January 31 – Manzanera ‘The Man’ For Stylish Guitars

Happy 72nd birthday to one of Britain’s most accomplished and adventurous guitarists – Phil Manzanera. Phil was born to an English dad, but Colombian mother, who played a little guitar. As a kid, he spent time living in South America and Cuba, which goes a ways towards showing why so much of his guitar work seems Latin-tinged. And perhaps why he’s Phil “Manzanera” even. He was born Philip Targett-Adams, but when young idolized Mexican guitarist Armando Manzanero, whom seemingly inspired not only some of his picking but the picking of his professional name.

He’d moved back to the UK by the time he was ready for college, and along the way made friends with another guitar great in the making – David Gilmour. While Phil was in several bands during his college years, the big break was joining Roxy Music just as they were ready to begin recording their first record. Curiously, he was their second choice after Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno auditioned several guitarists, but their first pick quit a week or two after the band formed. Manzanera answered the call, and never looked back, being one of the three constants in the oft-changing Roxy lineup, along with singer Ferry and sax-man Andy MacKay.

Manzanera’s often-flamenco tinged guitars were a big part of the Roxy sound, and from time to time he wrote with Ferry, co-writing songs including “Out of the Blue,” “Trash” and “Take A Chance With Me.” The latter was on their last, but biggest-selling, studio album, Avalon, which they recorded in Phil’s own studio. Among the other clients there were noted Roxy Music fans Duran Duran. He recalls running into them while both bands were playing in Germany around 1983 and “they ended up coming to my studio to record a single…”Is There Something I Should Know?” And then they went on to be more famous. A bit of fairy dust was sprinkled over them from the Roxy studio,” he jokes, noting they’re “very sweet guys.”

Never one to let grass grow under his feet, he’d already begun a solo recording career in downtime with Roxy in the ’70s, and to date has put out nine studio albums of his own, plus some more with his on-again, off-again project 801, which at times has included MacKay and Eno. Phil worked on a pair of Eno’s solo efforts too; the two seemed close and Eno ran much of Manzanera’s guitar recordings through his own synthesizers to manipulate the sound for the first two Roxy records.

And then there’s his old buddy David Gilmour. Phil co-wrote the hit “One Slip” with Gilmour for the first post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd album, and since toured with him and produced a pair of Gilmour albums, On An Island and Rattle This Lock.

Of late, Phil’s been busy with writing and producing a 14 hour radio series on “The A-Z of Great Guitarists” and in 2020 had a new release out with old bandmate Andy MacKay. Roxymphony was a live record where the Roxy Music guys got together a 20-piece orchestra and a full choir and performed Roxy songs like “Love is the Drug” and “Sentimental fool” in a big orchestral manner. “It was a revelation to us how well-suited the songs were to being orchestrated” he says. They were able to discover that more last year when Roxy Music toured again. He says that came about when Bryan Ferry, who lives near him, dropped by for a tea and said “do you fancy doing some gigs?” Realizing their ages and that it would mark the 50th anniversary of their first record, he responded “well, if there’s ever a time to do it, it’d be now. So yeah!”

Coming from a background that includes chameleonic Roxy Music, with ties to Pink Floyd, Eno and a host of Latin American artists, I think none of us should be surprised at how limitless his six-string sounds can be.


December 18 – EE’s Guitar Drove The Cars To Success

A Rock & Roll Hall of Fame career…that still perhaps didn’t quite amount to what it should have. Happy birthday to a guitarist allmusic call “gifted and totally under-rated.” Elliot Easton turns 69 years old today.

Easton is of course generally known as the lead guitarist of The Cars, which indeed was his shining moment, but he’s done more than just that. Keeping busy seems to be “just what (Easton) needed.”

Elliot was born as Elliot Shapiro, in New York City. Happily for all involved, he went to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music, where he not only honed his talents but met the lads who’d form The Cars. His stage presence was unusual because he’s a lefty, playing it “backwards” compared to most guitarists, and his sound made The Cars stand out from a lot of other American new wave acts that were coming up around the late-’70s who focused more on keyboards and subdued guitar riffs if any at all. Although he didn’t take part in the writing of their material, there’s no doubt he helped shape their hits like “Touch and Go”, “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” and “Moving in Stereo.” Allmusic note “his talents were not utilized to the fullest” by the band…although his talents indeed lay mostly in the six-string, as people found out in 1985.

