A Nashville street may now bear his name, but to many Chet Atkins was synonymous with Music Row and the so-called Nashville Sound – not to mention his peerless finger-picking guitar playing. He died today in 2001.
Chester Burton Atkins aka Chet Atkins died at the age of 77, from cancer. Born and raised in rural Tennessee, the young Chet first tried his hand at playing music while suffering from asthma, strumming a ukelele to amuse himself as he recuperated.
Taking up the fiddle and graduating to the guitar after hearing renowned finger picker Merle Travis on the radio, his first paying gig came on a radio show in Knoxville, Tennessee, as rhythm guitarist for houseband, the Dixieland Swingers.
Landing further radio slots including The Grand Ole Opry, Chet’s first record release came in 1946 with “Guitar Blues”, although it would take three years until he tasted success, with “Galloping Guitars.”
Pursuing parallel careers with RCA Records as a solo artist and session musician, Atkins rose to become manager of their Nashville studios by 1955 and oversaw recording dates by the likes of The Everly Brothers, Jim Reeves and Elvis Presley (supplying guitar for “Heartbreak Hotel”).
Remaining with RCA until 1981, Chet (in tandem with producer Owen Bradley) popularised lush, string-laden country record productions and phased out more traditional instrumentation including fiddles and steel guitars.
Continuing to issue solo instrumental albums meanwhile, he drifted towards a blander easy listening style – his biggest hit coming in 1965 with “Yakety Axe” (a retread of Yakety Sax, aka the Benny Hill theme tune).
A welcome deviation from his MOR path came in 1990, when long-time fan Mark Knopfler convinced Atkins to record what became the “Neck and Neck” album and even persuaded Chet to sing on most of the tracks – a rare feat. The album remains a highpoint in Knopfler’s back catalogue and a stylish reminder of the undimmed playing talent of Chet Atkins.
Check out and purchase Chet Atkins CDs from our e-shop, Propermusic.com by clicking on the logo below:
And here’s some footage of Chet in action: