So you may be asking, what’s the big deal about Chet Atkins? When I first started becoming obsessed with learning the guitar I kept reading article after article about Chet Atkins and how he pioneered this or influenced that.. and to be honest, when I heard my first Chet Atkins album (my dad’s), I wasn’t immediately blown away. I thought it sounded clean and simple and… well, nice. It wasn’t until I analyzed what was actually going that I began to realize what a genius he was.
Born June 20, 1924 in Luttrell, Tennessee, Chet Atkins was a pioneer that helped reinvent the guitar. Chet worked as a session player and backed up several great acts in his early career before graduating on to a solo artist and then on to a prominent Nashville producer, producing acts such as Waylon Jennings and Elvis Presley. In the late 1950’s as rock n roll became more and more popular, traditional country albums sales were starting to decline. To help increase country album sales, Chet helped create the “Nashville Sound” which was basically a movement to scrap all of the fiddles and pedal steel guitars and “twang” that had been associated with country music up to that point and introduce a more contemporary, “produced” sound with heavy back-up vocals from groups like the Jordanaires and even orchestral string arrangements.
I must admit it’s nice to see that some areas of country music are heading back to their roots and bringing back the “twang” – sorry Chet.Chet is best known for his finger-style technique on his right hand, which always consisted of a walking bass line (his thumb), and a rhythm and melody (his second, third, and fourth fingers). Because so much is going on with his right hand when he plays, it actually sounds like 2 or 3 guitar players. I remember hearing Chet say that he sounded like 2 bad guitar players playing at the same time. Hah! Bad by who’s standards? In every interview I’ve ever seen with Chet Atkins he seemed like such a humble, down-to-earth guy which is pretty amazing considering how powerful he became in the music industry.
Here’s a list of those who influenced Chet Atkins:
- Merle Travis
- Les Paul
- Django Reinhardt
- Jimmie Rodgers
- Mark Knopfler
- Jerry Reed
Top 10 list of my favorite Chet Atkins songs:
- I’ll See You In My Dreams
- Yakety Axe
- There’ll Be Some Changes Made
- I Still Can’t Say Goodbye
- I’ll Say She Does
- Gallopin’ Guitar
- Petite Waltz
- Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
Video Lesson:So let’s take a closer look at Chet Atkins’ unique finger style technique (which he stole directly from Merle Travis by the way). In this video, I’ll walk you through a simple Chet-style melody complete with walking bass line and a melody. In the beginning you’ll have to do this very slowly … like REEEAAALLY slowly to get the hang of it. It’s kind of like the old patting the top of your head and rubbing your belly at the same time trick.