With The Cars on hiatus basically, he put out a solo album, Change No Change. It barely scraped onto the American top 100, and perhaps with good reason. Allmusic scored it just 1.5-stars, saying it “disappoints on many levels” and adding “Easton is a terrible vocalist!” He went from there to helping fellow-Car Benjamin Orr on his own solo record, then joined Creedence Clearwater Revisited, CCR less John Fogerty essentially. He joined his old bandmates when they reformed, with Todd Rundgren replacing Rik Ocasek, as the New Cars, which didn’t really excite the public as much as expected. More recently he joined a band called Empty Hearts, with drummer Clem Burke and former Faces keyboardist Ian MacLagen, but they too failed to make it big.

However, there’s no denying his guitar prowess. Slash calls him one of his personal main influences and perhaps there’s good reason. Easton knows his stuff.

Not only did he go to the school for music, he is a student of the art. He calls Meet the Beatles the top album in importance for him. “Combined with the Ed Sullivan appearance on 2-9-64,” he told Goldmine, “this was the moment in the Wizard of Oz where the world went from black and white to technicolor!” He listed the Beatles Revolver and the Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo as other faves. On the latter he notes “I loved country music already- my dad played Marty Robbins all the time.” But when asked about important recordings for guitarists, he references Jimi Hendrix (“he didn’t ‘invent’ what he was playing but he turned it upside down”) and obscure artists like Eddie Lang, who put out a jazz record in 1929; “it showed what the guitar could do as a lead instrument.”

And today guitarists can do that using an Elliot Easton model Gibson guitar. They put out a signature Firebird guitar made to his specs.

November 20 – 75 Years In, Life’s Been Good To Joe

One of rock’s best guitarists – and most original characters – was born 75 years ago . Happy birthday Joe Walsh!

Walsh was born in Wichita, grew up in Ohio and New Jersey and in the ’60s was of mixed mind. Part of him wanted to be a rock star, as with so many of that generation, after seeing the Beatles on TV, but part of him (surprisingly given his reputation as being a bit of a goof-off and burnout) a serious scholar. He went to Kent State, but was present at the famous 1970 massacre (which inspired the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song “Ohio”) which effected him greatly…and made him think maybe a degree was over-rated! He ended up getting an honorary degree from that school in 2001 as it turned out anyway. He first appeared on record doing some guitar work for Ohio Express back in 1967, but came to prominence with the James Gang at the end of that decade and soon launched into a solo career which has delivered 11 studio albums since 1973, two of which – ’73’s The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get and 1978’s But Seriously Folks made the U.S. top 10. The latter delivered his signature tune, the wacky, 8-minute (or 4:35 if you just hear the single) “Life’s Been Good.” That one, satirizing the life of a spoiled rock star, got to #12 at home, #11 in Canada and was called “the most important statement on rock stardom anyone has made” by Rolling Stone at the time. It was quickly implemented into the concert fare of The Eagles when he joined that band, almost simultaneously.

He was a latecomer to them, joining at the start of the Hotel California sessions, but has been with them on all their records and tours since. His great freestyling guitar work was influenced heavily by The Beatles, Pete Townshend (who in turn says of Joe, “a fluid and intelligent player. There’re not many like that around.”) and Ritchie Blackmore as well as fellow birthday boy Duane Allman, who would’ve turned 76 today. Allman taught Walsh the slide guitar. His 6-string – and 12-string- prowess earned him Rolling Stone’s pick as the 54th best guitarist of all-time and has kept him in demand. He’s also worked on a wide range of other artists records, including Eagles band-mates Don Henley (doing the guitar licks on “Dirty Laundry”) and Timothy B. Schmit, as well as REO Speedwagon, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Steve Winwood, Dan Fogelberg, the Foo Fighters and even Andy Gibb. Not to mention Stevie Nicks, who’s called him the love of her life and who wrote the song “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You?” for him. Unfortunately, as Walsh put it to a friend in the ’80s “I’m leaving Stevie because I’m afraid one of us is going to die…our cocaine habit has beome so over the top…the only way to save us both is for me to leave.”

