If you grew up in West Texas, the is a really good chance that you like guitar music….and a pretty good chance that you picked up a guitar at some time in you life….as you began to play…..when if you wanted to get better, there is a good chance that you were a fan of Chet Atkins….for you probably had even bought a “Playing The Guitar For Beginners” music book like Lil Wally and Bone Daddy did….and even today as the New Year of 2021 is about to start in less than 24 hours, our BD stills enjoys picking up a guitar…..as what he learned from Chet Atkins back in the 1950’s comes flowing back into his old fingers as he picks out a tune…..so, there are plenty of reasons to post this story of the legend that is Chet Atkins….cuz he was truly one of the best to ever pick up a guitar.
Music – 1987 – Special – “Beginner Guitar Lessons” With Chet Atkins
Music – 1987 – Secret Policeman’s 3rd Ball Presents – Mark Knopfler + Chet Atkins – “I’ll See You In My Dreams” & “Imagine”
Chester Burton “Chet” Atkins (June 20, 1924 – June 30, 2001), known as “Mr. Guitar” and “The Country Gentleman”, was an American musician, occasional vocalist, songwriter and record producer….who, along with Owen Bradley, Bob Ferguson and others, created the country music style that came to be known as the Nashville Sound….which expanded country music’s appeal to adult pop music fans…..as he was primarily known as a guitarist…..but also played the mandolin, fiddle, banjo and ukulele. Atkins’s signature picking style was inspired by Merle Travis. Other major guitar influences were Django Reinhardt, George Barnes, Les Paul and, later, Jerry Reed. His distinctive picking style and musicianship brought him admirers inside and outside the country scene….while both in the United States and abroad. Atkins spent most of his career at RCA Victor…..and produced records for the Browns, Hank Snow, Porter Wagoner, Norma Jean, Dolly Parton, Dottie West, Perry Como, Floyd Cramer, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Jim Reeves, Jerry Reed, Skeeter Davis, Waylon Jennings, Roger Whittaker, and many others.
Music – 1942 To 1997 – Gretsch Guitars With Host Steve Wariner Present – “A Tribute To Chet Atkins”
Rolling Stone credited Atkins with inventing the “popwise ‘Nashville sound’ that rescued country music from a commercial slump,”….and ranked him # 21 on their list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time.” Among many other honors, Atkins received 14 Grammy Awards….and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award…..plus, he received nine Country Music Association awards for Instrumentalist of the Year. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame….the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum….and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. George Harrison of the Beattles was also inspired by Chet Atkins….as early Beatles songs such as “All My Loving” show the influence.
Music – 1975 – Chet Atkins + Jerry Reed – “Jerry’s Breakdown”
Music – 1956 – Grand Ole Opry Presents – Chet Atkins – “Wildwood Flower”
Atkins was born on June 20, 1924, in Luttrell, Tennessee….which was near Clinch Mountain. His parents divorced when he was six years old, after which he was raised by his mother…..as the youngest of three boys and a girl. He started out on the ukulele…..while later moving on to the fiddle….but he made a swap with his brother, Lowell, when he was nine….when he traded an old pistol and some chores for a guitar. He stated in his 1974 autobiography, “We were so poor and everybody around us was so poor that it was the forties before anyone even knew there had been a depression.” Forced to relocate to Fortson, Georgia, outside of Columbus, to live with his father because of a critical asthma condition, Atkins was a sensitive youth who made music his obsession….who because of his illness, was forced to sleep in a straight-back chair to breathe comfortably….so, on those nights, he played his guitar until he fell asleep holding it….which was a habit that lasted his whole life. While living in Fortson, he attended the historic Mountain Hill School…..as he returned in the 1990’s to play a series of charity concerts to save the school from demolition.
