Tag Archives: Chet Atkins
Posted: December 21, 2011
The latest issue of Premier Guitar takes a look inside the Chet Atkins exhibit that is currently open at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
While the Grammy Awards, photos and instruments are all impressive, the magazine calls Atkins’ legendary workbench a highlight.
“It’s full of vacuum tubes, pickups, homemade effects boxes, snapshots, and a soldering iron,” writes Craig Havighurst. ”It looks like the inveterate tinkerer just stepped out of the room. It’s a microlevel look at an outsized legacy.”
“This prototype had a carved top and back, in the traditional style. Fred W. Gretsch, current president of the company and great grandson of its founder, says the model quickly took an interesting turn toward a more rigid top and back to offer a more stable mounting for the pickups. ‘Plywood tops and backs with electric guitars made a lot more sense,’ Gretsch says. ‘And we were doing plywood drums and had been doing them since the late ’20s and we had done a lot of refinements in the early ’50s. So we tried out some plywood tops and backs with Chet and he dug the tone. So we migrated to plywood on this model.’
“Introducing the model just as Chet first hit as a recording artist with ‘Mr. Sandman,’ Gretsch couldn’t have timed it better. This guitar inaugurated a 25-year relationship between artist and company.”
Meanwhile, Havighurst recently contributed another piece about Atkins to NPR.
In it, he quotes Country star Steve Wariner, a longtime Atkins friend and protege. Count Wariner among those wowed by the Atkins exhibit, especially the workbench.
“I had goose bumps,” Wariner says. “It’s exactly the way it looked at his house when you walked into his control room.”
For more information about the Chet Atkins exhibit, which is open until June of 2012, visit the Country Music Hall of Fame’s official website.
Posted: November 22, 2011
Legendary guitarist Paul Yandell, known for his longtime rhythm role alongside Chet Atkins, passed away Monday morning in Hendersonville, Tenn., following a lengthy battle with cancer.
Yandell was Atkins’ right-hand man for over 25 years, but he has also played on records from Dolly Parton, George Straight, Perry Como, Steve Wariner, Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Everly Brothers.
The Kentucky native moved to Nashville in 1955 and began recording as a professional with the Louvin Brothers.
Following a stint in the Army, Yandell recorded primarily with Kitty Wells and Johnnie Wright, spent a year with George Hamilton IV, and then began an incredible run with Atkins in 1975 that lasted until Atkins’ death in 2001.
“Nobody was closer to [Atkins] than Paul,” Atkins’ daughter, Merle Atkins Russell, told The Tennessean. ”He was literally a lifelong friend, his right-hand man and a very dear friend off the stage.”
Yandell recorded five solo albums and most recently appeared on Wariner’s latest record, Guitar Laboratory, which was released earlier this year.
After Atkins’ death, Yandell became the prime source of information on Atkins’ techniques and equipment, even working with Gretsch to create guitars with Atkins’ favorite specs.
In the video below, Yandell and Wariner perform for the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society in 2010:
Yandell’s official website will post details about the arrangements when they are available.
Posted: August 12, 2011
Photos by Donn Jones Photography
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum celebrated the grand opening of the Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibit on Wednesday night with a private reception. Approximately 200 guests, including Fred Gretsch, Atkins’ daughter Merle Russell, Duane Eddy and James Burton, were warmly greeted by museum director Kyle Young.
“Chet was always a supportive friend of this institution,” he said. “He was also one of country music’s ultimate renaissance men, one of the greatest instrumentalists in American music history, and a true musical savant. We are truly honored to tell his story, one we know will resonate with country fans old and new.”
The evening included memorable musical performances by award-winning thumbpicker Ben Hall and world-class guitar-slinger Steve Wariner, who received official “C.G.P.” status even from Atkins in 1997.
Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch also addressed the crowd, sharing details of Atkins’ history with their guitar company. Gretsch also brought onstage Atkins’ teary-eyed friend, Paul Yandell.
At the conclusion of the program, guests were invited to take an exclusive advance tour of the Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibition which officially opens to the public on Friday, August 12.
The Gretsch Company joins the Great American Country Television Network as proud supporters of the new exhibit, which is scheduled to run through June 11, 2012. The exhibition will be accompanied by an ongoing series of programs throughout its duration.
For details on this grand opening weekend events, click here.
Posted: July 18, 2011
That Great Gretsch Sound, via Chet “style” finger pickin’, echoed throughout the ballrooms, hallways and lobby at the beautiful Sheraton Music City Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., from July 13-16, 2011 during the 27th Annual “CAAS” (Chet Atkins Appreciation Society) convention.
Folks from around the globe once again gathered to pay homage to Chester Burton Atkins (B: June 20, 1924 – D: June 30, 2001), better known as Chet Atkins for the celebrated annual event. Gretsch Guitars and local Gretsch dealer, Broadway Sound (Knoxville, Tenn.), had a magnificent display honoring Atkins with his signature model Gretsch guitars, rare vintage photos & memorabilia. The Gretsch Company president Fred Gretsch was also on hand to meet & greet attendees.
In recognition of a special exhibit honoring Atkins at the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum in Nashville from August 11, 2011 thru June 2012, Gretsch unveiled the G6122-1959 “Chet Atkins HALL OF FAME Country Gentleman” guitar at this year’s CAAS event.
Check out the videos below from the event, including performances and a few words from Gretsch product specialist Joe Carducci and Fred Gretsch …
Posted: May 10, 2011
“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.