Chet Atkins - Impressive Facts You Didn't Know

Chet Atkins – 28 Impressive Facts You Didn’t Know

Chester Burton Atkins better known as Chet, was born on June 20th 1924 in Lutrell, Tennessee, USA and died on June 30th 2001 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was known as “Mr. Guitar” and “The Country Gentleman” and helped to create the Nashville sound.

Those are facts you probably already know about Chet Atkins, keep reading for 28 impressive facts you didn’t know.

He Won 14 Grammys

Chet Atkins was a highly successful and well thought of musician and over the course of his career he won 14 Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and 9 Country Music Association (CMA) Awards.

Chet was also inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as well as the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.

He Was A Renowned Producer

Chet Atkins was famous for his distinctive guitar sound as almost anyone could tell you. But what’s not so well known is his abilities as a record producer. He produced records for many famous artists including; Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Norma Jean, Roy Orbison, Perry Como, Floyd Cramer, the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Jerry Reed, Roger Whittaker, Skeeter Davis, Don Gibson, Waylon Jennings, Dottie West and Jim Reeves to name but a few.

He Arranged Elvis Presley’s First Nashville Sessions

In 1956 Chet Atkins arranged Elvis Presley’s first Nashville sessions which led to the release of Elvis’ hit record “Heartbreak Hotel”. This was the main reason Chet was given such a large amount of freedom on how he produced country songs.

This led to many of the country/pop crossover hits of the late 50s and early 60s. Songs like “Bye Bye Love” (the Everly Brothers), “Four Walls” (Jim Reeves) and “Oh Lonesome Me” (Don Gibson).

He Played Many Instruments

Of course we all know Chet Atkins for his guitar playing skills but did you know he also played the mandolin, banjo, ukulele, fiddle and he also sang on some occasions.

His First Big Country Hit Came In 1955

Chet scored his first major hit in 1955 with the release of “Mr. Sandman” under the name of “Chet Atkins & His Galloping Guitar”.

He Rescued Country Music

According to Rolling Stone magazine, Chet Atkins invented the “popwise Nashville sound that rescued country music from a commercial slump”. They also ranked him number 21 on their list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.

He Was Inspired By Merle Travis

Atkins never had a strong style of his own until he heard Merle Travis picking on WLW radio. This influenced Atkins to create a unique picking style which involved using his thumb for the bass notes and 3 fingers for the rest of the strings. (Travis used just his thumb and index finger).

His Biggest Hit Single Was An Adapted Version Of His Friends Track

Chet Atkins biggest hit single was “Yakety Axe” which was released in 1965 and peaked at number 4 on the Hot Country chart and number 98 on the Billboard 100 chart. It was an adapted version of his friend Boots Randolph’s 1963 saxophone hit “Yakety Sax”.

He Collaborated With Les Paul

Chet Atkins always cited Les Paul as one of his influences and during the mid 1970s they collaborated on 2 albums, “Chester & Lester” and “Guitar Monsters”. “Chester & Lester” was one of the best selling albums of Chet’s career.

He Recorded An Album With Suzy Bogguss

One of Chet’s friends, Roger C. Field suggested that he should record an album with a female vocalist. The result was “Simpatico”, an album recorded by Suzy Bogguss and Chet Atkins. The album was released on October 18th 1994 and peaked at number 55 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart.

He Recorded An Album With Mark Knopfler

In 1990 Chet Atkins collaborated with Dire Straits guitarist and lead vocalist, Mark Knopfler to record the album “Neck And Neck” which was released on October 9th 1990. The album peaked at number 41 in the UK and number 27 on the Billboard Top Country chart in the US.

He Collaborated On An Album With Tommy Emmanuel

By the time this collaboration took place, Chet was 73 years of age. The album was released on March 11th 1997 and was the last album of original material Chet released in the 20th century.

He Got To Play Guitar With His Early Influence

In 1974 Chet Atkins got to record an album with Merle Travis. It was titled “The Atkins-Travis Traveling Show”. They recorded 11 tracks and the album earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

He Made An Album With Doc Watson

Released in 1980, “Reflections” is a collection of 10 tracks recorded by two guitar legends, Chet Atkins and Doc Watson. The album was recorded on September 25th 1979 in Room 206 at the Spence Manor Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee.