Music – 1988 – “Mister Guitar” Chet Atkins Plays Medley of Three Of His Best – With Johnny Gimble + Steve Wariner
Atkins became an accomplished guitarist while he was in high school…..when he used the restroom in the school to practice, because it had good acoustics. His 1st guitar had a nail for a nut and was so bowed that only the first few frets could be used. He later purchased a semi-acoustic electric guitar and amp….but he had to travel many miles to find an electrical outlet….since his home didn’t have electricity. Later in life, he lightheartedly gave himself (along with John Knowles, Marcel Dadi, Tommy Emmanuel, Steve Wariner, and Jerry Reed) the honorary degree CGP (“Certified Guitar Player”). In 2011, his daughter Merle Atkins Russell bestowed the CGP degree on his longtime sideman Paul Yandell….as she then declared no more CGP’s would be allowed by the Atkins estate. His half-brother, Jim, was a successful guitarist who worked with the Les Paul Trio in New York.
Music – 1994 – Chet Atkins & Steve Wariner Live In Concert – “Read My Licks”
Atkins did not have a strong style of his own until 1939….when (while still living in Georgia) he heard Merle Travis picking over WLW radio….as this early influence dramatically shaped his unique playing style…..whereas Travis’s right hand used his index finger for the melody and thumb for bass notes….Atkins expanded his right-hand style to include picking with his 1st three fingers….with the thumb on bass. Chet Atkins was also an amateur radio general class licensee…..who formerly used the call sign WA4CZD…..when he obtained the vanity call sign W4CGP in 1998….which included the CGP designation, which stood for “Certified Guitar Picker”….and he was a member of the American Radio Relay League.
Music – 1997 – The Nashville Network Presents – Chet Atkins & Tommy Emmanuel – Part 1
Music – 1997 – The Nashville Network Presents – Chet Atkins & Tommy Emmanuel – Part 2
After dropping out of high school in 1942, Atkins landed a job at WNOX-AM radio in Knoxville….where he played fiddle and guitar with the singer Bill Carlisle and the comic Archie Campbell….and became a member of the station’s Dixieland Swingsters….who were a small swing instrumental combo. After three years, he moved to WLW-AM in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Merle Travis had formerly worked….then after six months, he moved to Raleigh and worked with Johnnie and Jack before heading for Richmond, Virginia…. where he performed with Sunshine Sue Workman. Atkins’s shy personality worked against him….as did the fact that his sophisticated style led many to doubt he was truly “country.” He was fired often, but was soon able to land another job at another radio station on account of his unique playing ability.
Music – 1955 – Grand Ole Opry Presents – Chet Atkins – “Side By Side”
Atkins and Jethro Burns (of Homer and Jethro) married twin sisters, Leona and Lois Johnson….who sang as Laverne and Fern Johnson, the Johnson Sisters. Leona Atkins outlived her husband by eight years, dying in 2009 at the age of 85.
Music – 1982 – Austin City Limits – Chet Atkins With Special Guest Jethro Burns (Homer & Jethro fame)
Travelling to Chicago, Atkins auditioned for Red Foley…..who was leaving his star position on WLS-AM’s National Barn Dance to join the Grand Ole Opry…..when The Country Gentleman made his first appearance at the Opry in 1946….as a member of Foley’s band. He also recorded a single for Nashville-based Bullet Records that year called “Guitar Blues”….which was fairly progressive….while including a clarinet solo by the Nashville dance band musician Dutch McMillan….with Owen Bradley on piano. He had a solo spot on the Opry….but when that was cut, Atkins moved on to KWTO in Springfield, Missouri…. where despite the support of executive Si Siman, however, he soon was fired for not sounding “country enough”.
Music – 1950 – Grand Ole Opry Present Chet Atkins – “Guitar Blues”
Music – 1964 – Special – Chet Atkins Live In Concert
While working with a Western band in Denver, Colorado, Atkins came to the attention of RCA Victor…..as Siman had been encouraging Steve Sholes to sign Atkins…..cuz his style (with the success of Merle Travis as a hit recording artist) was suddenly in vogue….and that is when Sholes, A&R director of country music at RCA, tracked Atkins down in Denver…..and soon thereafter, he made his 1st RCA Victor recordings in Chicago in 1947….but they did not sell very well….so, he did some studio work for RCA that year….but had relocated to Knoxville again….where he worked with Homer and Jethro on WNOX’s new Saturday night radio show The Tennessee Barn Dance….and the popular Midday Merry Go Round.
