Guitarist Chet Atkins retains a place in music history reserved for a really select few! His contributions to country music tunes are massive as is his influence on guitar players worldwide. Merely put, country tunes would not be the same nowadays if it weren’t for Chet Atkins. Chet is likely the most recorded instrumentalist in the history of popular music! His guitar playing has graced the records of Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Hank Williams, Jerry Reed and Les Paul to identify but a few. Originally a disciple of country fingerstyle guitar legend Merle Travis, Chet’s ground breaking guitar work all through his recording profession of over 50 years has in turn guided the styles of such notable guitar players as Mark Knopfler, Eric Johnson and George Harrison. Though his virtuosity on the instrument is well acknowledged, his skills were not restricted to the guitar alone. As a producer for RCA Victor record company he is typically credited for single-handedly developing the “Nashville Sound” as we know it nowadays – fusing the twang of basic country with a pop sensibility. His list of producer credits reads like a “who’s who” in well-liked country music which includes Patsy Klein, Waylan Jennings, Charlie Pride, Elvis Presley and Jerry Reed. He also found and signed such legendary artists as Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap, Willie Nelson, and Steve Wariner while finding the time to publish collection books of his own country guitar tabs.
Chester Burton Atkins was born on June 20th, 1924 in Luttrell, Tn about 20 kilometers northeast of Knoxville. His first music influence was his older brother Jim, a highly accomplished guitar player who at some point proceeded to go on to play with Les Paul. Chet’s parents separated when he was ten and he moved to Georgia to live with his father, who was a music teacher and song coach for a number of traveling evangelists. At his brother’s suggestion, the fiddle grew to become Chet’s first instrument but it wasn’t long before he acquired a Sears Silvertone guitar and started studying how to perform on it. He advanced rapidly and by the time he left high school in 1941 at the age of 17, he had made up his mind to make a career for himself in music.
Chet’s refined guitar style was a hard sell at first. He held a few performance slots at a variety of radio channels in Knoxville and Cincinnati, but he was often dismissed due to the fact his style wasn’t hillbilly enough. For the duration of this time while working with Homer and Jethro, Chet met his future spouse Leona Johnson and they married in 1946. Later that year Chet finally received a break when he made his first appearance at the Grand Old Opry where his ear catching style was enormously received! Several more radio positions followed in Virginia and Missouri but in 1947 with the birth of his first child and poor job prospects, Chet moved back again to Knoxville to work with Homer and Jethro. Eventually a tape of Chet’s radio presentations was sent to RCA Victor’s office in Chicago and made its way to the workspace of Steve Sholes, the label’s head of country music. Soon after receiving a now historic phone call from Sholes, Chet relocated his household to Nashville.