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Chet Atkins

Without Chet Atkins, country music may never have crossed over into the pop charts in the '50s and '60s. Although he recorded hundreds of solo records, Atkins' largest influence came as a session musician and a record producer. During the '50s and '60s, he helped create the Nashville sound, a style of country music that owed nearly as much to pop as it did to honky tonks.

And as a guitarist, he was without parallel. Atkins' style grew out of his admiration for Merle Travis, expanding Travis' signature syncopated thumb and fingers roll into new territory. Interestingly, Atkins didn't begin his musical career by playing guitar. On the recommendation of his older brother, Lowell, he began playing the fiddle at a child. However, Chet was still attracted to the guitar, and at the age of nine he traded a pistol for a guitar. Atkins learned his instrument rapidly, becoming an accomplished player by the time he left high school in 1941. Using a variety of contacts, he wound up performing on the Bill Carlisle Show on WNOX in Knoxville, TN, as well as becoming part of the Dixie Swingers. Atkins worked with Homer & Jethro while he was at the radio station. After three years, he moved to a radio station in Cincinnati.

Supporting Red Foley, Atkins made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1946. That same year, he made his first records, recording for Bullet. Atkins also began making regular performances on the WRVA radio station in Richmond, VA, but he was repeatedly fired because his musical arrangements differed from the expectations of the station's executives. He eventually moved to Springfield, MO, working for the KWTO station. A tape of one of Atkins' performances was sent to RCA Victor's office in Chicago. Eventually, it worked its way to Steve Sholes, the head of country music at RCA. Sholes had heard Atkins previously, and had been trying to find him for several years. By the time Sholes heard the tape, Atkins had moved to Denver, and was playing with Shorty Thompson & His Rangers. Upon receiving the call from RCA, he moved to Nashville to record.

Once he arrived in Nashville, Atkins recorded eight tracks for the label, five of which featured the guitarist singing. Impressed by his playing, Sholes made Atkins the studio guitarist for all of the RCA studio's Nashville sessions in 1949. The following year, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters hired him as a regular on the Grand Ole Opry, making his place in Nashville's musical community secure. While he worked for RCA, he played on many hit records and helped fashion the Nashville sound. RCA appreciated his work and made him a consultant to the company's Nashville division in 1953. That year, the label began to issue a number of instrumental albums that showcased Atkins' considerable talents. Two years later, he scored his first hit with a version of "Mr. Sandman"; it was followed by "Silver Bell," a duet with Hank Snow. By the late '50s, Atkins was known throughout the music industry as a first-rate player. Not only did his records sell well, he designed guitars for Gibson and Gretsch; the popularity of these models continues to the present day.

Sholes left for New York in 1957 to act as head of pop A&R, leaving Atkins as the manager of RCA's Nashville division. However, the guitarist didn't abandon performing, and throughout the early '60s his star continued to rise. He played the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960; in 1961, he performed at the White House. Atkins had his first Top Five hit in 1965 with a reworking of Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax," retitled "Yakety Axe"; in addition to being a sizable country hit, the song crossed over to the pop charts. Atkins' role behind the scenes was thriving as well. He produced hits for the majority of RCA's Nashville acts, including Elvis Presley and Eddy Arnold, and discovered a wealth of talent, including Don Gibson, Waylon Jennings, Floyd Cramer, Charley Pride, Bobby Bare, and Connie Smith. Because of his consistent track record, Atkins was promoted to vice president of RCA's country division when Sholes died in 1968.

The following year, Atkins had his last major hit single, "Country Gentleman." In the late '60s and early '70s, several minor hits followed, but only one song, "Prissy" (1968), made it into the Top 40. Instead, the guitarist's major musical contribution in the early part of the '70s was with Homer & Jethro. Under the name the Nashville String Band, the trio released five albums between 1970 and 1972. Following Homer's death, Atkins continued to work with Jethro.

Atkins continued to record for RCA throughout the '70s, although he was creatively stifled by the label by the end of the decade. The guitarist wanted to record a jazz album, but he was met with resistance by the label. In 1982, he left the label and signed with Columbia, releasing his first album for the label, Work It Out With Chet Atkins, in 1983. During his time at Columbia, Atkins departed from his traditional country roots, demonstrating that he was a bold and tasteful jazz guitarist as well. He did return to country on occasion, particularly on duet albums with Mark Knopfler and Jerry Reed, but by and large, Atkins' Columbia records demonstrated a more adventurous guitarist than was previously captured on his RCA albums.

