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
- Tom Robinson
The FULL LIST of "When I Met Chet" stories