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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Premier Guitar Photo Gallery: The Golden Era of Gretsch

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Premier Guitar recently took a look back at two great decades of Gretsch guitars — Jets, Electromatics, Ranchers and Chet Atkins’ models from the 1950s and ‘60s.

Check out their online photo gallery here.

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Portugal. The Man Play at the Fillmore

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Portugal. The Man played the Fillmore last Friday night in San Francisco. The band’s set was described by Natalie Urban of SF Appeal online newspaper as “staggering beauty and unthinkable pain.”

Check out their photo gallery from the show, featuring frontman John Gourley on his Gretsch White Falcon, and read the entire review here.

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Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to Honor Chet Atkins

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“Years from now, after I’m gone, someone will listen to what I’ve done and know I was here…they’ll hear my guitars speaking for me.” – Chet Atkins

Sideman.  Studio musician.  Performer.  Recording Artist.  Producer.  Record Executive. In an industry known for multi-talented individuals, perhaps no one has achieved such a vast and varied resume as the inimitable Chet Atkins.  The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum will pay tribute to this versatile and visionary artist with the cameo exhibition Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player, which opens on Aug. 11 and runs through June 2012.

The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Gretsch Company with additional support provided by Great American Country Television Network.

“Chet Atkins was country music’s ultimate Renaissance man, one of the greatest instrumentalists in American music history and a true musical savant,” said museum director Kyle Young.  “His signature guitar licks shaped recordings by scores of legendary artists, including the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley and Kitty Wells, and his playing influenced future rock gods Duane Eddy, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler and many more.  As a producer, Chet was an architect of the ‘Nashville Sound’; he was also a brilliant record executive who signed and propelled a generation of country artists – including Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Charley Pride – to fame.  Chet’s guiding hand shaped much of the bedrock of country music, and we’re honored to tell his story, one we know will resonate with country fans old and new.

“We’re also honored to have the Gretsch Company as this exhibition’s title sponsor,” Young continued.  “Gretsch is an important part of American music history, and enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Chet.”

Gretsch signed Atkins as the company’s first-ever signature guitar artist in 1954.

“Our company is proud of its long association with Chet,­ and our family cherishes the special relationship that we shared with such a unique individual,” said Gretsch Company president Fred W. Gretsch. “We’re proud to support this special exhibition by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. We share the museum’s commitment to ensuring that Chet’s unrivaled legacy will continue to be celebrated for generations to come.”

Chester Burton Atkins was born on June 20, 1924, in Luttrell, Tenn., a remote town nestled in the hills of Appalachia.  He grew up in a musical family – his mother sang and played piano, and his father was an itinerant music teacher – and at the age of eight, Atkins began to learn the guitar and fiddle.  When Atkins’ parents divorced, his father relocated to Georgia, and his mother remarried. Young Chester, along with his brother, sister and stepfather, began playing regularly at square dances.  In 1936, an asthma attack forced him to live with his father in Georgia, where the more favorable climate made it easier for him to breathe.  While there, a teenaged Atkins heard Merle Travis on the radio; Travis’s thumb-and-finger picking style fascinated Atkins, who soon created his own thumb-and-two-finger variation.

After attending high school in Georgia, Atkins landed a job at WNOX in Knoxville, fiddling for singer Bill Carlisle and comic Archie Campbell. He soon became a featured player on the station’s popular daily barn dance show, as well.  Over the next decade, Atkins worked as a musician for numerous artists and radio stations, including a memorable stint at KWTO in Springfield, Mo.  It was there that station official Si Siman gave him the nickname “Chet.” Siman, impressed with Atkins’ abilities, brought him to the attention of RCA Victor Records, and in 1947 the label’s Steve Sholes signed Atkins as a singer and guitarist.  Atkins’ initial RCA recordings were not hits, and he returned to WNOX in 1948, working first with Homer & Jethro and then joining Maybelle and the Carter Sisters as lead guitarist.  He soon went back to KWTO, this time with the Carters.

When the Carters moved to Nashville in 1950 to become members of the Grand Ole Opry, Atkins joined them.  With the help of his mentor, Steve Sholes, and music executive Fred Rose, he became one of Nashville’s “A-Team” session musicians, recording with Johnnie & Jack, Hank Williams and others.  He also appeared on the Opry as a solo act and returned to making his own records; his first chart hit, a cover of the pop song “Mr. Sandman,” came in 1955, followed by a hit guitar duet with Hank Snow on “Silver Bell.”  Soon after, fans began to refer to Atkins as “Mr. Guitar,” and Gretsch Guitars introduced a model bearing his name.

Throughout the 1950s, Atkins’ work relationship with the New York–based Sholes deepened; in 1952, Atkins began organizing sessions for Sholes, and shortly thereafter Sholes began trusting Atkins to produce sessions whenever Sholes’ schedule prevented his coming to Nashville.  In 1955, Sholes made Atkins manager of RCA’s new Nashville studio, a space rented as needed from the Methodist Television Radio and Film Commission.   Two years later, Sholes and Atkins convinced the label to commission its own office and studio in Nashville.  The resulting building, known today as RCA Studio B, opened in November 1957, adding impetus to the growing Music Row area. Sholes installed Atkins as head of the label’s Nashville artist & repertoire operation, and ten years later made him a company vice president.