Sadly, Atkins was diagnosed with cancer, and in 1997 doctors removed a tumor from his brain. In his last months, the cancer had made Atkins inactive, and he finally lost the battle on June 30, 2001, at his home in Nashville. Throughout his career, Chet Atkins earned numerous awards, including 11 Grammy awards and nine CMA Instrumentalist of the Year honors, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from NARAS. Although his award list is impressive, it only begins to convey his contribution to country music. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Galloping Guitar: The Early Years

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4


This was beautiful
I knew a lot of guys in the early 1960s that took up guitar inspired greatly by Chet Atkins. But before you knew it they were playing rock. Chet made a lot of pickers switch to rock and roll, lol.
oh the good times I had on Friday nites way back when-----
I`m 88! by the way

Just plain ole THE BEST QUALITY music, Chet is the best
Chet's my favorite.
Beautiful !!!!!!
A lot of friends in high school (1994) started playing guitar because of Pearl Jam and their colleagues. 90'S rock is great, and I started guitar for the same reason. Later I realized volume and rock rhythm was really boring if you're alone. I'm glad I found Chet Atkins LPs in my great grandma's attic before I was too old to climb a ladder. I love to play jazz, but Chet's style is universally inclusive to every genre and at least as valuable as a songwriter's legacy. He could play "What does
Listening to A Little Bit Of Blues. How sweet it is!!!
Will The Circle Be Unbroken for Back Home Hymns...gott a get this CD...
Further Along from Back Home Hymns - pure Heaven
i still cant say good by
Grew up on Chet Atkins my father had all his Lps.
Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph and Floyd Cramer the best ever!
the guy was born to play.
One of my best guitar players ever, Chet Atkins.
Wow Blue angel is really good.
Chet Atkins, Doc Watson and Merle Travis and don't leave out Jerry Reed, THE BEST OF THE BEST MUSICAL ARTISTS EVER KNOWN
The Earth With Out Chet Atkins is Like Have A Heaven With out GOD.
Yeah...what everyone else said. Absolutely one of the very best!
Boy can he make excellent dance music this one will get you off the chair. Any of his songs are the best. What a great musical artist.
The phrasing, note selection, time, rhythm, song selection, tone, touch - Chet had it all. There are many great guitar players to be sure and Chet is among the best of all time though very few have been as influential as him.
country, country swing jazz. he does have that swingerooski
Today is 4/12/13; three months ago someone posted that Pandora's team needed to fix this page. The photo of Chet Atkins has the Carter Sisters biography. Why so long to fix? Worried about losing listeners to the competition? Not tending to things like this will surely keep all the listeners here...not.
The music is great, and I listen often with Pandora 1; but this sort of thing does not portray your organization as, well, as organized.
Another victim of cancer. We have to defeat this scourge. Make it a national priority.
Please fix the bio. This type of disorganizat i o n , does not speak well of the Pandora organization .
How about Chet's bio on Chet's page and not the Carter Sisters? What gives?
There is no one like CHET!!! Love to the MAN!!!l
Who is the off- shot? never heard the carters.... tell Jonhy Cash married one
Lots of good guitarist, but he is among the greatest for always.
What a sad and lame commentary by Steve Huey of Rovi on one of the greatest guitarists of the 20th Century. Please chose someone other than Huey to remark on Chet Atkins extreme talent. Huey knows not of what he speaks.
RCA did let him play rock also. My father has his Chet Atkins picks on the Beatles album.
His legend still lives today in the name of one of his Certified Guitar Players - Tommy Emmanuel speaks highly of Chet. What a man he was.. I met Mark Knopfler in an airport once and specifically asked him about Chet. Mark said he was just a great person.
Listening to 'Yakety Axe' - damn, could Chet pick or what?! What a tone the man had!
what about chet
how 'bout a biography of chet?
I think you need to stay out of politics. The anti Romney ads you are running are untrue and mislading.
In 1968 I hired Chet Atkins to play at our college. Only fifteen people showed. We had a personal hour and one-half with a funny, gifted artist. I never grow tired of his styling, his clean clear notes. When he died I felt like I lost a friend. Pandora, please provide a bio of this master guitar player.
i could care less about a bio of the Carter sisters...Ch e t only holds my interest! why not discuss his many attributes please.
Why are the carter sisters sbio'd on the page for Chet Atkins?????
C het Adkins, Was Great!!!!
Carter family bio not Chet Atkins's bio
Chet Atkins was one of the most gifted guitar players of all times. And, he was funny, too.
Pandora is missing the mark by not including more selections from this influencial musician.
An Album that I do not see is entitled Chet Atkins Workshop. Probably released around 1960 or 1961. Second Album I ever purchased. The first was The Lettermen. I believe the album cover picture was taken at his recording studio in his house.
Chet was the best-he could play any style-the cleanest player I ever heard. He was the best arranger.
I concur w/ramonamood y . This talented gentleman needs his own bio. How can we get Pandora to update this artist's information?
Never a false note. Pure clear music every time!
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