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In 1967 was the first time I heard one of Chet's tunes. I didn't believe it! Nobody can do that, I thought. And I knew because I had been playing guitar for five years. Just two weeks later, Chet was giving a concert in Chattanooga. I knew I had to go, so I caught the Trailways bus, walked to Memorial Auditorium and waited for four hours, just me and my binoculars. Two days later I was on my way to San Diego, CA to serve my country. During the next six weeks of boot camp I was haunted by what I had seen with my binoculars. After boot camp, I flew home, and within hours of my arrival, had driven to Chattanooga and bought my first nylon string guitar.

In 1969 I was stationed in Saratoga, NY and Chet played a concert there. I sure wanted to talk to somebody from Tennessee! After the concert, I convinced a doorman to hand Chet a note. It said, "Mr. Atkins, I am a poor boy from East Tennessee and I'm stuck up here in New York with all these Yankees, and I sure would like to talk to someone who can understand what I'm saying". Well, the doorman came back in a few minutes and told me I couild come inside. I walked over to Chet, shook his hand, and hoped he didn't notice how bad I was shaking.

In 1973 Chet played in Charleston, SC. After the concert I went backstage, introduced myself, and sat down with him and smoked a cigar. He showed me where the baggage handlers had busted the top of his Gretsch under the bridge. He placed a nickle under the bridge foot and played the show. Later, the symphony conductor, Chet, and my wife and I walked down the street to a lounge and had a couple of drinks.

One time Chet played a concert at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN. He introduced a young musician and singer he had brought along. His name was Steve Wariner. I went backstage after the show and was surprised to find Chet alone, smoking a cigar. He was obviously exhausted, so I apologized and started to leave. Just then he said, "No, you don't have to leave, I'm just a little tired". I sat there for several minutes, then he reached down and picked up his nylon string guitar and held it out to me. He said, "Do you play?" I said, "Yes, but I'd rather hear you!" And then I asked him to show me how he did the "harmonic thing" in "When You Wish Upon A Star". He demonstrated it several times. For a long time after that I was the only guitarist in the county who could do that lick!

A few years later, after a concert at the Bijou in Knoxville, Chet remained on stage after the show and signed autographs. After a long while there was just Chet, Johnny Majors, a few stage hands and me. I finally got up the courage to ask Chet if I could look at his Hascal Haille. He said, "Sure, but the strings are a little dead." (He had used a guitar made by Ted Davis during the concert.) I sat there for about fifteen minutes, playing that guitar, and I was still shaking when I returned it to its case. Later I learned that Chet donated that guitar to the Smithsonian. I guess all that shaking I did damaged it somehow.....

- Tom Robinson

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