Music – 1989 – The Nashville Network Presents – Chet Atkins, Mark O’Connor, Tony Rice, David Grisman, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Rob Wasserman Playing “The Limehouse Blues”
In 1949, he left WNOX to join June Carter with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters on KWTO. This incarnation of the old Carter Family featured Maybelle Carter and daughters June, Helen, and Anita…..as their work soon attracted attention from the Grand Ole Opry…..when the group relocated to Nashville in the mid-1950’s…..and Atkins began working on recording sessions….and performing on WSM-AM and the Opry….then Chet Atkins became a member of the Opry in the 1950’s.
Music – 1951 – The Grand Ole Opry – With Mother Maybelle & The Carter Sisters – Featuring Chet Atkins – “Sweet Talking Man”
While he had not yet had a hit record for RCA Victor, his stature was growing…..when he began assisting Sholes as a session leader when the New York–based producer needed help organizing Nashville sessions for RCA Victor artists. Atkins’s 1st hit single was “Mr. Sandman”….which was followed by “Silver Bell”….as a song which he recorded as a duet with Hank Snow. His albums also became more popular. He was featured on ABC-TV’s The Eddy Arnold Show in the summer of 1956 and on Country Music Jubilee in 1957 and 1958 (by then renamed Jubilee USA).
Music – 1954 – The Grand Ole Opry – With Chet Atkins – “Mr. Sandman”
Music – 1955 – Chet Atkins & Hank Snow – “Silver Bell”
In addition to recording, Atkins was a design consultant for Gretsch….which manufactured a popular Chet Atkins line of electric guitars from 1955–1980. He became manager of RCA Victor’s Nashville studios…. while eventually inspiring and seeing the completion of the legendary RCA Studio B….which was the 1st studio built specifically for the purpose of recording on the now-famous Music Row. Also later on, Chet and Owen Bradley would become instrumental in the creation of studio B’s adjacent building RCA Studio A as well.
Music – 1996 – Buck Emory “On The Record” With Chet Atkins & Vince Gill Playing Together
When Sholes took over pop production in 1957….which was a result of his success with Elvis Presley…. that is when he put Atkins in charge of RCA Victor’s Nashville division. With country music record sales declining as rock and roll became more popular….that is when Atkins and Bob Ferguson took their cue from Owen Bradley….and they eliminated fiddles and steel guitar as a means of making country singers appeal to pop fans…..as this became known as the Nashville Sound….which Atkins said was a label created by the media for a style of recording during that period intended to keep country (and their jobs) viable. The video below with Mister Guitar playing one of my favorite all time songs “The Stars and Stripes Forever” , is a wonderful example of the Nashville Sound that Chet Atkins was instrumental in creating….even though the song is a Souza march.
Music – 1980 – Chet Atkins – “The Stars and Stripes Forever”
Atkins used the Jordanaires and a rhythm section on hits such as Jim Reeves’s “Four Walls” and “He’ll Have to Go” and Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Blue Blue Day”…..as the once-rare phenomenon of having a country hit cross over to pop success became more common. He and Bradley had essentially put the producer in the driver’s seat….while guiding an artist’s choice of material and the musical background.
Music – 1997 – Instrumental Special With Vince Gill, Duane Eddy, Randy + Earl Scruggs, Leon Russell, Steve Wariner And Chet Atkins – “Lonesome Blues”
Atkins made his own records….which usually visited pop standards and jazz in a sophisticated home studio….while often recording the rhythm tracks at RCA….and adding his solo parts at home….where he refined the tracks until the results satisfied him. Guitarists of all styles came to admire various Atkins albums for their unique musical ideas….and in some cases experimental electronic ideas….for it was during this period that he became known internationally as “Mister Guitar”….which inspired the album, Mister Guitar, engineered by both Bob Ferris and Bill Porter, Ferris’s replacement. At the end of March 1959, Porter took over as chief engineer at RCA’s Nashville studio….which was in the space eventually known as Studio B after the facility expanded with a 2nd studio in 1960….for at this time, RCA’s sole Nashville studio had no letter designation. Porter soon helped Atkins get a better reverberation sound from the studio’s German effects device, an EMT plate reverb…..when with his golden ear, Porter found the studio’s acoustics to be problematic….and he devised a set of acoustic baffles to hang from the ceiling….and then selected positions for microphones based on resonant room modes….as the sound of the recordings improved significantly…..and the studio achieved a string of successes. The Nashville Sound became more dynamic. In later years, when Bradley asked Guitar Man how he achieved his sound….that is when Atkins told him “it was Porter.” Porter described Atkins as respectful of musicians when recording….so, if someone was out of tune, he wouldn’t single that person out by name…..but instead, he would say something like, “we got a little tuning problem … Everybody check and see what’s going on.”….and If that did not work, Atkins would instruct Porter to turn the offending player down in the mix. When Porter left RCA in late-1964, Atkins said, “the sound was never the same, never as great.”
