Let’s celebrate today by purchasing new, colorful and totally cool guitar picks. I know I can never have too many.
When I was a kid learning to play the guitar, my guitar teacher was a huge Chet fan. All of his students had to learn songs by the famous guitarist.
Chet Atkins was born on June 20, 1924, in Luttrell, Tennessee, near Clinch Mountain. His parents divorced when he was six, after which he was raised by his mother. He was the youngest of three boys and a girl. He started out on the ukulele, later moving on to the fiddle, but traded his brother Lowell an old pistol and some chores for a guitar when he was nine. He stated in his 1974 autobiography, “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.” Forced to relocate to Fortson, Georgia, to live with his father because of a critical asthma condition, Atkins was a sensitive youth who made music his obsession. Because of his illness, he was forced to sleep in a straight-back chair in order to breathe comfortably. On those nights, he would play his guitar until he fell asleep holding it, a habit which lasted his whole life. While living in Fortson, he attended historic Mountain Hill School. He would return in the 1990s to play a series of charity concerts to save the school from demolition. Stories have been told about the very young Chet, who, when a friend or relative would come to visit and play guitar, would crowd in and put his ear so very close to the instrument that it became difficult for that person to play.
Atkins became an accomplished guitarist while he was in high school. He would use the restroom in the school to practice, because it gave better acoustics. His first guitar had a nail for a nut and was so bowed that only the first few frets could be used. He later purchased a semi-acoustic electric guitar and amp, but he had to travel many miles to find an electrical outlet since his home had no electricity.
Atkins received numerous awards, including 14 Grammy Awards and nine Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year awards. In 1993 he was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Billboard magazine awarded him their Century Award, their “highest honor for distinguished creative achievement”, in December 1997.
Atkins is notable for his broad influence. His love for numerous styles of music can be traced from his early recording of stride-pianist James P. Johnson’s “Johnson Rag,” all the way to the rock stylings of Eric Johnson, an invited guest on Atkins’s recording sessions who, when Chet attempted to copy his influential rocker “Cliffs of Dover,” led to Atkins’s creation of a unique arrangement of “Londonderry Air (Danny Boy).”
Chet’s recordings of “Malagueña” inspired a new generation of Flamenco guitarists; the classical guitar selections included on almost all his albums were, for many American artists working in the field today, the first classical guitar they ever heard. He recorded smooth jazz guitar still played on American airwaves today.
Atkins continued performing in the 1990s, but his health declined after being diagnosed again with cancer in 1996. He died on June 30, 2001, at his home in Nashville, Tennessee, ten days after his 77th birthday.
Mr. Sandman is one of my all time favorite songs and I love the way Chet played it.