We’ve back with more insights from the legendary Tommy Emmanuel!
If you’ve not read part one of our interview, head over here to catch-up.
Assuming you’re up to date, though, let’s dive in with more of Tommy’s thoughts on how Chet Atkins influenced his music:
TE: It was because of Chet that I heard Merle Travis, Django, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and all that stuff. He turned me on to those guys. And, of course, growing up, my brother and I had to learn whatever was popular at the time. So we learned every Buck Owens tune, Don Richards guitar parts, then we heard Merle Haggard and learned everything that Roy Nichols played, and James Burton with Elvis and James Burton with Ricky Nelson. Every song, every lick that we heard, we learned it, and that’s how we slowly developed as musicians. It was all through good songs, good playing, and trying to work out what our heroes were doing.
Do you think that approach to playing broadened your horizons? You’ve said in the past that you listen to a lot of music, and that variety of influences is apparent in your playing. How instrumental were those early radio experiences in building the way you listen to music now?
TE: I learned what a good song was. When I heard somebody else’s song that wasn’t anywhere near the standard of a Hank Williams song or a Jim Reeves song or a Beatles song then I would know “that’s mediocrity” and I don’t want to be there. I only want to hear good songs, good music, good lyrics and I want to be influenced by the best I can possibly find.
That’s why I’ve always listened to all kinds of music. Everything from Mozart through to Justin Timberlake. As long as it’s good. Still, to this day, as I’m driving in my car, if I’m not listening to bluegrass, I’m listening to the Beatles or ‘60s music. It’s all about how good the song is. That’s what I’m interested in.
I don’t sit around studying guitar. I sit around studying good songs.
Who are you listening to at the moment? Who currently is inspiring you to pick up and play?
TE: Let’s see. The last new song I learned was “In the Shallow” by Lady Gaga from “A Star is Born.” Now that’s a great song, written by her and Bradley Cooper. And it’s beautifully done. She sings the hell out of it. So does he, actually. It just goes to show you that there still good songs coming at us, and that’s a good thing. A lot of music these days have amazing music in them these days too. The films and documentaries you watch contain a lot of great things you can draw off of as well.
The legendary Tommy Emmanuel and his acoustic guitar.
TE: If I’m driving and I want to listen to music, I usually listen to Quincy Jones or Donald Fagen – the “Nightfly” album. Good music is timeless. This morning, Jerry Douglas has been sharing some Tony Rice Unit with me. That’s some of my favorite bluegrass music too. Great singing, great playing, great arrangements. It’s always inspiring to hear people doing that at that level.
I had a question for you about electric versus acoustic playing. Of course, you’ve become so synonymous with acoustic guitar playing these days. But, it’s easy to forget that we were introduced to you as an electric player on albums like “Dare to Be Different” and “The Journey.” How do you feel that shift from electric to acoustic has affected your approach?
TE: Sometimes, when I’m playing acoustic, I do things that I’d play on the electric guitar anyway, so to me it makes no difference. I’m just as happy to get up and jam with Joe Satriani and play my old Tele and Fender amp as I am playing acoustic with Jerry. I love both acoustic and electric. I do miss playing electric a bit every now and again. I’d love to be able to get out and jam and play a lot more electric. But I’m constantly trying to write music for my acoustic show. As far as preference goes, though, I like one just as much as the other.
Which did you start out on? Back in the family band days, were you acoustic or electric?
TE: I was electric. I got a solid bodied electric guitar just before my sixth birthday. It was a Maton. If you ever want to see it, it’s in the Maton museum at the Maton factory – my first electric guitar with the case and everything. It’s a nice little guitar – George Harrison had one the same. Then, I got a Grestch when I was 12, and I traded that for a Telecaster, which was much more practical guitar when I was about 15.
And that’s what you kept playing through your electric years, right? When I imagine you playing an electric guitar, it’s the Tele that I picture in your hands.
TE: Yeah, I still play Teles. I have a brand new D’Angelico that I love as well. It’s like a cross between a Les Paul and a 335. It’s a beautiful guitar.
That’s it for this week’s edition. Watch this space for part three!
“I'm sick to death of people saying we've made 11 albums that sound exactly the same, In fact, we've made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.”
“I honestly believe that you have to be able to play the guitar hard if you want to be able to get the whole spectrum of tones out of it. Since I normally play so hard, when I start picking a bit softer my tone changes completely, and that's really useful sometimes for creating a more laid-back feel.”
As a young guitarist, I completely rejected any notion that music theory would help me in my journey. At the time, I justified this as a “punk rock/music is freedom” attitude to playing. If I learned my theory, I told myself, I’m just putting myself in a box. “[Insert guitar hero of the week] didn’t need theory, and they were a genius. Why do I?”