As rock & roll eroded country music’s record sales and threatened its viability, Atkins’ production skills came to the foreground.  Atkins – along with Decca’s Owen Bradley, Columbia’s Don Law and Capitol’s Ken Nelson – began to craft recordings that would appeal to pop listeners as well as country fans. The style of these recordings, in which singers were backed by neutral rhythm sections and steel guitars, and fiddles were replaced by vocal choruses, came to be known as the “Nashville Sound.”  Atkins mined gold from the new approach immediately, first producing Jim Reeves’ 1957 crossover hit “Four Walls” and, later that year, producing Don Gibson’s 1958 double-sided smash “Oh Lonesome Me” / “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Atkins assumed production of established stars, including Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves and Hank Snow, and produced hits by new stars including Bobby Bare, the Browns, Floyd Cramer, Skeeter Davis, Dottie West and many more.

During the 1960s, Atkins continued to record and perform:  Always a jazz lover, he increasingly explored the genre in his performances and appeared at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival; he also played for President Kennedy the following year.

By the middle of the decade, Atkins was producing more than two dozen acts for RCA.  During this time, he signed a cadre of now-legendary country artists, including Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, Jerry Reed and Connie Smith.

As the 1970s dawned, Atkins reduced his producing commitments and focused more on his own recordings and live performances.  He embarked on a series of collaborative albums, working with Les Paul, Jerry Reed, Merle Travis, Doc Watson and others.  However, he still found time to facilitate additions to the RCA roster, including Ronnie Milsap, Ray Stevens and Steve Wariner.

Atkins’ virtuosity was undeniable, and his mantle quickly filled with the hardware to prove it.  In 1973, Atkins was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  He went on to earn 14 Grammy awards and nine Country Music Association awards during his career.

In 1982, Atkins relinquished his RCA executive role and left the label to record for Columbia in 1983.  He also gave himself an honorary degree:  Atkins christened himself a “Certified Guitar Player” and began signing his name as “Chet Atkins, C.G.P.”  Atkins would later bestow this “degree” on several legatees, including Jerry Reed and Steve Wariner.

For the remainder of his life, Atkins continued to record and play; he collaborated on albums with George Benson, Suzy Bogguss, Mark Knopfler, Mark O’Connor and others, exploring and expanding the boundaries of country, jazz and pop.  In 1993, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Atkins died on June 30, 2001.  He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year.

Chet Atkins:  Certified Guitar Player will be accompanied by an ongoing series of programs throughout the exhibit’s duration.

Visit www.countrymusichalloffame.org for more info about the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

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AC/DC Live At River Plate Drops Tuesday

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AC/DC Live At River Plate, a definitive live concert DVD documenting AC/DC’s massive 20-month world trek in support of Black Ice, will be available for purchase on Tuesday, May 10.

Shot in December of 2009, AC/DC Live At River Plate marks AC/DC’s triumphant return to Buenos Aires where nearly 200,000 fans (over three sold-out shows) welcomed the band back after a 13-year absence from Argentina.

Directed by David Mallet and produced by Rocky Oldham, this stunning live footage was shot with 32 cameras entirely in HD. AC/DC Live At River Plate features 19 songs (110 minutes), as well as behind-the-scenes footage of the massive production.

AC/DC Live At River Plate will be available on DVD, Blu-Ray and a limited edition with an exclusive T-shirt. Additionally the DVD contains a bonus feature titled “The Fan, The Roadie, The Guitar Tech & The Meat,” featuring interviews with AC/DC, their crew and fans.

AC/DC Live At River Plate track listing is as follows:
1. Rock N Roll Train
2. Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be
3. Back In Black
4. Big Jack
5. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
6. Shot Down In Flames
7. Thunderstruck
8. Black Ice
9. The Jack
10. Hells Bells
11. Shoot To Thrill
12. War Machine
13. Dog Eat Dog
14. You Shook Me All Night Long
15. T.N.T.
16. Whole Lotta Rosie
17. Let There Be Rock
18. Highway To Hell
19. For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)

Order yours today!

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Brian Setzer Gets Guitar Player Cover

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Rockabilly and Big Band Swing’s reigning king Brian Setzer and his vintage ’59 Gretsch 6120 decorate the cover of Guitar Player’s May issue in celebration of his newest album, Setzer Goes Instru-Mental!

GP quizzed the former Stray Cats frontman about his thinking behind his first-ever solo instrumental effort, and the gear he used to fuse rockabilly, country and jazz into a potent batch of songs.

Here’s a quick sample of what the article offers:

Q: What was your setup for “Far Noir East” which has that great sounding tremolo?
A: Man, I could put that tone in a bowl and eat it. I’m using a ’61 Fender Twin Amp, which, of course, doesn’t have reverb, so I was using the matching reverb unit with it. Fender was really at the top of their game with that thing, and I just love how it sounds. But the Twin Amp does have a beautiful sounding tremolo and that’s what you’re hearing.

Q: What’s the advantage of taking out the zero fret (from his Gretsch Hot Rod)?
A: I could never get along with a zero fret because grooves would wear into it, and then the strings wouldn’t slide over it properly. Even 30 years ago, we would take a chisel and bang those things out. So if you want the original-style Chet Atkins model from the ‘50s, Gretsch still offers it—but if you want to rock with it and have it play in tune, I think my model is the logical alternative. I think about what a 6120 was used for in the 1950s—it was a guys who were trying to play like Chet Atkins. And that’s why the old Gretsches are usually in pretty good shape. Basically we’ve tried to duplicate a ‘50s guitar, but add all the things I’ve done to them over the years to make them rock.

The article also includes a link to this oldie but still rockin’ live performance of “Guitar Rag.”


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