One of the musical highlights in recent years of the National Assn. of Music Merchants’annual trade show, now under way in Anaheim, has been Deke Dickerson’sGuitar Geek Festival, which the roots rock guitarist and band leader only half jokingly bills as "the best guitar festival in the world."
This year's marathon event gets going at 4 p.m. today at the Anaheim Plaza Hotel and if history holds, it will run well past midnight.
The lineup is topped by seminal rock guitar hero Duane Eddy, who's giving his first full-fledged concert on the West Coast in nearly a decade. The bill also includes bluesman David "Honeyboy" Edwards, the 94-year-old contemporary of Robert Johnson and Charley Patton who is considered the last of the original Delta blues players, surf guitarist George Tomsco from the Fireballs and several other acts.
A handful of steel guitar aces will gather for a "History of the Steel Guitar" segment, and show host Dickerson will lead a tribute to Johnny Ramone, the punk player famous for refusing to play guitar solos.
"I decided to do the guitar festival after going to see a big guitar show at the Universal Amphitheater many years ago," Dickerson said this week. "It was the same old thing: 30 guys onstage playing songs that went on for half an hour.
"I asked myself, 'Why isn't anybody doing what I want to see: guys like Duane Eddy, Nokie Edwards and obscure-yet-great players who have never got their due?' That's when I realized it wasn't going to happen unless I did it myself."
His coup this year was landing Eddy, known as the "King of the Twang Guitar" and famed for such reverb-soaked rock instrumentals of the 1950s and '60s as "Rebel Rouser," "Forty Miles of Bad Road," "Ramrod" and "Peter Gunn." The sonic template he created with producer Lee Hazlewood laid a foundation for the surf-music wave that crested shortly after he scored his first hits.
"Peter Gunn" made a return to the charts a quarter century after Eddy's original hit in 1960 when the British group Art of Noise recorded a cover version that featured its creator. That version won a Grammy as the best rock instrumental of 1986.
Eddy was born in New York and grew up in Arizona loving the music of movie cowboys such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers as well as the songs of country music titan Hank Williams. He cites Les Paul and Chet Atkins among his key guitar heroes.
In the mid-'50s when Hazlewood took Eddy under his wing, the field of rock instrumentals was relatively open.
"There were a couple of instrumentals that had been hits," Eddy, 71, recalled from a stop in Scottsdale, Ariz., earlier this week on his way to Los Angeles. "There was Bill Doggett's 'Honky Tonk' and Bill Justis had a hit with a record called 'Raunchy.' During Lee's years playing records, he'd really listened to them and dissected them, and knew what he wanted things to sound like when he got into the studio. I was doing some singing at the time, but he told me, 'Go write an instrumental,' and so I wrote 'Moovin' N Groovin'."
That record reached No. 72 on the national chart, an impressive debut outing.
Like many musicians, Eddy finds the notion of retiring a foreign one. He's got a new album, "Artifacts of Twang," slated for release this spring.
"If I had decided to do something else for a living," Eddy said, "I'd still be playing guitar. Playing music is one of the most satisfying things in life."