When everyone recognizes you as ‘Mr. To say you have made your imprint on the world of guitar is an exaggeration. You are the recognizable face of one of the most famous guitar brands in history. Chet Atkins made a dinosaur-sized imprint on the six-stringed instrument’s history. With 88 classic albums, innumerable duets, and a career stretching from the early 1940s until his passing in 2001, picking only ten outstanding highlights is a mere introduction to the work of a legend who eternally established the sound. He was a fan of country music, but he also enjoyed jazz, classical music, and even rock and roll.
Limehouse Blues (1946)
Chet Atkins had been enamored with the guitar and music since he was a kid, but it wasn’t until 1939, at the age of 15, that he had the epiphany that led him to develop his unique style. For the first moment that same year, he heard Merle Travis. With effort, Atkins may add the middle and ring fingers to his famed ‘fingerpickin’ technique by playing the guitar with the thumb for bass lines and the index finger for melodies.
Black Mountain Rag (1952)
Steven Sholes brought him to RCA, and shortly after, in 1949, he started working with the Carter family, notably Maybelle Carter and her daughters June, Helen, and Anita. He used these funds to purchase his famed D’Angelico Excel guitar. Chet purchased a premium model at the period, ‘specially made to his taste with a Bigsby pickup and other minor changes.
Country Gentleman (1953)
His incredible technique and elegance on the guitar earned him the ‘Mr. ‘Guitar,’ but Atkins was also known as ‘Country Gentleman,’ an alias derived from this classic recording (co-written with Boudleaux Bryant) in 1953 and which ended up naming one of his Gretsch models. But no matter what happens, Atkins will continue to play his D’Angelico. The song was recorded in Atkins’ garage, where he was building a small studio to record the majority of his exquisite solos.
Mr. Sandman (1954)
Despite the fact that he has yet to achieve success on his own, Atkins’ reputation as Nashville’s most prominent guitarist has crossed the state line. As a result, Gretsch contacted him to see if he would accept sponsorship from the brand. Chet didn’t particularly like Gretsch, but after a series of conversations, the company adapted a series of ideas from the guitarist and delivered a guitar to which he couldn’t say no. It was the Streamliner prototype of the Gretsch 6120, the guitar that launched the long relationship between Gretsch and Atkins, maybe the second most important in the history of a guitarist and a brand, behind Les Paul’s with Gibson.
Don Gibson – Oh Lonesome Me (1957)
We’ve only done solo recordings with Atkins so far, but Chet has recorded hundreds of songs as a session musician. When Steven Sholes was promoted to head of RCA’s pop division in 1957 as a result of his success with Elvis, Atkins gave him a handshake and promoted him to head of RCA’s country division. All Atkins would leave his mark on Nashville’s sound for decades to come. As a producer, one of his first projects was Oh Lonesome Me, for which Neil Young recorded a version of Don Gibson’s After The Gold Rush, in which he also provided the brief guitar solo on his Gretsch and EchoSonic.
The Everly Brothers – All I Have To Do Is Dream (1958)
Chet always had a good ear for any type of music, and when he first heard Elvis, he knew there was something special about him, which led him to drag his wife to the first recording of Elvis with the company, Heartbreak Hotel, with Atkins playing acoustic guitar. The same thing happened when he heard the Everly Brothers, the sons of a friend, and realized there was a rough diamond in those ears.
Yakety Axe (1965)
Despite the fact that the iconic f-shaped holes were painted, Atkins was particularly proud of his Gretsch 1959 Country Gentleman, which featured contributions from Ray Butts. This was his primary guitar throughout the 1960s, and he used it in songs such as his famous Yakety Axe, a version of Boots Randolph’s Yakety Sax in which he used all of his tricks to adapt the fast melody to the guitar. In 1990, he re-recorded it with Mark Knopfler for their collaborative album, Neck, and Neck, at a slightly slower pace. If they hear the melody, it may be from Benny Hill’s show.
The Entertainer (1975)
Chet Atkins adored the sound of Spanish/classical guitar; one of his favorite instruments was a Ramrez from 1969, which he kept in his bedroom and played frequently. Tárrega also recorded many pieces of classical music, including Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Schubert’s Ave Maria. But he also played these guitars on his album Chet Atkins Goes to the Movies, on which he sang songs from several films, including The Entertainer, a rag written by Scott Joplin in 1902 and popularized by the film The Sting.
Poor Boy Blues (with Mark Knopfler) (1990)
Chet Atkins made major albums in collaboration with other guitarists like as his favorite Les Paul or with producers such as Jerry Reed, but one of his most memorable came in 1990 when he teamed up with another fingerstyle guitarist. It was Mark Knopfler, and the album they made together was called Neck and Neck, and their most famous song was Poor Boy Blues, in which, in addition to singing, the two guitar legends exchanged ‘licks’ with the same fluidity as two cruisers. The guitars chosen were a Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman and a red Pensa Suhr with koa body for Knopfler.
Jam Man (1996)
Chet Atkins was 71 years old when he recorded Almost Alone in 1996. The album was basically just him and his guitar, and one of the few songs with ‘overdubs’ was this Jam Man, which won a Grammy for best instrumental Country & Western and became one of his most famous songs when he became the ubiquitous soundtrack of a famous insurance announcement.