Chet Atkins

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Chet Atkins 1965

Chester Burton "Chet" Atkins (born June 20, 1924 in Luttrell , Union County , Tennessee , † June 30, 2001 in Nashville ; also known as "Mister Guitar" and "The Country Gentleman") was an American guitarist , Country -Musician , producer, and co-founder of the Nashville Sound . He has received numerous awards, including 14 Grammys .



After his parents divorced, he grew up with his siblings with his mother. His brothers Lowell and Jim Atkins , who played guitar themselves, persuaded him to try their hand at the fiddle . When he was nine years old, he swapped an old pistol for a guitar and began to practice on it. His role model was Merle Travis , whose "rolling" style he tried to imitate. Unlike Travis, who is known for his so-called "Travis-picking" with thumb and forefinger, Atkins used the thumb, forefinger and ring finger for the picking style he played .

After graduating from school in 1941, Atkins got an engagement as a fiddler on the Bill Carlisle radio show in Knoxville , Tennessee. During this time he first played with the Country- Comedy - Duo along Homer and Jethro. A few years later he moved to Cincinnati and worked for a radio station there. In 1946 he joined the band of Red Foley and went with him to Nashville. In the same year he recorded his first single on Bullet Records , a smaller label in Nashville. He changed cities and radio stations several times before he was signed by Steve Sholes, head of RCA Victor's country division, in 1947 . Atkins was responsible for some of Elvis Presley's early recordings in the studio.


After long years of wandering, he settled in Nashville in the late 1940s. Here he quickly became one of the most sought-after session guitarists. He can be heard on early recordings by the Everly Brothers , Hank Williams and Don Gibson , among others . From 1949 to 1950 he accompanied Mother Maybelle and The Carter Family on tours, on the radio and in the Grand Ole Opry . RCA gave him the chance to record his own singles and LPs, which were initially not very successful. He reached his first hit parade placement in 1955 with the purely instrumental piece Mr. Sandman . In 1957 he became head of the newly opened Nashville RCA studio. This studio became world famous as RCA Studio B and is now part of the Country Music Hall of Fame . Atkins had become one of the most influential figures on the country scene.

As rock 'n' roll pushed country music into the background, Atkins also became a producer. He was one of the few who opposed the decline with new ideas. Together with Owen Bradley and others he developed the Nashville Sound , with which a wider audience could be reached. The hard country sound was smoothed out and made fuller through elaborate arrangements. The concept worked, the sales figures picked up again.

In the 1960s, Chet Atkins rose to be the most successful producer in Nashville. He himself played numerous long-playing records with mostly instrumental music. These included several duet albums with stars like Hank Snow , Jerry Reed and Merle Travis . In 1965 he had his biggest hit with Yakety Ax . He won the Grammy Instrumentalist of the Year 14 times and numerous other awards. George Harrison once said that there was only one guitarist in Liverpool in those years (Colin Manley of the Remo Four ) who could play Chet Atkins pieces.

After the death of Steve Sholes in 1968, Atkins rose to become vice president of the RCA. In the early 1970s he teamed up again with Homer and Jethro. Several albums were released under the name Nashville String Band. In 1973 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame . That year he fell seriously ill and decided to cut back on his activities at RCA and concentrated more on playing the guitar. In the early 1980s, he moved to Columbia Records , as RCA was hostile to his jazz ambitions. Even with his new record company he occasionally recorded country albums; thus, together with the guitarist of Dire Straits , Mark Knopfler , the LP CGP (an acronym for Certified Guitar Player ) was created in 1988 and the LP Neck And Neck in 1990 . Atkins friend Roger Field suggested in 1991 that Atkins record with a singer; he was thinking of Mary Ford . Atkins agreed, but ultimately chose Suzy Bogguss as the singer.

He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1993 for his life's work - only about ten country musicians have received this honor. Chet Atkins was a musician and producer for over fifty years and promoted the careers of numerous stars. His last studio album released during his lifetime, The Day Fingerpickers Took Over the World , he recorded in 1997 with the Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel . When he fell ill again in 1997, he withdrew from the active music business.

On June 30, 2001, Chet Atkins died of longstanding cancer. To this day, the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS), which he initiated at the end of the 1980s and consists mainly of the greats of the fingerstyle scene, meets annually in Nashville. In 2002 he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman . In 2011, Rolling Stone listed Atkins 21st of the 100 best guitarists of all time .

