Rock'n'roll pioneer and 'Titan of Twang' Duane Eddy dead at 86

Duane Eddy with guitar
(Image credit: PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Image)

Duane Eddy, the pioneer of instrumental rock'n'roll most famous for the hits Rebel-Rouser and Peter Gunn, has died at the age of 86. According to a statement released by the musician's family, Eddy died of cancer on Tuesday at the Williamson Health Hospital in Franklin, Tennessee.

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

Eddy was born in New York in 1938 and picked up the guitar at a young age. As a teenager he devised a technique of playing lead parts on the low strings of his instrument, conjuring up the "twangy" sound for which he'd become famous. His band used route-one melodies, adding rasping horns and a guitar tone like a motorbike engine, and the classic early singles Rebel Rouser and Peter Gunn – released in 1958 and 1959 respectively – prompted untold numbers of would-be stars to pick up the guitar. 

"The twang developed because I got tired of hearing rock and roll licks on the high strings,” Eddy told Relix in 2012. “It was always the same thing. I wanted to do something different. I thought, ‘Try playing down low.’ I knew that the low strings recorded stronger and more powerfully than the high strings.”

“I’ve had many guitarists come up and say they were either influenced by me or started playing because of me,” he told Classic Rock. “Everybody from Jimmy Page to Mark Knopfler to Brian May. They probably would have anyway, but that gave them more excuse to rebel. I kept those melodies simple. A guy can pick up a guitar and play the first few notes of Rebel Rouser or Peter Gunn. Then you’re encouraged to go: ‘Well, I might be able to do this’.”

Rebel Rouser became the soundtrack for me being a teenager who thought he was a rebel," former Yes frontman Jon Anderson told Classic Rock in 2014. "It was raw. It was rock‘n’roll, and an instrumental that really left its mark on me".

Eddy recorded less frequently as the British invasion took hold in the US, but developed a second career as a Hollywood actor, appearing in Thunder Of Drums, Because They’re Young, The Wild Westerners and the outlaw biker exploitation movie The Savage Seven.

Eddy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 by Mick Jones of Foreigner, a late replacement for Creedence Clearwater Revival man John Fogerty, who'd lobbied for Eddy's inclusion but couldn't make the ceremony. 

"Rock as we know it would not be here," said Jones during his induction speech. "That sound was bad." The following year, Eddy played on Foreigner's hit single Until The End Of Time.

In 2000, Eddy's career was celebrated at the fabled Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN, with a concert named The Twang Years. Eddy played a set, Peter Frampton, Vince Gill and John Fogerty made appearances, and Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell presented Eddy with a proclamation declaring him the official "Titan of Twang." 

Eddy's last album was 2011's critically acclaimed Road Trip, an unlikely but successful collaboration with former Pulp guitarist and singer/songwriter Richard Hawley. The pair performed together in London and Manchester in 2018 to celebrate Eddy's 80th birthday. 

“Instrumentalists don’t usually become famous," said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. "But Duane Eddy’s electric guitar was a voice all its own. His sound was muscular and masculine, twangy and tough. Duane scored more than thirty hits on the pop charts.

"But more importantly, his style inspired thousands of hillbilly cats and downtown rockers – the Ventures, George Harrison, Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, Marty Stuart, to name a few – to learn how to rumble and move people to their core. The Duane Eddy sound will forever be stitched into the fabric of country and rock'n'roll."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.