#493: Pepe by Duane Eddy
Duane Eddy was born in Corning, New York, in 1938. When he turned five years old he started to play guitar. His family moved to Coolidge, Arizona, in 1954. At the age of 16 Eddy got a Chet Atkins Gretch guitar. In 1954, at Coolidge High School Duane met Jimmy Delbridge who shared his love of music. Both boys played guitar and sang. In short order they were appearing on local radio in Coolidge, KCKY, as Jimmy and Duane. Jimmy sang best and Duane was a superior guitar player. Duane persuaded Jimmy leave the guitar behind and play piano. During 1955 local Phoenix disc jockey Lee Hazlewood was informally managing the duo. In June ’55 Hazlewood drove Eddy and Jimmy Dell (as he was now known) to Ramsey Recording Studio in Phoenix. In the studio the duo recorded the first of Hazelwood’s songs, “Soda Fountain Girl” and “I Want Some Lovin’ Baby”. These were old hillbilly tunes backed by Buddy Long & the Western Melody Boys.
In February 1956, Jimmy and Duane appeared on The Arizona Hayride on KRUX in Glendale, Arizona. Duane Eddy and Lee Hazlewood became acquainted on the Arizona Hayride with Al Casey and his guitar-playing wife Vivian (professionally known as Corki Casey), drummer Connie Conway and jack-of-all trades Donnie Owens. At the time Jimmy Dell was getting cold feet about playing rock ‘n roll because of religious objections. Duane Eddy tired of Dell’s scruples and went ahead with his blossoming career. In 1957 he recorded “Ramrod” which was credited to Duane Eddy and His Rock-A-Billies. The single got little notice.
Eddy released his first album, Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel on January 9, 1958. It is a mix of early rock & roll, swing, country and blues, and contains several covers as well as original compositions. He and the band known as The Rebels, Al Casey on rhythm guitar, his wife Corki Casey also on rhythm guitar, Steve Douglas on sax, Buddy Wheeler on bass and both Mike Bermani and Bob Taylor on drums; who along with several guest musicians were joined by The Sharps (later known as The Rivingtons), who contributed non-lyrical vocals, whoops and hollers. The album spent 82 weeks on the Billboard album chart into 1960, peaking at #5. Duane Eddy was one of the first rock ‘n roll recording artists to successfully chart an album into the Top Ten of the album charts.
His first single release from the album was “Movin’ and Groovin'”, a minor hit, which began with a riff the Beach Boys would borrow to open their 1962 hit “Surfin’ U.S.A.”. It was his next single release, “Rebel Rouser”, which put Duane Eddy on the map. The instrumental climbed to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1958, and #2 on CKWX in Vancouver (BC).
Next, Eddy re-released “Ramrod”, which cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100 peaking at #27, and #18 in Vancouver (BC). He followed up with another track from Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel titled “Cannonball”. This single climbed to #15 on the Hot 100 and #8 in Vancouver (BC), his second Top Ten hit in ’58. While “The Lonely One” stalled at #23 in early 1959 on the Billboard Hot 100, it climbed to #5 in Vancouver (BC). Duane Eddy consistently outperformed with his singles north of the United States border, here on the West Coast. In the summer of ’59 “Forty Miles Of Bad Road” peaked at #9 on the Hot 100 and #8 in Vancouver (BC).
Duane Eddy enjoyed his biggest seller in 1960 with the title theme to the film Because They’re Young. The movie starred Dick Clark from American Bandstand, James Darren and Duane Eddy (as himself). The plot concerned a crusading high school teacher who tries to help his troubled students. “Because They’re Young” climbed to #2 in Vancouver (BC) and the UK, and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Later in 1960 Duane Eddy released an instrumental single titled “Peter Gunn” which was a cover of the Henri Mancini TV show theme. Eddy’s version climbed to #6 on the UK singles chart.
Next, Duane Eddy released “Pepe”, a cover of the theme song from the movie of the same name in 1960.
In the film Pepe, Pepe is a hired hand working on a ranch. One day Mr. Holt, a drunken Hollywood director, purchases a white stallion named Don Juan belonging to Pepe’s boss. Pepe devises to return the horse to the Hollywood director. Pepe goes to Hollywood and meets film stars Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bing Crosby, Maurice Chevalier, and Jack Lemmon in drag. Pepe is astonished surprised by the new inventions he encounters, like automatic doors. Pepe finally finds the stallion and it becomes suddenly full of life. Its new owner, Mr. Holt. offers Pepe a job once he understands that Pepe brings life to the horse. Subsequently, Pepe gambles and wins in Las Vegas. Seeing Pepe as a winner, Mr. Holt allows Pepe to produce his next film. Pepe also featured cameo appearances from Bobby Darin, Debbie Reynolds and Dean Martin.