Chet Atkins guitars

An electric guitar of the type Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman (model no. 6122), built in 1958

Atkins' collaboration with two of the major American guitar manufacturers, Gretsch and Gibson, was also not insignificant . Gretsch signed Atkins, who also discovered the archtop model by John D'Angelico (1905–1964) in the 1950s , in 1954 to promote their new western models. Similar to Les Paul at Gibson before , Atkins was not only the namesake, but was also able to influence certain construction details during the development of these instruments. The signature models named after him were the Chet Atkins Hollow Body (Gretsch model number 6120) and the Chet Atkins Solid Body (model no. 6121) in 1955 . They were supplemented in 1958 by the Tennessean (6119) and Country Gentleman (6122) models, named after title No. 9 of the album Mister Guitar. While Atkins always gave these instruments the aura of country music , they all became classic rock 'n' roll icons. Names like Eddie Cochran , Duane Eddy , Brian Setzer and George Harrison are inextricably linked with these guitars and have given Gretsch high sales rates for years.

As a result of Baldwin's takeover of Gretsch, production was relocated from Brooklyn to Boneville, Arkansas , from 1972 . In the related reorientation in the program, Atkins competed with the Super Chet (7690 in red / 7691 in brown). A somewhat simpler version of it was called DeLuxe Chet (7680 red / 7681 brown) and the long-running favorites Tennessean , Nashville and Country Gentleman , which completed the Atkins model range with a modified design. The last innovation that Atkins developed together with Gretsch was the Atkins Super Ax (7680 red / 7681 anthracite) and Atkins Ax (7685 anthracite / 7686 red), which appeared in 1976. These were solid body guitars that differed in that the Super Ax had built-in phaser and compressor as battery-operated effects, while the standard version of the Ax had to do without the effects board. After 25 years of extremely successful collaboration, Atkins separated from the company in 1979.

Discography (selection)

Chet Atkins has released over a hundred albums in his musical career.

  • 1953 - Chet Atkins 'Gallopin' Guitar
  • 1955 - Chet Atkins in Three Dimensions
  • 1956 - finger-style guitar
  • 1959 - Mister Guitar
  • 1966 - Chet Atkins Picks on the Beatles
  • 1970 - Me and Jerry Reed (with Jerry Reed )
  • 1971 - Country Pickin '
  • 1972 - CB Atkins and CE Snow (with Hank Snow )
  • 1972 - Finger Pickin 'Good
  • 1972 Me and Chet (with Jerry Reed )
  • 1973 - Alone
  • 1974 - The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show (with Merle Travis )
  • 1975 - The Night Atlanta Burned
  • 1976 - Chester and Lester (with Les Paul)
  • 1979 - The First Nashville Guitar Quartet
  • 1979 - The Nashville String Band (with Homer and Jethro)
  • 1980 - Reflections (with Doc Watson )
  • 1981 - Standard Brands (with Lenny Breau )
  • 1981 - Country — After All These Years
  • 1985 - Stay tuned with George Benson, Mark Knopfler, Larry Carlton, Steve Lukather
  • 1990 - Neck and Neck (with Mark Knopfler , UK: goldgold)
  • 1994 - Read My Licks (with Mark Knopfler )
  • 1994 - Simpatico (with Suzy Bogguss )
  • 1994 - Sneakin 'Around (with Jerry Reed and Mark Knopfler )
  • 1996 - Almost Alone
  • 1997 - The Day Finger Pickers Took Over The World (with Tommy Emmanuel )

Literary works

Literature on Chet Atkins

  • John McClellan, Deyan Bratic: Chet Atkins in Three Dimensions , 2 volumes, Pacific 2003/2004, ISBN 0-7866-7045-2 and ISBN 0-7866-5877-0 .
  • Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum: Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player . Country Music Foundation Press, US 2012, ISBN 978-0-915608-00-3 .
  • Hannes Fricke: The guitar myth: history, performers, great moments. Reclam, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-020279-1 , pp. 66-68.

Web links

Commons : Chet Atkins  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Hannes Fricke: Myth guitar: history, interpreters, great hours. Reclam, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-020279-1 , p. 67.
  2. Hannes Fricke: Myth guitar: history, interpreters, great hours. Reclam, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-020279-1 , p. 66.
  3. Chet Atkins on: Grammy Awards
  4. 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Rolling Stone , December 18, 2015, accessed August 8, 2017 .
  5. ^ Tony Bacon, Paul Day: The Ultimate Guitar Book. Edited by Nigel Osborne, Dorling Kindersley, London / New York / Stuttgart 1991; Reprint 1993, ISBN 0-86318-640-8 , p. 32.
  6. Music Sales Awards: UK