Music – 1996 – Chet Atkins Plays The Beatles – “All My Loving” + “Here There & Everywhere” + “Something” + “Lady Madonna”
Atkins’s trademark “Atkins style” of playing uses the thumb and first two or sometimes three fingers of the right hand…..as he developed this style from listening to Merle Travis, occasionally on a primitive radio. He was sure that no one could play that articulately with just the thumb and index finger (which was exactly how Travis played)….thus assuming it required the thumb and two fingers….and that was the style he pioneered and mastered. He enjoyed jamming with fellow studio musicians….and they were asked to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960…..but that performance was cancelled because of rioting….albeit a live recording of the group. “After the Riot at Newport” was released. Atkins performed by invitation at the White House for every U.S. President from John F. Kennedy through to George H. W. Bush….and was a member of the Million Dollar Band during the 1980’s…..plus, he is well known for his song “Yankee Doodle Dixie”….in which he played “Yankee Doodle” and “Dixie” simultaneously, on the same guitar.
Music – 1959 – Chet Atkins – “Yankee Doodle Dixie” – As Mr Guitar Plays “Yankee Doodle” & “Dixie” At The Same Time
Before his mentor Sholes died in 1968, Atkins had become vice president of RCA’s country division. In 1987, he told Nine-O-One Network magazine that he was “ashamed” of his promotion saying “I wanted to be known as a guitarist and I know, too, that they give you titles like that in lieu of money. So beware when they want to make you vice president.” He had brought Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Connie Smith, Bobby Bare, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed, and John Hartford to the label in the 1960’s and inspired and helped countless others. He took a considerable risk during the mid-1960’s….when the civil rights movement sparked violence throughout the South, by signing country music’s first African-American singer, Charley Pride…. who sang rawer country than the smoother music Atkins had pioneered.
Music – 1984 – The Merv Griffin Show – Featuring George Benson + Chet Atkins – “Help Me Make It Through The Night”
Atkins’s biggest hit single came in 1965, with “Yakety Axe”….which was an adaptation of “Yakety Sax”, by his friend, the saxophonist Boots Randolph. He rarely performed in those days…and eventually hired other RCA producers, such as Bob Ferguson and Felton Jarvis, to lessen his workload.
Music – 1993 – Nashville Now Live – Chet Atkins + Boots Randolph + Ray Stevens – “Yakety Axe”
In the 1970’s, Atkins became increasingly stressed by his executive duties….as he produced fewer records….but could still turn out hits such as Perry Como’s 1973 pop hit “And I Love You So”. He recorded extensively with close friend and fellow picker Jerry Reed….who had become a hit artist in his own right. A 1973 diagnosis of colon cancer, however, led Atkins to redefine his role at RCA….while allowing others to handle administration….and he went back to his first love, the guitar, often recording with Reed or even Jethro Burns from Homer and Jethro (his brother-in-law) after Homer died in 1971. Atkins would turn over his administrative duties to Jerry Bradley, son of Owen, in 1973 at RCA.