Widely known for his sense of humor, which has included a mock run for president in 1980, he has a serious side and said in 2012 he might actually “run (for Congress). The root of the problem is that Congress is so dysfunctional, we’re dead in the water until Congress gets to work and passes some new legislation.” Eric Clapton says he’s “one of the best guitarists to surface in some time. I don’t listen to many records, but I listen to his.” Pretty high praise for an ordinary, average guy! Oh, and by the way, if you were wondering if “Life’s Been Good” is all made up…he actually did have a Maserati at the time he wrote the song. But it topped out at 170 – not the 185 boasted about in the song. What an imagination he must have!

Those wanting to have another chance to check Joe out will be able to do so tomorrow in New Orleans with a concert there, followed by ones in Kansas City and Fort Worth later this month. Next year he resumes touring with The Eagles.

November 8 – People Thought Sultry Song Was Wicked Good

One of the sexiest songs with one of the sexiest videos came to widespread notice this day in 1990. “Wicked Game” launched Chris Isaak to stardom when it came out as a single 32 years back. A handful of people – his early fanbase – had been enjoying it for well over a year already, as it was on his Heart Shaped World album released early the year before. However, that album initially went almost unnoticed and might have stayed that way if not for movie-maker David Lynch.

Lynch was a fan of the California, retro-style guitarist and singer Isaak and had used some of his music in the Blue Velvet movie. He used an instrumental of this one on his ’90 action-romance Wild at Heart, with Nic Cage and Laura Dern. And thankfully for Chris, one Atlanta DJ was a fan of both him and Lynch. He recognized the tune and began spinning it on his radio station – don’t we all yearn for the days when radio DJs could do that! -and it became a regional hit. Reprise Records took note and decided they’d better jump on it and put it out as a single, and suddenly Chris Isaak was no longer anonymous.

The song single-handedly pushed the album back up the charts to #7 in the U.S. – his best to date – and quickly shot it to double-platinum status. The single itself was a #6 hit by sales (his only top 40), and #3 in Canada as well as a chart-topper in Belgium, but was popular enough across a range of music genres to win ASCAP’s award for the Most Performed Song (on radio) for the 1991 year. The video didn’t do badly either.

Initially there was a video for it using clips from the Lynch movie and Isaak playing guitar but the label quickly decided a great, hot song deserved a great hot video and shot a new one. They put Chris and model Helena Christensen on a beach in Hawaii to “cavort” and had famous photographer Herb Ritts make the video of it. The heat of it topped the heat coming off the nearby volcanoes and would eventually be named the Sexiest Video Ever by Rolling Stone who said “a man, a woman, a beach. But under the guidance of Ritts, that equation added up to the steamiest video of all-time.” MTV gave it three of their Video Awards in one of the last years when music videos still seemed relevant.

As for the song itself with the haunting guitar, Isaak said it was inspired by “what happens when you have a strong attraction for people that aren’t necessarily good for you”and he got the idea after a girl called him and wanted to drop on by. He says he had the song “pretty much finished” when she arrived at his door and “we didn’t do much guitar playing when she got there.” Allmusic describe the song as “wounded pop of the ’60s” made in the ’80s. Of course, the retro sound with a nod to early Elvis and Orbison became Isaak’s trademark and his video looks helped him launch a decent acting career, including a short-lived sitcom of his own. Among his first roles was in a David Lynch movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Isaak never quite matched the success of “Wicked Game” but has kept putting out records to this day and seems especially popular in Australia. There he had two more top 10 songs in the ’90s – “Somebody’s Crying” and “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing” –  and his Best Of is triple platinum.

October 31 – Johnny’s Guitar Never Marr-ed A Record!

Happy birthday John Maher! Doubtless some people had trouble pronouncing the last name correctly, so early on he decided to make it easier for people and go by Johnny Marr. The great Brit guitarist turns 59 today.

While we tend to quickly think of British ’80s new wave being all about the synthesizers, that’s an exaggeration by far – even real “synth pop” bands like A Flock of Seagulls tended to have some guitar in there. Then there was the critically-adored The Smiths, one of the pre-eminent and most influential of that whole bunch, which was more or less a conventional ’60s-style rock band with a fresh sound based on guitar – Johnny Marr’s Rickenbacker to be precise. He says his job in the band was to “pare down” his style and “avoid rock cliches.”

The red-letter day for Marr (and fans since then) was in summer 1978, when he met Morrissey in Manchester at a Patti Smith concert. They seemed to get along, but nothing much came of it for four years. Then, on a whim one day, Marr went to Morrissey’s house, “no advance call or anything”, knocked on the door and suggested they start a band. Morrissey says “we got along absolutely famously” (that would not last long) and the next day, The Smiths took shape.

As we said though, that didn’t last long. The two opinionated and talented musicians soon got on each other’s nerves and were despising each other after about five years and four or five (depending on whether you consider Hatful of Hollow a proper album or just a compilation) albums. They ended long before the ’80s did, but shaped a lot of the Britpop to come in the ’90s, particularly Oasis. “There’s nothing he cannot do with a guitar,” said Noel Gallagher, “the man’s a … wizard!” No surprise Noel got Johnny to do guitar on his post-Oasis band High Flying Birds single “The Ballad of The Mighty I” then.

Marr’s guitar wizardry and apparently pleasant demeanour (except to Morrissey!) make him a much in-demand player. Even during the Smiths years, he was doing session work for the likes of Bryan Ferry. Within days of quitting The Smiths, he joined The Pretenders briefly, and later formed the band Electronic with Bernard Sumner of New Order. Along the way, he’s put out some solo records, played with and produced records for Modest Mouse and did the music for the movie Inception. He’s also friends with another well-regarded guitarist who likes Rickenbackers and came to prominence in the ’80s – Peter Buck. The two played together in some of R.E.M.’s 2008 tour shows. Of late, he’s played with The Killers several times including at Glastonbury in 2018, and Billie Eilish at the Brit Awards in 2020. So well-regarded is he that Canadian Carole Pope put out a song in 2007 called “Johnny Marr”. She says “I was actually getting nostalgic…about living on a certain street in Toronto in the ’80s. The Smiths were the soundtrack to that time.”

His skill and work ethic haven’t gone unnoticed. Rolling Stone recently ranked him as the 51st best guitarist of all-time, labeling him “a guitar genius for the post-punk era” who’s “a technician who could sound like a whole band”. The UK’s Radio X went one (or 43) better, ranking him the 8th greatest ever, behind mainly classic rock heroes like Brian May and Jimi Hendrix. Something he’d be sure to be pleased with, as they are among the list of his favorite guitarists, as well as Pete Townshend, Nile Rodgers and Keith Richards. Speaking of six-strings, while he’s considered synonymous with Rickenbackers, he also is a collector of the instruments, used a vintage 1960 Les Paul while with The The (which he later gave to Noel Gallagher, who in turn broke it over a fan’s head at a concert) and now has his own signature Fender Jaguar model.

Besides fame, did he take anything from his time in The Smiths? Yep- he became a vegetarian, and now a health-conscious vegan. As he put it, “it’s not a good idea to have a #1 album called Meat is Murder and be seen eating a bacon sammie!”

September 21 – Davis Had All The Right Friends…And A Few Wrong Ones

Remembering one of the greatest guitarists you’ve never heard of on what would have been his 78th birthday. If you have heard of Jesse Ed Davis, you’re in the minority. But you’d also be in the minority if you’re a fan of ’70s music and hadn’t heard his work. After all, he was one of the most in-demand session players, worked with three of the four Beatles and rubbed shoulders with Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones.

Davis was an Oklahoma-born Native, the son of a respected painter. He became a great guitarist at a young age, and by his teens was playing in clubs in Oklahoma City. He was talented in other ways too; he got a degree in literature there. But in the ’60s he turned to music full-time, first taking a job being Conway Twitty’s touring guitarist. Eventually he moved to L.A. and became friends with fellow-Oklahoman Leon Russell as well as Levon Helm. Russell sold Davis on the idea of session work, and soon the calls came rolling in for Jesse…when he wasn’t working with Taj Mahal, whom he joined for four albums.

One of the first jobs he got as a session player was probably his best-known as well – the guitar solo on Jackson Browne’s lead-off single, “Doctor My Eyes.” Browne spoke glowingly about Davis in the movie Rumble – The Indians Who Rocked, saying he basically walked into the studio, heard the song demo and improvised the solo we hear on the spot, in one take.

Around the same time, he came to George Harrison’s attention and was invited to be a part of his Concert for Bangladesh. Harrison called him back about three years later to work on his Extra Texture album, Davis co-writing “This Guitar” with George. He got to play on Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna and two John Lennon albums (Rock & Roll, Walls and Bridges) as well in the first half of the ’70s. The work kept coming in for him, doing session work with Bryan Ferry, Leonard Cohen, Cher, even Willie Nelson. Rod Stewart as well, being on his Atlantic Crossing , co-writing “Alright for an Hour” with Rod the Mod.

Unfortunately, Rod was still the hard-partying Rod The Mod at the time, and Davis’ work with him, as well as Faces (whom he toured with in 1975) and the Rolling Stones (being a part of Taj Mahal when they opened for Mick and the lads in England) exposed him to the excesses of rock, and Davis dove in with excessive gusto. Heroin addiction limited the amount of work he could do in the late-’70s and ’80s despite several attempts to quit and stints in rehab.

Sadly, it seemed to most who knew him he was getting his act together and he was actually working as an Addictions Counselor at the American Indian Free Clinic in California in 1988 when he overdosed and died. Among his final works was the album AKA Grafitti Man, with Native poet John Trudell in 1987, an album Bob Dylan picked as the best of the year.

September 10 – When Classical Guitars Meet Acid Rock Good Things Happened

Happy birthday to a man who’s a household name in a lot of households in many different countries. And why not since, as his website puts it he’s “synonymous with a presence that has bridged musical styles in a way that has never been equaled.” Jose Feliciano is 77 today.

There were lots of popular folkie singer/songwriter types around in the late-’60s but Jose stood out. One, he was a better guitarist than most. Two, he was multi-lingual and often sang in Spanish. And three, he did all that while being blind, often with his trusty guide dog by his side! That’s the type of thing that makes people remember your name.

Feliciano was born, blind, in Puerto Rico, but his family moved to New York City – Spanish Harlem more specifically – when he was about five. He seemingly had a musical family and by age seven he’d taught himself to play accordion, but his future was really set when he was given a guitar at age nine. He practiced incessantly, while listening to classical, jazz, early rock as well as Ray Charles and Sam Cooke records. He taught himself to play quite well, then was sent for formal classical guitar lessons as a young teen. By 18, he was beginning to become popular playing coffee houses at home and in Vancouver, and RCA took note and signed him in 1964. He recorded his first album, in English, in 1965, but when he went to do an appearance in Argentina, singing in Spanish, the following year, RCA suggested he do an album in that language. He did, and since then he’s become one of the biggest Latin artists with a huge following in places such as there, Spain and even Portuguese-speaking Brazil. He’s had a series of hits in those markets on and off since, including a Spanish #1 hit , “Para Decir Adios” in ’82 and an Italian hit to boot, “Che Sara.” Little wonder he won Billboard‘s El Premio Award – a Latin music lifetime award – in 1996.

All that would not likely make his name known through much of the States, Canada or Britain though were it not for a few noteworthy records and TV appearances. And perhaps a bit of a scandal for good measure.

The big break for him was his total reimagining of The Doors hit “Light My Fire.” Originally it was the b-side to another cover of a popular hit of the day, “California Dreaming,” but many DJs liked “Light My Fire” better and began playing it. Good thing for Jose, in retrospect. The song went to #3…and actually was a #1 hit in Canada, one of three countries (along with Brazil and Britain) where it got him a gold record. That helped him win a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1968 as well as Best Male Pop Performance…and win the ear of famous baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell. Harwell apparently loved it and got Feliciano invited to sing the national anthem at a World Series game in Detroit that year.

