Chet Atkins

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Chester Burton "Chet" Atkins (June 20, 1924June 30, 2001) was an influential country guitarist and record producer in country music. His virtuoso picking style (he himself called it yakety) brought him a number of admirers both within and outside the country scene. Atkins produced records for Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves and Waylon Jennings to name a few. Atkins created, along with Owen Bradley and Bob Ferguson, the Nashville sound.


Atkins was born in Luttrell, Tennessee, and grew up with his mother and siblings after the divorce of his parents. He started out on the fiddle, but traded a pistol for a guitar when he was nine. He became an accomplished guitarist while he was in high school. Atkins was self-taught, and later on in life gave himself (and a few others) the honorary degree "CGP", standing for "Certified Guitar Player". He made his debut on the Bill Carlisle Show on WNOX in Knoxville as well as becoming a member of the "Dixie Swingers." After three years, he moved to a radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He made his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1946, supporting Red Foley and made his first recordings for Bullet the same year. After working for radio stations in Richmond, Virginia, Springfield, Missouri, and Denver, Colorado, Atkins came to the attention of RCA Victor. Steve Sholes, the director of country music at RCA, had been trying to locate him, but hadn't known where to find him. After receiving the call from RCA, Atkins moved to Nashville and began recording there. He became the studio guitarist for all of the RCA studio sessions in Nashville starting in 1949. The next year, he became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry.

His first hit was "Mr. Sandman," followed by "Silver Bell," which he did as a duet with Hank Snow. In addition to recording, Atkins designed guitar models that are still popular today for Gibson and Gretsch.

When Steve Sholes left Nashville in 1957, he left Atkins in charge of RCA's Nashville division. Atkins continued to perform and produced many hits, some of which crossed over to the pop charts. He played at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960 and at the White House in 1961. When Sholes died in 1968, Atkins was promoted to vice president of RCA's country division.

Atkin's last major hit single came in 1969, and in the 1970s, he worked mostly in trio with Homer and Jethro, and then with Jethro (his brother-in-law) after Homer died. By the end of the '70s, he was feeling stifled at RCA because they would not let him branch out into jazz. He left RCA in 1982 and signed with Columbia Records, for whom he produced an album in 1983. While he was with Columbia, he showed his creativity and taste in jazz guitar.

He did return to his country roots for albums he recorded with Mark Knopfler and Jerry Reed.

Atkins received numerous awards, including eleven Grammy Awards and nine Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year awards. He died of a brain tumor at his home in Nashville.

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