things, listen to people who’ve been there and
done it. Learn from them.
When did you meet Chet Atkins?
was an address on the back of one of them.
So, I wrote a letter to Chet Atkins, RCA
Studios, Nashville, Tennessee, America, and
I sent it, and he got it.
I didn’t meet him until 1980. I had been into his
music since 1962, when I first heard him. It was
quite a journey. I was so enthralled by what I
heard. Most people said, “It’s a recording trick.
It’s them damn Yankees,” you know? “You can’t
really do all that stuff at once. It’s impossible.” I
just didn’t believe that at all. I could hear what
was going on, and I don’t know how to explain
that, but I could hear what he was doing…
I just kept working on it, and when I got it,
it was like the heavens opened. I couldn’t
believe it, it was like a door opened and I ran
through there. I started to work out songs. I
just couldn’t get enough of his music. I’d wear
out albums, and I’d be waiting in line for the
next one at the music store. I’d go in and buy
the new Chet Atkins record, and I could hardly
get a breath, I’d be so excited… run home and
put the needle down and have a listen to it… I
never thought about anything else, you know.
I never wanted to do anything else… except
chase girls, of course.
About three months later, a letter came back
to me, from him. It was a photograph signed
to me, and a little letter saying, “I’m glad
you’re playing the guitar, and I’d love to hear
you play. I didn’t know that anybody knew me
so far away…” and he said, “my regards to
your family, and I hope we get to meet one
day.” Years later, I was visiting friends and playing for them… and people would record me all
the time. Somebody started sending him tapes
of me playing—I didn’t know that. I would’ve
been highly embarrassed had I known. I got
another letter, just out of the blue, and it said,
“Tommy is a very good player, and I’d like to
meet him. Here is the phone number of my
office. Have him call me.”
Of course. How did you come to actually
get to know him personally?
I wrote him when my dad died. I was eleven. I retreated into music, completely for a
while, and I would sit and listen to his music
and stare at his albums, and I realized there
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In 1980, I made a trip to the United States,
and I got into Nashville, and I called his office.
I said, “It’s Tommy Emmanuel from Australia.”
And he said, “Well, where are you?” I said,
“I’m down the road,” and he said, “Well come
down here. I’ll see you now.” So I got in the car
and came down to his office. He came down
the stairs with his guitar and said, “You want to
pick a little?” We sat and played for about half
an hour; it was absolutely the greatest day of
my life. I’ll never forget it. He took me upstairs
and introduced me to Lenny Breau, who blew
my mind. I don’t know a great guitar player
who isn’t influenced by or in awe of Lenny
Breau. He was the greatest of all time, and I’m
not exaggerating. But it’s not commercial at all.
I’ve never turned back since then. My dream
was for us [Chet and I] to record together,