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Chet atkins tribute

alcolm Web



20 June 1924 -- 30 June 2001

This article was first published by me in the Club Bulletin of the Rotary Club of Wortley in August 1999.  It was the first in a series of articles written by members under the heading of "Heroes".

     When I was in my very early teens at the beginning of the 1960's my parents bought their first record player, and mother bought her first record -- Jim Reeves' "Moonlight and Roses" LP.  This LP was produced by a man called Chet Atkins.

     My tastes in music at that time were undeveloped; I didn't know what I liked, but I didn't like the pop music of the day.  I played tenor horn in a brass band so my musical tastes were, I suppose, classically oriented.

     My very first venture into a record shop took me upstairs to the classical and non-pop music, and I was attracted from a distance by a record in a bright orange sleeve.  As I got closer, I could see the picture of a man on the cover holding an electric guitar and the name Chet Atkins. The name rang a bell as the producer of the Jim Reeves albums my mother had.  Out of interest I asked to hear the first track on this EP (extended play --4 tracks on a disk if you remember them) and from that moment on I was hooked.  I bought the record, and my love of the man and his music has endured to this very day, 40 years later.

     I bought my very first Chet Atkins LP some weeks later with the two pounds I earned for playing with Houghton Main Colliery Band on the Miners' Demonstration in Barnsley  It cost me 1 19s 11d.

     Chet Atkins is the most recorded solo instrumentalist in the world, with over 120 albums produced in a recording career which began in the early 1950's.  His first LP was recorded in 1952.  Called "Gallopin' Guitar", very few copies survive and this is a real collectors item - worth over $150 in good condition.  Sadly, this is the only early LP of Chet's which I don't have.  I have his second LP originally recorded in 1953 (although mine is a 1958 re-release) and most of the subsequent ones up to 1970 - 44 in total.  Many of them were never released in the UK and I imported those directly from a supplier in the US.

     He gave his first public performance at the age of 10 and his first paid engagement was at the age of 11 when he got $3 and some watermelons for playing at the opening of a local grocery store.  He earned his living playing guitar from the age of 14, and he played at most radio stations in the mid-west as staff guitarist.  But he was considered far too sophisticated for the hillbilly country music shows, and was fired from all of them.  He came to Nashville in 1948 to play as resident guitarist at the Grand Ole Opry for a few weeks, and has stayed ever since.  When asked why he settled in Nashville he replied, "Nashville is the only place where I never got fired".

     His output covers every musical taste imaginable from Bach, Brahms and Beethoven,  through the Beatles, Boyzone and Blondie, played on his beloved collection of classical, electric and acoustic guitars.  All of his recordings up to 1982 were made whilst he was the Managing Director of the RCA Victor recording studio in Nashville, Tennessee.

     As well as producing all of Jim Reeves' records, and playing on many of them, he was also responsible for bringing Elvis Presley and the Everley Brothers to world-wide fame and fortune by signing them to RCA and producing and playing on their records too.  He was also responsible for signing up and producing other great country music artists such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Emmy Lou Harris.  He also produced the early records of Roy Orbison and Perry Como.

     I had a gap of about 10 years up to the early 80's when my collecting of his records stopped, although my listening never waned, and I am now rebuilding my collection on CD.  All his early releases are being re-released in the States as "Twofers" - 2 albums on one CD -- and I have a supplier in South Carolina who ships them over by airmail.  Including airmail charges, these American CD's work out on average about half the cost of CD's bought in the UK.

     As well as the 44 vinyl LP's, I now have a collection of 41 CD's which give me untold pleasure as I drive around in the car.  As you may realise from this picture, Chet Atkins was the inspiration for my Panama, which I wear at outdoor events to keep the sun from frazzling my brains.

FOOTNOTE:    Following a long battle with cancer, Chester Burton Atkins passed away at home in Nashville, Tennessee on 30th June 2001 aged 77.  Following his death, the family have released a double CD of solo recordings, recorded by Chet over a 10 year period in his home studio.  Entitled "Solo Sessions" this is, in my view, the finest album ever recorded by Chet Atkins and was well worth waiting 40 years for.

Amended January 2005

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