Fourteen-time Grammy winner Chet Atkins (1924-2001) was a man of many hats. At RCA Victor between 1947 and 1982, as a performer, producer and executive, he was a key player in the creation of the “Nashville Sound” which made country palatable to crossover audiences. Indeed, though the style has changed, the pop influence on the country genre certainly hasn’t, and fans of Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood all owe something to Chet Atkins. Also one of Nashville’s most pioneering and virtuosic guitarists, Atkins notched a number of hit singles while at RCA and embarked on a series of collaborative albums with other guitar greats including Les Paul, Mark Knopfler, Jerry Reed and Tommy Emmanuel – all four of which are represented on a new 2-CD set from Australia’s Raven Records. Chet Atkins – Four Master Class Albums 1978-1997 collects four Atkins LPs originally released on the RCA and Columbia labels and continues Raven’s series of Atkins reissues.
The earliest album here, 1978’s Guitar Monsters, was the second full-length collaboration of Atkins and Les Paul following 1976’s Grammy-winning Chester and Lester. Though Atkins pioneered the “countrypolitan” sound of Nashville, the tracks on Monsters are stripped-down and tight with no strings anywhere in sight. Randy Goodrum (piano) and Larrie London (drums) returned from Chester, and were joined by Paul Yandell (rhythm guitar), Buddy Harman and Randy Hauser (drums) and Joe Osborn (bass). As on that first duo album, a loose, informal atmosphere prevailed on Guitar Monsters. You’ll want to turn your volume up to hear the faint in-studio comments preserved. Sometimes the gents are calling out chord changes; other times, they’re just laughing or making wry observations. But of course, the main attraction here is the music – standards like “Over the Rainbow,” “I Want to Be Happy,” “Limehouse Blues” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa classic “Meditation.” There’s plenty of breathing room for tasty solos from both men over these eleven tracks, with friendship as well as competition likely keeping Chet and Les at the top of their respective games.
The set then jumps to 1990 with Atkins’ Mark Knopfler collaboration, Neck and Neck. The elder statesman and the hotshot Dire Straits leader/axeman picked up two Grammy Awards for this joint effort, on which they were joined by Guy Fletcher on drums, bass and keyboards, Edgar Meyer and Steve Wariner on bass, Larrie Londin on drums, Mark O’Connor on fiddle and mandolin, and Paul Franklin on steel, with guest spots from legendary Nashville pianist Floyd Cramer and vocalist Vince Gill. Knopfler supplied the original song “The Next Time I’m in Town,” with other repertoire coming from the classic country (Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams” and “Just One Time”), pop (Gus Kahn and Isham Jones’ “I’ll See You in My Dreams”) and jazz (Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt’s “Tears”) songbooks.
There’s more after the jump including the full track listing and order links!
It’s clear that Atkins didn’t slow down in his later years; the next album here, 1992’s Sneakin’ Around, reunited him with Jerry Reed; their two previous collaborative LPs, 1970’s Grammy-winning Me and Jerry and 1972’s Me and Chet are also available on one CD from Raven. Atkins won yet another Grammy for this LP which featured a number of Reed’s songs (in 1974, Atkins recorded an entire set of Reed tunes) plus their co-written “Vaudeville Daze” and Atkins’ “Here Comes That Girl.” Knopfler joined Reed and Atkins for a couple tracks, and Suzy Bogguss and Amy Grant were among the background vocalists. (Atkins would record joint LPs with Bogguss and Grant in 1993 and 1994, respectively.) Other band members included David Hungate on bass, Mark O’Connor and Johnny Gimble on fiddle, Paul Yandell on rhythm guitar, Darryl Dybka on percussion and percussion, Terry McMillan on percussion, Larrie Londin on drums and Pat Bergeson on guitar.
The fourth LP in Raven’s collection, the 1997 Tommy Emmanuel collaboration The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World, was Atkins’ final album of original material released in his lifetime; he was 73 when it was recorded. Australian guitarist Emmanuel might have seemed an unlikely choice to record with the Nashville veteran, but the two had struck up a friendship initiated by a letter sent from Emmanuel to his hero. Atkins’ song “Smokey Mountain Lullaby” received a Grammy nomination; other songs on the album include Emmanuel’s “Dixie McGuire” and “Mr. Guitar” and a new arrangement of the Australian traditional “Waltzing Matilda.” Randy Goodrum, Johnny Gimble, Paul Yandell and Terry McMillan were all among the band on Finger Pickers.
Chet Atkins died in 2001, Jerry Reed passed away in 2008 and Les Paul in 2009. Raven’s set features new liner notes from Terry Reilly and remastering by Warren Barnett. Chet Atkins with Les Paul, Mark Knopfler, Jerry Reed and Tommy Emmanuel – Four Master Class Albums 1978-1997 is available now at the links below!
CD 1: Guitar Monsters / Neck and Neck / Sneakin’ Around
- Limehouse Blues
- I Want to Be Happy
- Over the Rainbow
- Lazy River
- I’m Your Greatest Fan
- It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
- I Surrender Dear
- Give My Love to Nell
- Hot Toddy
- Poor Boy Blues
- Sweet Dreams
- There’ll Be Some Changes Made
- Just One Time
- So Soft Your Goodbye
- Yakety Axe
- Tahitian Skies
- I’ll See You in My Dreams
- The Next Time I’m in Town
CD 2: Sneakin’ Around (cont.) / The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World
- Cajun Stripper
- Vaudeville Daze
- Here We Are
- The Claw
- First Born
- Major Attempt at a Minor Thing
- Gibson Girl
- Sneakin’ Around
- Nifty Fifties
- Here Comes That Girl
- To B or Not to B
- The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World
- Tip Toe Through the Bluegrass
- News from the Outback
- Ode to Mel Bay
- Dixie McGuire
- Mr. Guitar
- Road to Gundaghi/Waltzing Matilda
- Smokey Mountain Lullaby
CD 1, Tracks 1-11 from Chet Atkins and Les Paul, Guitar Monsters, RCA LP APL1-2786. 1978
CD 1, Tracks 12-21 from Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler, Neck and Neck, Columbia CD 45307, 1990
CD 1, Track 22 & CD 2, Tracks 1-10 from Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed, Sneakin’ Around, Columbia CD 47873, 1992
CD 2, Tracks 11-21 from Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel, The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World, Columbia CD 23690, 1997