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(Note: This piece originally published in 1996)

KEEPING IT INTERESTING FOR OVER FORTY YEARS

by Richard McVey II
Music City News
(reprinted with permission)


Chet Atkins is one of those guys that you can't help but like. Outside of his legendary guitar status and a resume that spans seven pages, Atkins possesses an easy-going quality and a dry wit that can nearly charm you to death.

Nowhere is this more evident than his current album "Almost Alone." Appropriately titled, the album is predominantly Atkins and his guitar. "Fans always asked me, 'When are you going to make another solo album?' I wanted to do it for a long time, but when you are on a major label you have got to give them what they think they might be able to sell," says Atkins. "I just decided, 'Well, it's time to do a solo album.' It was hard to do because it gets lonely playing solo guitar and making a tune interesting for two or three minutes," he jokes.

His fans' longing for a solo project stems from Atkins' abundant collaborative work over the past few years with acts like Steve Wariner, Suzy Bogguss, Mark Knopfler (of the rock group Dire Straits), Neil Diamond and Dolly Parton, among others.

What makes "almost alone" even more of a one-man affair can be found on the songwriting credits. Of the 13 songs present, eight bear his name. For Atkins, the process doesn't come easy. "It takes me quite a while because I keep changing it," he says. "It's like a painting. You do it and then you listen to it and you think, 'Well, I can improve that area there.' I never get one perfect like the way I want it, but I do improve on it." He adds, "I really enjoyed working on these tunes and writing them. When I got through with it I felt like I had a baby or something."

Two of Atkins' "babies" took the form of tributes to two of his former collaborators. "Waitin' For Susie B., it was for Suzy Bogguss," he tells. "I love that tune. I think it's one of the best I've ever written. I wrote it when I was waiting for her one day and finished it over a matter of weeks. She always kept me waiting when we did the album (past album "Simpatico"). From the time I have known her, she would always be an hour late."

On A Little Mark Musik, Atkins says, "I took a lick that Mark (Knopfler) plays on Walk Of Life. I tried to imitate that lick and made a tune out of it. Then I added the melody."

Apparently all the songwriting and loneliness paid off as critics have given rave reviews to the new project. However, Atkins doesn't take much stock in that. "It's getting some of the best reviews I have ever gotten, which kind of scares me," he says. "I think sometimes the critics don't know the public that well."

Whether the critics know the public or not, the public all over the world knows Atkins. His fan club, The Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (C.A.A.S.), is located not only in the U.S., but England and France as well. Each year fans, guitar enthusiasts and students from across the nation and overseas meet in Nashville for a four-day convention.

"Guitarists from all over the world come in," says Atkins. "It's just a great occasion for people who want to learn more about finger picking. This year it's being held July 10th through the 13th at the Sheraton Music City."

Ironically, Atkins is just now coming to understand why fans have been following him for some 40 years. "I played pretty good back in those days -- the 50s and 60s," he says. "I was brave and ignorant and I played pretty well. I really was ahead of a lot of people in those days. Now I am trying to catch up with everybody, but back in those days it was nice. I was kind of an innovator and I could pull it off very well. I can see that now. At the time I thought I was terrible, but that kept me improving and trying to learn to play better."

Today, at age 72, Atkins offers up a bitter-sweet explanation of the current status of his life and career. "The best part is that I hear a lot of applause and people look up to me and give me credit for spreading finger picking all over the world," he says. "That is very nice. The minuses are that I've lost my youth and I am on the back nine and maybe in the ninth inning. I hope that I will go into extra innings, but the way time flies I realize that I won't be on this earth too much longer and that kind of gets my attention. So, I try to live every minute like it's my last and try to be nice to people and show my appreciation for the good luck that I have had in the last 30 to 40 years of my career."

Atkins, in his usual understated voice, concludes, "I'll continue playing as long as people want to hear me, and when they don't, I'll put it all under the bed."

ATKINS' ACCOLADES

Winner of 13 Grammys
Winner of 9 CMA Awards
A street on Music Row is named in his honor, Chet Atkins Place
Has a line of guitars produced by Gibson
Collaborated with Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler, George Benson, Asleep At The Wheel, The Irish Chieftains, Jerry Reed, Dolly Parton, Suzy Bogguss, Steve Wariner, Eric Johnson and Neil Diamond
One of the most in-demand session players in history. Session credits include Hank Williams, Sr. (Jambalaya, Your Cheatin' Heart), The Everly Brothers (Bye Bye Love, Wake Up Little Susie, When Will I Be Loved, All I Have To Do Is Dream) and Elvis Presley's first Nashville sessions (Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog) Produced and/or developed such artists as The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Steve Wariner, Waylon Jennings,Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Dottie West, Jerry Reed,Charley Pride, Floyd Cramer, Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Jim Reeves and Perry Como

 


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