He took liberties with the song, if you will, as he did with the Doors song, playing it considerably slower and with a Latin flavor. Unlike his hit single, the reworking wasn’t wildly popular. Many protested, accusing him of being unpatriotic and disrespectful (this was the pre-Roseanne Barr era after all!) whereas he figured he was only adding his personal touch to the sound and trying to get people to actually listen and pay attention to it for once. In the long run, he was probably right. Baseball has actually included his rendition of the anthem in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame and for the 50th anniversary of the event, he was invited to be a keynote speaker at a swearing in for new citizens in Washington. An added bonus for Jose about the baseball appearance – he met his future wife! She was a friend of Harwell’s family and he introduced them to one another there.

He also got attention for creating the theme song to the TV sitcom Chico & The Man, which he had a walk-on role in one episode. Yet still, for all that, Jose usually brings to mind one thing to most people – Ho Ho Ho. His cheery Christmas song “Felix Navidad” has entered the realm of a true cultural cornerstone of the season. Mixing Spanish and English makes it unusual, and its upbeat nature seems to strike a chord with millions every December. The song has been a top 10 on Billboard’s Holiday Chart since they began publishing the seasonal list in 2011, and last year actually hit the overall top 10 singles chart for the first time…over 50 years after its release.

Feliciano lives with his wife Susan in Connecticut these days. He’s the subject of a new documentary which premiered last month, Jose Feliciano Behind the Guitar, with another Latin-mainstream crossover success, Santana, among its producers.

August 12 – The Sultan Of Six-strings

Happy birthday to a man who took everyday experiences like dropping into a neighborhood bar or shopping at an electronics store and turned them into memorable rock anthems! Mark Knopfler turns 73 today.

Knopfler is more than just Dire Straits – but that’s a pretty good place to start the conversation. As the singer, guitarist and primary writer for the band he’s responsible for some of the most memorable hits of the late-’70s and ’80s like “Sultans of Swing”, “Industrial Disease”, “Twisting By the Pool”  and of course “Money For Nothing” from the Britain’s biggest-selling album of the ’80s, Brothers In Arms. But after he, his brother David and the rest of Dire Straits called it a day (for the most part) in 1988 he’s had a pretty good run as well. He’s put out eight solo albums, seven of which have hit the top 10 at home in his UK; done movie soundtracks for several popular films including The Princess Bride and Wag the Dog, and has helped out on numerous other artists’ records. That list includes the likes of John Fogerty, Tina Turner (co-producing her Break Every Rule album), Jeff Healey, Steely Dan and Bob Dylan, as well as country star Chet Atkins with whom he’s won a trio of Grammys. He has another in the rock category for “Money for Nothing” with his name band! It all adds up to being made a Member of the Order of the British Empire and being ranked as the 44th greatest guitarist of all-time by Rolling Stone in 2011. they call him an “intensely creative virtuoso” and note how he’s unusual in playing guitar without a pick (bound to give you a blister on your finger!) “Playing with your fingers has something to do with immediacy and soul,” he believes. Curiously, Knopfler is a southpaw but plays a normal, right-handed guitar. That is workin’!

Although possibly, it’s now retirement time for Mark. He toured in 2019 and suggested that would be his last one. But if so, he leaves with quite a legacy – not only has he won Brit Awards, he has Grammys in both Rock and Country fields as well as Juno (Canadian) and Edison (Dutch) Awards as well as a Lifetime Achievement one from the Ivor Novellos.

April 26 – Duane ‘Gunn’ed To Top Of The ’50s Charts

Happy birthday to a guitarist once so popular he beat out Elvis Presley as Britain’s favorite international musician. The “Titan of Twang”, Duane Eddy, turns 84 today. His name might not be instantly recognizable, but his sound most certainly is.

