"When I Met Chet"
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I was about sixteen years old and had only been playing the guitar for a couple of years. I had taken a few lesson from an man named James (Spider) Rich, a guitarist who played for Les Smithheart back in the days where a lot of television stations in Evansville, Indiana, and that general area had a live Country and Western band that played once or twice a week. Spider was an excellent guitarist and his ability reinforced my love for Chet's music.

One Saturday night our family went to the Grand Ole Opry at the old Ryman Auditorium and Chet was there that evening. I told my mother that I would give anything if I could get to meet Chet. She said, "Well, just use your imagination and maybe you can find a way."

That started the wheels turning and I turned to my brother, who also plays the guitar, and said, "Come on. I'm going to see if they'll let me go back stage and met him." My brother chickened out, but I walked up to the stage door and knocked on it. An old black man opened the door and smiled at me. I said, in a stuttering voice, "I'm the president of the Chet Atkins fan club from Carmi, Illinois and I wanted to speak with Chet and see if we could set up a meeting. I didn't even know where that came from or what I was going to say when I approached the door. The old black man chuckled and said, "Come on back son."

He led me to a little room where Chet and a bunch of other musicians were jamming in a sound proof room. The old black man told Chet, "This young man is the president of your fan club somewhere. I don't recall where." Chet just smiled at me and nodded his head for me to sit in an empty chair that was next to him. There I was. A sixteen year old boy dressed in gambler striped pants and a black cowboy shirt with sequins all over the yoke. And I was in hillbilly heaven. I didn't bother him. I just listened. There was no doubt who was the big dog in that room as far as musicians go. I was afraid that if I said anything they would throw me out so I didn't. I sat there for the rest of the Opry that night and once Chet got up and said, "Scuse me a minute. I've got to go out and back up the Carlyles. One other time he went out for his featured number but he always came back and let me sit there. What a wonder gentleman he was. I have always loved the man for that and I'll always love his music. My brother still grumbles because he didn't go with me.

- Fred Westfall

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