Music – 1980 – The Nashville Network Presents – Chet Atkins + Jerry Reed Live
Music – 1986 – Nashville Now TV Presents – Chet Atkins + Paul Yarnell – “Mrs. Robinson”
Music – 1973 – Chet Atkins Album – “And Then Came Chet Atkins” – Full Album
Atkins did little production work at RCA after stepping down….and in fact, had hired producers at the label in the 1960’s, including Bob Ferguson and Felton Jarvis. As a recording artist, Atkins grew disillusioned with RCA in the late 1970’s…..when he felt stifled because the record company would not let him branch into jazz….plus, he had also produced late 1960’s jazz recordings by Canadian guitarist Lenny Breau….who was a friend and protege. His mid-1970’s collaborations with one of his influences, Les Paul, with “Chester & Lester” and “Guitar Monsters” had already reflected that interest….as Chester & Lester was one of the best-selling recordings of Atkins’s career. At the same time, he grew dissatisfied with the direction Gretsch (no longer family-owned) was going…..and withdrew his authorization for them to use his name…when he began designing guitars with Gibson….then Chet Atkins ended his 35-year association with RCA in 1982….and signed with Columbia Records….for whom he produced a debut album in 1983.
Music – 1996 – Live At The Iridium Jazz Club NYC – Chet Atkins + Les Paul
Music – 1978 – NBC Today Show With Gene Shalit – Featuring Les Paul + Chet Atkins – Part 1
Music – 1978 – NBC Today Show With Gene Shalit – Featuring Les Paul + Chet Atkins – Part 2 – “It Don’t Mean A Thing If You Ain’t Got The Swing”
Jazz had always been a strong love of his….and often in his career he was criticized by “pure” country musicians for his jazz influences. He also said on many occasions that he did not like being called a “country guitarist,”….while insisting that he was “a guitarist, period.” Although he played by ear and was a masterful improviser….he was able to read music….and even performed some classical guitar pieces. When Roger C. Field, a friend, suggested to him in 1991 that he record and perform with a female singer, he did so with Suzy Bogguss.
Music – 1992 – Chet Atkins & Suzy Bogguss – “All My Loving”
Music – 1993 – Chet Atkins & Suzy Bogguss Live In Concert – With Johnny Gimble + Earl Klugh + Eric Johnson + Steve Wariner Et Al
He returned to his country roots for albums he recorded with Mark Knopfler and Jerry Reed. Knopfler had long mentioned Atkins as one of his earliest influences. Atkins also collaborated with Australian guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel. On being asked to name the ten most influential guitarists of the twentieth century, he named Django Reinhardt to the 1st position, and also placed himself on the list.
Music – 1990 – Mark Knopfler & Chet Atkins – “The House of the Rising Sun”
Music – 1990 – Chet Atkins & Mark Knopfler – “Poor Boy Blues”
In later years, he even went back to radio, appearing on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio program, on American Public Media radio, even picking up a fiddle from time to time, and performing songs such as Bob Wills’s “Corrina, Corrina” and Willie Nelson’s “Seven Spanish Angels” with Nelson on a 1985 broadcast of the show at the Bridges Auditorium on the campus of Pomona College.
Music – 1982 – Chet Atkins – “Corrina Corrina” – With Willie Nelson, Mark Knopfler, Waylon Jennings, Emmy Lou Harris, The Everly Brothers, Michael McDonald Et Al
Atkins received numerous awards, including 14 Grammy awards and nine Country Music Association awards for Instrumentalist of the Year. In 1993, he was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Billboard magazine awarded him its Century Award, its “highest honor for distinguished creative achievement,” in December 1997.
Music -1967 – Chet Atkins Live In Concert – “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”
Atkins is notable for his broad influence…..as his love for numerous styles of music can be traced from his early recording of the stride pianist James P. Johnson’s “Johnson Rag”…..as well as all the way to the rock stylings of Eric Johnson….who was an invited guest on Atkins’s recording sessions….who, when Atkins attempted to copy his influential rocker “Cliffs of Dover”, led to Atkins’s creation of a unique arrangement of “Londonderry Air (Danny Boy)”.
Music – 1991 – Chet Atkins Live In France – “Danny Boy (Londonderry Air)”
The classical guitar selections included on almost all his albums were, for many American artists working in the field today, the first classical guitar they ever heard. He recorded smooth jazz guitar still played on American airwaves today.
Music – 1956 – Chet Atkins – “Chopin Waltz No 10 in B Minor”
Atkins continued performing in the 1990’s, but his health declined after he was diagnosed again with colon cancer in 1996. He died on June 30, 2001, at his home in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 77. His memorial service was held at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. He was buried at Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens in Nashville.
