“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.”
Chet Atkins grew up in Tennessee starting as a ukulele player, moving to fiddle and then to guitar at the age of 9 when he traded his brothers guitar for an old pistol and some chores. He had such serious asthma that he was forced to sleep in a straight back chair to breathe properly and would fall asleep with his guitar in his hands each night – a habit he maintained for his entire life. His first guitar used a rusty nail for a nut with a neck so bowed only the first few frets were playable. At highschool he would practise in the restroom because of the reverb on the tiles and when he finally purchased a semi acoustic guitar and amp he had to travel a long way to use it – his house had no electricity.
Elvis Presley – Eddy Arnold – Waylon Jenings
Inspired by Merle Travis Chet pioneered the one thumb two finger picking style he thought he heard on the radio. Travis infact only used the one finger. Chet went on to work with and produce artists such as Perry Como, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Jim Reeves, Skeeter Davis and Waylon Jennings. He appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 and cut the progressive “Guitar Blues”, worked with the Carter Sisters and signed to RCA Victor – his playing style was now in vogue and he had hits with “Mr. Sandman” and “Country Bell”.
Gretsch Guitars – RCA Studio B & The Nashville Sound
Chet also became a design consultant for Gretsch Guitars and built the legendary RCA Studio B where together with Bob Ferguson he created the Nashville Sound – eliminating the fiddles and steel guitars. By 1959 Atkins was known as “Mister Guitar” and often used progressive electronics in his recordings. Atkins illustrious career went from strenght to strength – he played at The White House and became vice president of RCA’s Country Division. He recorded Guitar Monsters with Les Paul, and went onto collaborate with Tommy Emmanuelle and Mark Knopfler. Unsurprisingly Chet Atkins received 14 grammy awards and Nine country music association Instrumentalist of the year awards, a Billboard Century award and a Grammy Lifetime achievement award.