USA FOREWORD by Duane Eddy
When I first heard Elvis Presley, I was going to high school and playing guitar on weekends with a Country music band in local honky-tonks in and around a small town in the middle of the Arizona desert. Parents and older people in our society didn’t quite know what to make of Elvis at first. But teenagers instantly identified with him. They loved him. He was fun. He was cool. And he changed the musical face of the world almost overnight.
Before Elvis, I had mostly listened to Country music, and learned to play guitar listening to Country records on the radio. Elvis was doing something new and exciting, but it was still something that Country musicians could do. We all had pretty much the same cultural and musical influences growing up. We’d heard some Rhythm & Blues, we knew Country music, and we’d heard both Black Gospel and Country Gospel music. Elvis had taken parts of each, combined them, refined them, forged his own new sound, and created his own new style. That sound and style of music had only to be named. Alan Freed, a disc-jockey from Cleveland who was working in New York City, complied with the perfect name, ‘Rock & Roll’.
Young musicians all over America, who’d grown up with many of the same musical influences, began doing what Elvis did. Black kids like Chuck Berry who had been listening to as much Country music as he had R&B, Blues and Gospel, began writing and performing his own brand of Rock & Roll. White kids from the Bronx such as Dion & The Belmonts fathomed what they heard and mixed in yet another ingredient, ‘street corner’ group singing. Youngsters like Sam Cooke, who was a Gospel Soul singer and sang mostly in churches, easily made the transition to the new popular sound. Little Richard, The Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and others all created a unique and original Rock & Roll style that reflected their favorite personal musical influences growing up.
My own contribution, along with my co-writer and producer Lee Hazlewood, was not singing like everyone else, but instead to create my own original ‘Twangy’ guitar sound, a new style of playing, and to write and record instrumentals utilizing the new feeling and attitude of Rock & Roll. After seeing Elvis live in 1956 at the State fairgrounds in Phoenix, I knew what I wanted to try to do with music and my life. Elvis sparked and completely defined a whole new genre of music, one that inspired nearly all young singers and musicians who heard him, causing them to want to create more of it, and affect their own version of it, as I did, and as did most of the Rock & Rollers who followed.
Elvis provided the ‘open door’ for us. We rushed to enter, and in nearly every part of the country young entertainers, both black and white, went to their local recording studios, some of which were professional studios - though in those day, very primitive by standards achieved a few short years later. Many studios had limited and marginal equipment, and some ‘studios’ were merely a couple of microphones and a tape recorder in a parent’s garage. The musicians all had one thing in common, however: they understood and embraced Rock & Roll with all their heart and were intent on making their contribution to the music and having their own hit records. Many of them succeeded against incredible odds.
In America in the Fifties, contrary to the popular opinion of many writers who were chronicling the culture of the day, teenagers were not rebelling! They were interested in cars, clothes, the opposite sex, dancing, having fun and getting jobs to earn enough money to put gas in the family car or their own car, if they owned one, so they could ‘drag main’ and hang out at the local drive-in restaurant to steal a kiss at the drive-in movies before they grew a bit older, became serious about their lives and either went on the college or chose a profession.
I think the two movies that portray fairly accurately a day/night in the life of an American teenager in the Fifties are American Graffiti and Rebel Without A Cause. Although Rebel is a bit overly dramatic, and I don’t recall any kids driving a car off a cliff for the sport of it! Cars of any kind were too valuable to us.
When rock & Roll came along, American kids adopted it totally. Dancing to it was a great way of working off the excess energy that came with their exploding hormones and allay the confusions they were experiencing at that age. The music was also a cool ‘sound-track’ put to use ‘scoring’ the living of everyday teenage life.
In England it was quite different during this important period. Teenagers and young aspiring musicians were somewhat at a disadvantage compared to their American counterparts. The country had nearly recovered from the terrible ravages of World War II but teenagers didn’t yet have all the economic opportunities that American kids had. In the early days of Rock & Roll, most popular records in the U.S. were not reaching the shores of Great Britain. I remember hearing that Tommy Steele used to buy up scores of records while travelling in the British Navy and bring them home to play for friends. Many kids in England listened to the hits on Radio Luxembourg late at night, because the BBC had yet to approve of and/or play much Rock & Roll.
Times were changing though, and it didn’t take long for them to catch up! By the time I went on tour there in 1960, it was already changing in a big way. England was developing it’s own Rock & Roll artists, such as Cliff Richard and The Shadows, whom I met on one of the first nights I performed in London.
I did have the opportunity to talk to a lot of British teenagers either before or after my shows in the evenings and discovered that, other than the language we have in common, yet speak so differently, there were little or no differences between these kids and those at home in America. They were living much the same type of lives in so many ways. When they spoke about the music, I could tell that they understood Rock & Roll and loved it every bit as much as the kids in the USA.
Unknown to me at the time, there were some kids who not only grasped and absorbed what we were doing, but were beginning create and develop their own style of music that would soon be heard around the world. A couple of years later in November 1963, I briefly met the Rolling Stones backstage in Manchester. A week after that, in their London hotel, the Everly Brothers played an album for me, introducing me to the sound of a new group who were about to be the first of many who would soon come to America from England. They were called the Beatles….
You all know what happened next. The music scene changed radically as more and more British musicians conquered England and then invaded American music charts. Americans took The Beatles, the many other groups, and indeed, all things British, into their hearts during the mid-to-late Sixties. As a result, those young artists, confident about expressing their own innovations of Rock & Roll, became the most popular stars of the day.
I have had the honor and pleasure of playing with a few of the musicians whose stories are included in this book, extremely creative and talented people such as George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Gustafson, and Hank Marvin. When we sit down to play together, it doesn’t make any difference to us who did what or who’s from where. Because of the music we share, we are all on the same page.
Whether you’re on stage or in the recording studio, my friend, it all comes down to this…. either you rock out, or you don’t. Believe me, these guys from England Rock & Roll with the best of them! And I think Elvis would love it!