Music – 1991 – Chet Atkins Plays A Cowboy Medley – “Cattle Call” + “Wagon Wheel” + “I’m An Old Cowhand” Et Al
A stretch of Interstate 185 in Southwest Georgia (between LaGrange and Columbus) is named “Chet Atkins Parkway”…..as this stretch of interstate runs through Fortson…. where Atkins spent much of his childhood. In 2002, Atkins was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame….when his award was presented by Marty Stuart and Brian Setzer and accepted by Atkins’s grandson, Jonathan Russell. The following year, Atkins ranked number 28 in Country Music Television’s “40 Greatest Men of Country Music”.
Music – 1972 – Chet Atkins Live In Concert – “Malaguena”
At the age of 13, the future jazz guitarist Earl Klugh was captivated watching Atkins’s guitar playing on The Perry Como Show. Similarly, he was a big influence on Doyle Dykes. Atkins also inspired Drexl Jonez and Tommy Emmanuel.
Music 1994 – Chet Atkins TV Special – With Earl Klugh + Chet Atkins – “Goodtime Charlie’s Got The Blues”
Clint Black’s album Nothin’ but the Taillights includes the song “Ode to Chet”….which includes the lyrics “‘Cause I can win her over like Romeo did Juliet, if I can only show her I can almost pick that legato lick like Chet” and “It’ll take more than Mel Bay 1, 2, & 3 if I’m ever gonna play like CGP.” Atkins played guitar on the track. At the end of the song, Black and Atkins had a brief conversation.
Music – 1997 – Clint Black & Chet Atkins – “Ode To Chet”
Chet’s song “Jam Man” is currently used in commercials for Esurance ….while the opening guitar licks to the Miranda Lambert song “Only Prettier” sound very similar to Atkins’s guitar-picking style.
Music – 1997 – Chet Atkins – “Jam Man”
In 1967, a tribute song, “Chet’s Tune”, was produced for his birthday, with contributions by a long list of RCA Victor artists, including Eddy Arnold, Connie Smith, Jerry Reed, Willie Nelson, Hank Snow, and others. The song was written by the Nashville songwriter Cy Coben, a friend of Atkins’s. The single reached number 38 on the country charts.
Music – 1967 – Chet Atkins – “Chet’s Tune”
In 2009, Steve Wariner released an album titled My Tribute to Chet Atkins. One song from that record, “Producer’s Medley”, featured Wariner’s recreation of several famous songs that Atkins both produced and performed. “Producer’s Medley” won the Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 2010.
Music – 1988 – Nashville Now TV Presents – Chet Atkins – “Classical Gas”
In November 2011, Rolling Stone ranked Atkins # 21 on their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”…..which is something very difficult for this lil ole chiweenie Sportsphile to grasp….cuz I do not see after posting all of these Chet Atkins videos here in this story….where he plays so many different types and styles of music….that anyone could actually show me 20 better guitarist than Chet Atkins
Music – 2012 – The Nashville Network With Bill Anderson On Opry Backstage – “Remembering Mister Guitar Chet Atkins”
After coming to the end of this story about Chet Atkins….it is not difficult to understand why this guitar master had the monikers of The Country Gentleman and Mister Guitar…..for he was nothing but “pure class” when it came to how he handled himself on stage…..while performing with other artists….cuz there may not have ever been another guitar master who influenced so many folks to pick up a guitar and learn to play….as he certainly did with our Bone Daddy and his brother Lil Wally. Chet Atkins was larger than life….while being as soft as a spring rain in his approach to everything he did….whether it was playing by himself or with others….and how he handled producing records for RCA for 30+ years. His music has endured all the way throughout time since 1942 when he first began performing to the today as 2021 opens its door….and we here at ImaSportsphile believe that his popularity and music will continue on throughout the ages….for as long as the guitar is played and folks want to listen. We are more than delighted to present so much of his work in our video museum…..cuz any way you cut the pie….the sun will always rise and shine on the wonderful talent of Chet Atkins.
Music – 1990 – Chet Atkins + George Benson – “Sunrise”