Giving Thanks for Chet Atkins
It’s hard to be from Nashville and not be aware of Chet Atkins as a concept, an idea, this guy who played guitar.
But only recently have I really begun to appreciate this man that played such an instrumental role in Nashville’s growth as a music center, not to mention his contributions to the guitar.
It’s been ten years since I first fell hard for the fingerstyle playing of Doc Watson and Merle Travis.
And, before that, I’d already encountered amazing players like Leo Kottke, Jeff Fahey and Mississippi John Hurt.
My eyes are opening to the extraordinary legacy of Chet Atkins. And this feels like one of the most pivotal discoveries in my life’s journey with the guitar.
The Fuzzy Feeling That Comes When You Find Something New and Amazing
If you’re at all into music, then surely you’ve experienced the sudden influx of inspiration that comes with a brand new sonic discovery. Maybe the new band or composer you’ve discovered was staring at you all along and you never had the patience to stop and give them a chance. Or maybe you literally had never even heard of this new talent, and all of a sudden you’ve encountered your new favorite song.
Right now, Chet Atkins is my new musical revelation.
First off, Chet Atkins wasn’t called Mr. Guitar for no reason. His playing is unbelievably rich, tasteful and technically powerful.
Additionally, his musical curiosity led him across all sorts of genres and approaches to the guitar across his illustrious and long-lived career in music. From his early country roots to his eventual incorporation of blues, folk, ragtime, popular music and classical guitar into his playing, he wasn’t afraid to reinvent himself and follow his current musical interests.
And on top of all of that, by all accounts he was genuinely a kind-hearted and warm man who left Nashville a better place than it was before he arrived for not just the music industry but everyone with whom he connected while he was alive.
Recommended Chet Atkins Resources
Since this is a site about learning to play the guitar, I’m going to focus on a few of the Chet Atkins resources that I’m currently loving.
His recording career resulted in an immense output of different records, and I can’t pretend to have devoured and digested all of his music at this point, so I’ll hold off on recommending specific recordings.
But if you’re looking to bring some Chet Atkins into your guitar playing, here are some fantastic places to start:
This DVD is a ridiculous musical treasure.
I am so grateful for whoever coordinated everything it took to get Chet to sit down and produce this DVD.
Pop this puppy in and watch Chet guide you through eight of his arrangements on the guitar.
I’ve watched A LOT of guitar DVDs, and this is easily one of the best I’ve seen. There’s something about the quality of the music and the ease with which Chet teaches his arrangements that creates a magical guitar learning experience.
Recommended without reservation.
These books present a ton of interviews with old friends and colleagues of Chet alongside notation and TAB of a variety of Chet’s arrangements from across his playing career.
Highly recommended for the songs, but the glimpses into the memories of people who knew Chet are also really sweet ways to appreciate the legacy (musical and otherwise) of Chet Atkins.
Standing on the Shoulders of Musical Giants
By all accounts, Chet never took a guitar lesson and pieced together his playing style from recordings and chance exposure to different music.
For those of us with internet access, we are awash in an embarrassment of guitar riches. With oodles more resources appearing every day.
For example, right now, from the comfort of your own internet browser, have a look at this incredible performance of The Entertainer by Chet:
(If you want to learn that arrangement, it’s in Volume Two of Chet Atkins in Three Dimensions, mentioned above.)
So, here in this week of Thanksgiving, I wanted to take a moment to give thanks for the body of work Chet left behind when he died in 2001.
As a Nashville-based fingerstyle nylon string guitarist (and teacher of Nashville guitar lessons), I’ve often wondered which musical legacy from this Music City was my own.
With this recent sudden realization of just how deep Chet Atkins’ playing and approach to the guitar really were, I feel like I’ve finally found my Nashville musical lineage. And it feels very, very good to be apprenticing from this great master through the resources he left behind before he passed.
So, if you haven’t yet made a deep acquaintance with the music of Chet Atkins, I highly recommend you do so. From YouTube to Amazon, you’ll find plenty to gawk and stare at and lots of good humbling pants-kicking motivation to keep moving forward in your own guitar playing.