Wariner: And Paul Yandell. Emmanuel: He was the last one. Wariner: He did kind of recuse himself. Emmanuel: It was Paul who told Chet he should give the CGP to me. Wariner: Probably in my case, too. Paul deserves a lot of credit. What do you hear in Jerry’s music that shows both those Chet Atkins roots and his journey beyond them toward his own unique style? Emmanuel: I definitely hear early Chet in his playing. He could actually emulate Chet better than any of us. He could emulate Travis really well, too. But Jerry Reed was trying to be like Ray Charles. That’s what set him apart in his playing. He came from a whole different perspective. He eventually evolved into his own unique style, which was based on piano licks. Wariner: And you’ve got to remember that Jerry was a session guy. Then Chet started telling him, “You need to make your own records.” Many times I’d brag on Jerry’s guitar playing and he’d say, “Hey, I’m a songwriter, man.” Or I’d brag on his writing and he’d say, “Man, I’m a guitar player.” [laughter] Emmanuel: I did something to Jerry that I did to Chet as well, which was to get them to play. The first thing they’d say was, “I’ve stopped playing.” So you’d play something of theirs in front of them… and you’d do it wrong. [laughter] And Jerry would be like, “OK, let me show you how to do it.” And once he’d play, I saw the experience in his hands. I saw a lifetime of work in two bars. Wariner: I didn’t know Jerry that well, but after Chet passed away, the night before his service, Jerry called me out of the blue. And we talked… Well, he talked for 45 minutes about Chet. I’d give anything if I’d been able to record it. He just poured his soul out to me about Chet. We got to be really close after that. Like Jerry, each of you built an original approach to guitar on a foundation laid for you by Chet and his work. Emmanuel: Well, when I was young, I was totally into singers and songwriters—Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Neil Diamond. It turned out they influenced a lot of my songs. But I could also work with this technique I had on guitar. For instance, I wrote a tune called “Son of a Gun” with a bridge that Travis or Chet would never have written—and yet it’s based on their style [plays “Son of a Gun”]. Knowles: One more thing about learning from Chet but not sounding just like him. For me, there are two things. The first is, when I studied classical guitar for about four years, I had that same technique but I wasn’t playing with a thumb pick and I was changing the way my left hand worked. I met Chet right after I’d learned that. So I had Chet history, but nylon strings and more of a classical touch, which meant that we could work together without me feeling like I was a clone of his. The other thing is, when I would analyze his songs, it wasn’t just chord names. When a new idea or a new key came in [to one of Atkins’ songs], I would use them to compose things. You stole Chet’s ideas without stealing the licks. Wariner: Early on, when I was making singing records, Chet would say to me, “You need to find your own path. Don’t copy anybody.” A couple of my earlier records, even when Chet was producing me, sounded kind of Glen Campbell-ish, which was awesome. But Chet would say, “Be Steve Wariner. Don’t copy me or Glen or anybody.” That was huge because I was trying to be somebody else. I mean, there’s already one Chet Atkins! Why do a half-assed version of him? Emmanuel: Particularly to young people, I always say that I believe it’s nature’s way that we all start out emulating somebody. That’s true in any profession. Someone lights a fire in you. As an actor, Elvis Presley wanted to be like James Dean. Everybody wanted to be like Marlon Brando. So they learned. We didn’t want to be Chet Atkins but we couldn’t help but try to play what we were hearing because we loved it so much. Sleight of Hands In their time with Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel, John Knowles, and Steve Wariner learned volumes from the master guitarist, much having to do with subtleties of fretting and picking technique. As Knowles demonstrates in Example 1, borrowed from Atkins’ tune “Happy Again,” fretting-finger economy makes for smooth, singing lines. Instead of the more conventional choice of sliding the dyads in a parallel manner along strings 1 and 3, Knowles stays in seventh position, with his first and third fingers anchored on strings 2 and 3, respectively, and his fourth finger sliding between frets 10 and 9 on string 1. When playing phrases with dyads, guitarists tend to play all the notes with equal weight, but as Emmanuel shows in Example 2, from Atkins he learned to do a series of double-stops with downward rakes, emphasizing the notes in the lower voice, a nuanced effect that recalls the Everly Brothers’ vocal harmonies. Knowles shows a trickier variation on this idea in Example 3. Atkins sometimes surrounded melodies with upper and lower harmonies, resulting in three-note block chords. To pull this off, Knowles picks the middle note of each chord first, with subtle emphasis, then quickly articulates the lower and higher members with his thumb and ring finger, respectively. This results in a beautiful, choir-like effect befitting of a CGP. —Adam Perlmutter Chet Do We Appreciate Since 1985, the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society has hosted its annual convention in Nashville. The first one drew around 70 attendees, including Atkins himself. Last year a few more than 1,000 checked in at the Music City Sheraton Hotel for the four-day festivities. They came from around the world and just down the road, guitar cases in hand. They roamed from workshop to workshop, took seats in the main auditorium to enjoy the world’s top fingerpickers in concert, or sprawled on floors or in the main lobby, playing together and trading technical tips. Mark Pritcher In the lobby, Mark Pritcher stood next to the registration table, surrounded as usual by well-wishers. Most of the year he works as a family practice physician in Knoxville. But at the convention, he’s a hero of sorts, the one person other than Atkins who made all of this happen. He and Jim Ferron founded the Society in 1983; since Ferron’s retirement in the early 1990s, Pritcher has piloted this ship as its president. “Chet was of course a guitar genius,” he says during a break in the action. “But his legacy is about so many things, not just music. He knew how to interact with everyone he met. He saw no distinction between the president of RCA or some guy who would shine his shoes. If he taught me anything, he taught me to be that way, too.” Fingerstyle virtuoso Pat Kirtley concurs. “I remember a few years ago walking down this hallway late at night,” he says. “I turned to my right and there were 15 teenagers, not causing trouble but playing guitar for each other. I don’t know who they were or where they came from. All I knew is that they had found a place where they felt completely accepted. That night I learned that this convention had accomplished something.” Forrest Smith, 34, a self-described amateur guitarist attending his second convention, can tell you more about that. “I played a little bit for 20 years but I wasn’t serious about it. Coming here has inspired me to pick it up again. A lot of that is due to the community here, which is everyone from Tommy Emmanuel down to me. It’s inspiring to learn a song in this style and have other people say, ‘That’s great! Try this.’ I’ve made some great friends by being here—and it’s given the guitar back to me.” Go Back To Page One, Click Link Below
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