Duane Eddy, Grammy-Winnin’ Record-Cuttin’ Guitar Hero, Dies at 86

GAB Archive/Redferns via Getty Images
GAB Archive/Redferns via Getty Images

Duane Eddy, a guitarist whose distinctive “sultan of twang” sound flavored the ‘50s and ‘60s record charts and served as inspiration to the generation of musicians who followed him, died on Tuesday in Franklin, Tennessee. He was 86.

Eddy’s death was confirmed by his family. His wife, Deed Abbate, told the Associated Press that he died of cancer at a Franklin hospital.

“Duane inspired a generation of guitarists the world over with his unmistakable signature ‘Twang’ sound,” a rep for Eddy told Variety. “He was the first rock and roll guitar god, a truly humble and incredible human being. He will be sorely missed.”

With a series of hits throughout the 1950 and ‘60s, Eddy rode his signature reverb-heavy tone to become one of the most beloved instrumental artists in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

Hailed by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty as “the first rock and roll guitar god,” Eddy sold millions of records, including to burgeoning musicians who would one day become legends in their own right.

Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, and Jeff Beck would all later cite Eddy’s guitar-playing as an influence on their own. Springsteen, recalling the creation of 1975’s “Born to Run,” once wrote, “From Duane Eddy came the guitar sound, ‘Tramps like us . . . ,’ ‘ba BA . . . BA ba,’ the twanging guitar lick.”

“One day I played something on the low strings and noticed it was a lot more powerful,” he once told an interviewer for Premium Guitar of how he discovered his sound. “I went to the studio one morning with this idea for a melody, which was ‘Rebel Rouser.’”

It became such a distinctive part of his profile that his 1958 debut album was titled Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel. “It’s rather a silly word, and not entirely descriptive, I don’t think, but it was something for the average person in the street to identify,” he told Reverb in 2019.

Born in New York State before moving to Arizona as a teenager, Eddy picked up a guitar at the age of 5, according to legend. Entirely self-taught, he would team up with disc jockey Lee Hazlewood—the first man in Phoenix to play Elvis, according to Eddy—to cut the records that would make his name: “Rebel Rouser,” “Cannonball,” “Because They’re Young,” “Ramrod,” “Forty Miles of Bad Road,” and “Peter Gunn.”

In 1960, the readers of the influential music rag NME had voted him their favorite musical personality, even outstripping the King. By 1963, he had sold 12 million records. He was only inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three decades later, in 1994—the same year his music was featured in two hit movies: Forrest Gump and Natural Born Killers.

News of his death was greeted with an outpouring of love from fellow musicians. “yesterday in my studio I said this riff needs to sound like Duane Eddy!” Mick Fleetwood tweeted. “... Saddened of the passing of this understated man who had talents more than most knew.”

Eddy is survived by Abbate and four children.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.