(22 January 2017) – I discovered Duane Eddy around the time I turned 13 in 1959. When I turned 19 in 1965, the Rolling Stones brought me out of my teenage years. Throughout that six year passage Chuck Berry was always at my side.
Until I got out of high school in 1963, I thought I was Duane Eddy’s biggest fan. Maybe I was. I never met very many others. I had all his records, mostly 45 rpm singles in the early days, and albums as my weekly allowance rose to meet the challenge. There was Cannonball, Rebel Rouser, Ramrod, Forty Miles of Bad Road, and a whole lot more. No singing ever got in the way of the music on a Duane Eddy record.
On October 15 1961, the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars came to the Montreal Forum and he was one of the featured acts. It also had Paul Anka, Chubby Checker, The Shirelles, and others, but they weren’t the draw for me. It was Duane Eddy and his Twangy Guitar. We had just moved to Lachine on the west end of Montreal. Getting to and from the Forum on a Sunday evening would have been problematic. Getting past my mother was doubly so. She thought my time would be better spent listening to him on the record player and getting ready for school the next day.
Several other instrumental groups followed in Eddy’s footsteps. All had the standard lineup of lead, rhythm, and bass guitars plus drums. The biggest among them were the Ventures, the Surfaris and the Shadows. I would add the Strangers, but they never broke out beyond the high school dance circuit in Pointe Claire. Most of them went on to be the core of an almost successful band called M. G. and the Escorts. The lead guitarist, Glenn Grecco, was a good friend of mine in our final year of high school. Their drummer was Billy Bryans who went on to play with Downchild Blues Band and was a founding member of Parachute Club.
The Strangers never played any Duane Eddy, but they had the others down pat. The measure of a good high school band was how well they played Wipe Out, and Billy Bryans drove it with ferocity.
Music then wasn’t just about guitar bands. There was also Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, and many more. And there was always Chuck Berry.
Although he had several scrapes with the law himself, Chuck Berry saved me from a life of crime. My younger brother Ron and I were in Morgan’s department store in the Dorval Shopping Centre. I was 14, he was two years younger. We were in the record department. There was a bin of 45s at reduced prices, some at 69 cents, others at 49. We looked through the records, looked at each other, and looked around. Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen was stickered at 69 cents. Something by Pat Boone was 49 cents.
The store was practically empty. The cashier was busy doing something. The only other customer was an old man flipping through a pile of LPs. Probably classical, from the look of him. Nothing to worry about. I switched the price stickers, took Chuck Berry to the cash register and paid my 49 cents.
I had barely pocketed the penny change when the old man placed his hands on our shoulders and said hello, boys, won’t you come with me? He had a badge in his wallet saying he was the store dick. We’ve done nothing wrong, I said. He told me what he’d seen. I protested our innocence. He didn’t believe me. He told us again to come with him.
I asked what he was going to do. Justice in 1960 was swift, harsh and, in my case, effective. We’re going up to my office, he said, and I’m going to call your mother.
Knees went weak, and sweat ran cold. Follow me, he said, and set off towards the escalator. He had our record in his hand as we followed him through the near empty store. He stepped onto the escalator ahead of us and Ron looked at me. I nodded and we turned and ran for the closest exit. We didn’t stop until we were out on Dorval Avenue, breathing the fresh air of freedom and beginning the walk home to Lachine.
Our first stumble into the dark world of thieving and law-breaking had ended in near disaster. We lost the proceeds of our crime, but won the race to escape. I never stole another record before or since. At least, not until I joined Napster. Then it wasn’t long before Barbara Orbison, Roy’s widow, had me thrown out, but that’s another story.
From most perspectives, the sixties didn’t really start until the middle of the decade. 1965, to be precise. Friday 23 April 1965 to be even more precise. I was closing in on the end of my second year of university and it wasn’t going well. The end of April brought final exams and their outcome was easily predictable. Ron was in his first year. His academic achievements were making mine look good.
On April 23 the Stones were beginning their first North American tour with a concert in the Maurice Richard Arena and we had tickets. Ron also had an afternoon final exam. And he had a friend whose dad worked for Canada Customs. With a choice between writing an exam or getting into the VIP lounge at Dorval Airport, Ron made the sensible decision and ditched the exam.
At the airport, I had to wait in the public area while Ron and his friend were brought to the lounge. When he came out, he had all five of their autographs on a sheet of paper. Life brings us lots of chances to write an exam, but only one to meet the Stones. Ron grabbed it and we never looked back.
Although I haven’t listened to him in ages, Duane Eddy will always have a seat at my turntable. Chuck Berry grew old and slowed down. The Stones grew old and sped up. And I grew old and barely kept up.