Although he was born and spent his childhood in New York, his family moved to Arizona in his teen years and he quickly fit in there and found a way of incorporating the wide open spaces of the desert into his guitar-work, which was something he’d been working on since he was a pre-schooler. At 16, he bought a Gretsch guitar and the rest is history, as they say. He soon formed a duo called Jimmy & Duane in Phoenix and put out a single called “Soda Fountain Girl” in 1955. It was a minor hit in the city, and the pair became popular in the area playing country music. Around that time, Duane started to play his trademark “twangy” sound, concentrating on the lower, bass strings on his guitar (and later, at times even using a six-string bass). When he signed a record deal, the producer, Lee Hazlewood, decided it needed more echo so he bought a 2000-gallon tank for Eddy to play in to really add reverb!

The sound took off and in 1958 he had his first real hit, “Rebel Rouser” which hit #6 in the U.S. and earned him a gold single. He’d go on to have a dozen top 30 hits by 1963 including “Because They’re Young” and “Dance With the Guitar Man.” He was even more popular across the ocean, with 18 top 30s there by the mid-’60s. So well-known and loved was he there that in 1960, the NME named him the favorite international musician, ahead of Elvis. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would say, some 30 years later when he was inducted, “twang came to represent a walk on the wild side…the sound of revved-up hot rods made for rebels with or without a cause.”

Eddy’s now best-known for his take on a somewhat obscure TV show’s theme. Peter Gunn was a bete-noire type detective show around the end of the ’50s. Henry Mancini composed the theme for it, recalling it “derives more from rock and roll than jazz” and using a tense piano and guitar in unison sound to make it “sinister.” Eddy put his guitar sound to it and made it into a British top 10 hit… twice. First in 1959, then later with the band Art of Noise who redid it in 1986.

The Beatles of course changed the sound of pop dramatically around 1963, which coincided with when Duane’s hot streak petered out. He turned to acting for much of the rest of the decade, and in the ’70s produced some country records, and showed up here and there on other records, like B.J. Thomas’ “Rock & Roll Lullaby” which he played guitar on. Still, in those few short years he racked up quite a string of hits and influenced a whole generation of young guitarists including Bruce Springsteen, Dave Davies of the Kinks, Mark Knopfler and even George Harrison. No wonder he was an early entrant into the Rock Hall… and only the second winner of Guitar Player‘s “Guitar Legend” designation. The first was Les Paul, putting Eddy in pretty good company. And like Paul, there is a guitar named for Duane… the Gretsch “Duane Eddy” 6120DE.

Eddy was still touring as recently as 2018, when he had an 80th birthday tour!

April 11 – Geils Drove His Namesake Band To The Winner’s Circle

Remembering a musician whose name is a household one, even if his music isn’t as much. John Geils Jr., or “J. Geils” died on this day in 2017 from natural causes at his home in Massachusetts. He was 71.

Geils is of course best known for the J. Geils Band, one of the States’ hardest-working rock bands of the ’70s who hit paydirt in the early-80s with the multi-million selling Freeze Frame and its #1 single, “Centerfold.” It pretty much put the icing on a sonic cake that included six gold or platinum albums and 10 top 40 singles at home between 1970 and ’84. By the time the band called it quits, it had become a radio-friendly pop rock outfit, quite different than its early roots as a bluesy rock’n’roll group more akin to early ZZ Top or Rolling Stones. We can hear the difference listening to their first hit single, “Lookin’ for a Love” In fact, when Geils started the group at college in 1967, it was called the J. Geils Blues Band. As the years went by, the group seemed to be more and more the work of the core duo of keyboardist Seth Justman and singer Peter Wolf, who wrote most of the original material. Geils however, was always an essential part of the band’s sound, being its only guitarist through the years, until he quit a re-formed version of them in 2012, suing the rest for what he felt was improper use of the band’s name.

After Peter Wolf’s initial departure from the band and its quick descent, commercially, Geils kept busy with other musical projects and cars. As a kid he was a fan of old jazz, blues and soul artists like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman and after the rock success of “Centerfold” he put out a number of jazz albums as “Jay Geils” with a jazz trio in the 1990s. He was also passionate about car racing, especially European versions and drove regularly in a number of races, fixing vintage sports cars in his own shop in his downtime.