One of the people Pepe meets in Hollywood is Suzie Murphy (Shirley Jones), a coffee house waitress and performer, who has no desire to be in the movie business. She goes to Mexico and, while holding a puppet, sings a song about Pepe for the Mexican children. In the song she describes Pepe as someone who has a funny face, a sunny smile, a happy heart, a snappy strut, sweet as honey, no bigger than a bunny, with baggy clothes.
“Pepe” climbed to #3 in Vancouver (BC), #6 in Phoenix, Buffalo and Milwaukee, #7 in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Erie (ON) and Regina, #8 in Denver and Calgary. The instrumental peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 in the UK. Duane Eddy charted two more singles into the Top Ten in Vancouver in the next two years, “Ring Of Fire” and “Guitar Man”.
Between July 1958 and September 1961 Duane Eddy had a single on the pop charts in Vancouver (BC) for 142 out of 169 weeks. Duane Eddy was a part of the instrumental pop-rock background in the late 1950’s into the mid-60’s. From 1958 to 1964 he scored 28 singles in the Billboard Hot 100. Of these, only three would reach the Billboard Top Ten. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, “Pepe” was one of nine top ten singles for the guitar player of the 23 that charted locally.
Over the years Duane Eddy has appeared as a session musician on recordings by Sanford Clark, Ray Sharpe, B.J. Thomas, Emmylou Harris, Phil Everly, The Ventures, Kenny Rogers, The Art of Noise and The Pretenders. Duane Eddy’s band, The Rebels, included saxophone players Steve Douglas and Jim Horn, and pianist Larry Knechtel. Douglas, Horn and Knetchel later became members of the Wrecking Crew of Phil Spector in the Sixties.
Larry Knechtel played on “Mr. Tambourine Man” for The Byrds; “Light My Fire” for The Doors; “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Sloop John B” and “God Only Knows” for The Beach Boys; “Mrs. Robinson”, “A Hazy Shade Of Winter”, “At The Zoo”, “The Boxer”, Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, Cecelia” and “El Cóndor Pasa” for Simon & Garfunkel; “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” and “Twelve Thirty” for The Mamas and the Papas; “If I Can Dream” for Elvis Presley; and “Stoney End” for Barbra Streisand. He joined Bread in 1971 and was among the personnel for “Baby I’m-A Want You”, Everything I Own” and “Guitar Man”.
Jim Horn also was a session musician, along with Larry Knechtel, on the Pet Sounds album for The Beach Boys, especially “Good Vibrations”. Horn also featured on recordings of “Up, Up And Away” and “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” for the Fifth Dimension; “For All We Know” and “Rainy Days And Mondays” for The Carpenters; “Strangers In The Night” for Frank Sinatra; “River Deep – Mountain High” for Ike and Tina Turner; “Poor Side Of Town” for Johnny Rivers; “Light My Fire” for Jose Feliciano; “Creeque Alley” for The Mamas & the Papas; “Africa” and Rosanna” for Toto; “Got My Mind Set On You” for George Harrison, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” for The Righteous Brothers, and many others.
Steve Douglas has been a session musician on four of Bob Dylan’s later albums, and the Pet Sounds album for The Beach Boys. Douglas also was a session musician for Mink Deville, The Ramones, The Crystals “He’s A Rebel” and others.
In 1961 Duane Eddy appeared in the western A Thunder of Drums along with Richard Chamberlain. In 1962 Duane Eddy made his first appearance on TV in an episode of Have Gun, Will Travel. He also appeared in the film The Wild Westerners. In 1968 he appeared in the films The Savage Seven and Kona Coast.
November 13, 2019
“Pepe (Film),” Alchetron.com.
“Duane Eddy Cashbox & Billboard Chart Positions,” tony50.tripod.com.
“Duane Eddy Inductee,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1994.
“Steve Douglas Is Dead; Rock Saxophonist, 55,” New York Times, April 22, 1993.
“Jim Horn,” jimhornmusic.com.
“Larry Knechtel, Rock Keyboardist-Arranger, Dies at 69,” New York Times, August 25, 2009.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.