Remembering Chet Atkins

06/20/2012
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(Gibson) Over the years the word "revolutionary" has been bandied about from time to time to describe some of the great musical pioneers who have helped shape the musical landscape. Rarely, however, has the word been more fitting than when describing Chet Atkins.

Born Chester Burton Atkins on this day in 1924 in Luttrell, TN, Atkins was the youngest of four children, all who lived with their mother after their parents divorced when Chet was just six. Music was always an outlet for the Atkins family, and in particular, Chet, whose natural ability was evident very early in life. Before the age of nine he'd become quite proficient on the ukulele and fiddle before ultimately landing his first guitar, which his older brother, Lowell, traded to him for an old pistol and some chores.

At the time, of course, the nation was in the throes of the Great Depression. Atkins said in his 1974 autobiography, Chet Atkins: Country Gentleman: "We were so poor and everybody around us was so poor that it was the forties before anyone even knew there had been a depression." To compound the Atkins' difficulties, Chet suffered from severe asthma, which forced him to relocate to Fortson, Georgia to live with his father. So severe was his affliction that he had to sleep in a straight-back chair to help keep his lungs open. This debilitating condition, ironically, helped him as a guitarist because he learned to fall asleep, sitting upright in his chair, holding his guitar, which he played for hours on end.

By the time Atkins was in high school he was an accomplished guitarist. It was around this time that his style began to really evolve, thanks in no small part to the great Merle Travis, whom Atkins listened to on the radio. Travis was a master picker, and this greatly influenced young Chet, who worked on, and perfected, his own four-finger (thumb and three fingers) picking style. more on this story

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