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Duane Eddy, pioneering ‘Peter Gunn’ guitarist, dies aged 86

Eddy, known for his ‘twangy’ guitar sound, was the rare star who became famous for his instrumentals

Kevin E G Perry
Wednesday 01 May 2024 21:07 BST
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Duane Eddy, the pioneering rock guitarist known for instrumental tracks “Rebel Rouser” and “Peter Gunn”, has died. He was 86.

According to reports in the Arizona Republic, the Grammy-winning musician died peacefully on Tuesday (30 April), surrounded by his family in Franklin, Tennessee.

He is considered the most commercially successful instrumental artist in the history of rock’n’roll.

Eddy was born in Corning, New York on 26 April 1938. He started playing guitar at the age of five, and was a teenager when his family moved to Arizona.

It was in Coolidge, Arizona that Eddy met DJ Lee Hazlewood, who produced the young guitarist’s breakthrough single “Rebel Rouser” in 1958. The song remains among his most popular, and has been streamed over 28 million times on Spotify.

Eddy released his debut album, Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel, later that same year. It was a top ten chart hit in both the United States and the UK.

Duane Eddy onstage at the Stagecoach festival in California in 2014
Duane Eddy onstage at the Stagecoach festival in California in 2014 (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach)

In 1959, Eddy had another hit with his version of Henry Mancini’s theme song to the private eye television show Peter Gunn.

Eddy proved even more popular in the UK than in the United States. In 1960, readers of NME magazine voted him the World's Number One Musical Personality, ousting Elvis Presley.

He continued to perform throughout his life, and just last month was one of many guitarists to feature on Mark Knopfler’s all-star cover of “Going Home (Theme From Local Hero)”.

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When Eddy performed at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2010, The Independent’s Pierre Perrone wrote: “All dressed in black, including an immovable Stetson, and playing his beautiful Gretsch signature guitar, Eddy rolled back the years from the off with ‘Detour’ and his debut hit, ‘Moovin’N’Groovin’.

“Backed by Richard Hawley’s excellent band and a very adept saxophone player, he re-created his run of instrumental hits that are so evocative of the late Fifties and early Sixties. Eddy and his co-writer and producer, the late Lee Hazlewood, had a way with a title – cue ‘Cannonball’ and the even snappier ‘Yep!’ and ‘Shazam!’ – and moved the guitar on from Les Paul’s clean sound to a meaner, leaner rock’n’roll style.”

In 1995, Eddy described his distinctive guitar sound to an interviewer by saying: “Oh well, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll sound. I don’t know. I guess twangy is as good as anything. I don’t know how you’d do it in one word. There’s times it does get twangy, other times it gets smooth and dragging and menacing. Then I can turn around and do a pretty song, a ballad or something, with a gentle warmth.”

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