eddy sound was complete and unassailable.
That’s what we got that rainy night at the Finsbury Park Empire all those years ago — Duane on stage playing his twangy guitar, picking out those simple catchy licks that in a few hours most of the audience would be trying out for themselves at home, his band, The Rebels, bawling out “rebel yells” that could be heard the other side of Finsbury Park and on top of it all his sax player, Jim Horn, howling and screaming like a demented banshee. It was wild and crazed and a million miles from the “you’re my baby and I don’t mean maybe” teen pap that we had to put up with in those days. Duane was the King of Twang and that night he was on his storm tossed throne.
50 years on and Duane is still up there. Last Sunday, he played at Glastonbury and made the ground shake. He was encouraged to come to Britain by Sheffield based songwriter and musician Richard Hawley who managed to entice Duane into the studio for the first time in 24 years to record a new album called “Road Trip”. A few days before their Glasto appearance Duane and Richard warmed up with a gig at the 100 Club in London. Journalist Caroline Sullivan was there…
“Road Trip”, doesn’t get much of a look-in tonight… Eddy has been doing this long enough to not to risk alienating his audience by playing too many songs they don’t know. Indeed, he is at pains to keep things interesting. On offer is a set of hits interlaced with a few curiosities and new tracks, plus droll running commentary by the white-bearded, black-hatted Eddy, who is in excellent nick for a musician as old as rock’n’roll itself (older, in fact - he turned 73 in April). Backed by Hawley’s band, and Hawley himself for a few numbers, he demonstrates the art of twang… Eddy and band sway together in a show of male bonding that simply reinforces the man’s status as the star of this great show.”
As it name suggests Pop music is all about fleeting popularity. Does it really matter that today’s young pop fans know little about stars like Buddy Holly or Eddie Cochran or Brenda Lee or Duane Eddy and probably care even less. Why should they? Those of us who remember the early days of rock ‘n’ roll weren’t really aware of people like Roy Brown, Hardrock Gunter or Sister Rosetta Tharpe whose music inspired it all. Why should we? As today’s fans are happy with Lady Gaga, Beyonce and the Arctic Monkeys we were equally happy with what we had and didn’t worry about where it came from. All I know is that last weekend one of those early pioneers whose every note is imprinted on what we do today walked amongst us - and then played at Glastonbury! The Twang is most definitely the Thang!
Duane Eddy - ‘Rebel Rouser’ on YouTube
Credit: Duane and the Rebels, taken at Finsbury Park Empire - April 1960 l-r pianist Larry Knetchtel, drummer Jimmy Troxel, Duane Eddy, bassist Dave Campbell, sax-player Jim Horn. Photograph by Harry Hammond.
— from Martyn Day
30 June 2011 | around town