He Recorded 3 Albums With Jerry Reed

Over the course of his career, Chet Atkins recorded and released 3 albums with Jerry Reed. Which were; “Me And Jerry” (1970) “Me And Chet” (1971) and “Sneakin’ Around” (1992).

He Started Out As A Session Guitarist

After he moved to Nashville and did some work with June Carter, Maybelle Carter & The Carter Sisters, he released a few singles which included his own vocals. These weren’t too successful so he started to concentrate on his guitar playing. 

This led to him becoming a highly sought after session guitarist. He played guitar on many top artists songs including; “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (Hank Williams), “When I Stop Dreaming” (the Louvin Brothers), “Goin’ Steady” (Faron Young) and “Too Old To Cut The Mustard” (The Carlisles).

He Collaborated With The Boston Pops Orchestra

Chet Atkins collaborated with Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops Orchestra on 2 albums, “The Pops Goes Country” (1966) and “Chet Atkins Picks On The Pops” (1969). The first charted at number 36 on the country charts and number 62 on the Billboard 200 chart. The second never charted on the country charts but did reach number 160 on the Billboard 200.

He Was A Ham Radio Enthusiast

Chet Atkins was an amateur radio or ham radio general class licensee. His original call sign was WA4CZD, in 1998 he got the vanity call sign W4CGP which stood for “Certified Guitar Picker”. He was a member of the American Radio Relay League.

In The Early Days He Regularly Got Fired

After Chet dropped out of high school in 1942 he got a job at WNOX (AM) Radio in Knoxville, Tennessee. He played guitar and fiddle with the singer Bill Carlisle and the comic Archie Campbell. He also became a member of the station’s “Dixieland Swingsters” which was a swing instrumental band.

He moved to WLW-AM in Cincinnati, Ohio after a few years, 6 months later he went to Richmond, Virginia where he worked with Sunshine Sue Workman the country music singer. He often got fired because he wasn’t purely a country guitarist, due to his sophisticated style. 

However, he never had any trouble getting another job due to his unique playing style.

He Released His First Single In 1946

Chet Atkins made his first appearance at the Grand Ole’ Opry as a member of Red Foley’s band in 1946. He also recorded a single on the Bullet Records label, “Guitar Blues” which included a clarinet solo by Dutch McMillan and Owen Bradley on piano, in the same year.

He Designed Multiple Guitars For Gretsch & Gibson

From 1955 to 1980 Chet Atkins was a design consultant for Gretsch who made a popular Chet Atkins range of guitars during that period. Some of the models that were Chet Atkins signature guitars include; the 6120 Chet Atkins hollow body, the 6121 Chet Atkins solid body, the 6122 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman and the 6119 Chet Atkins Tennessean.

He then went over to Gibson where he was responsible for the Gibson Chet Atkins SST. Which was a solid bodied acoustic-electric guitar and incorporated Gibson’s electric guitar technology and steel stringed acoustic guitars. He originally came up with the Chet Atkins CE in 1982 which was a nylon string version of the SST which wasn’t marketed until 5 years later.

SEE ALSO: What Guitar Does Chet Atkins Use?

He Performed For 7 US Presidents

Chet Atkins performed at the White House for every US President from J.F Kennedy to George HW Bush. That’s 7 presidents invited Chet Atkins to perform for them at the White House.

His Half Brother Played Guitar For Les Paul

Chet’s elder half brother Jim Atkins used to regularly play guitar on the National Barn Dance radio show. He later went on to form a trio with guitarist Les Paul.

On One Of His tracks He Plays 2 Tunes At Once

One of Chet Atkins tracks on his 1957 album “Chet Atkins At Home” is called “Yankee Doodle Dixie” on which he plays “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “I wish I was In Dixie” simultaneously.

He Was Humble About His Guitar Playing

Chet always let his fingers do the talking, and they did it so well, all over the fretboard. When he was asked about his career he once said,

I’m not the greatest talent, but I have originality. I’m a famous guitar player, I’ll admit to that. I’m good, there are many better players than me, I just got there first.

Chet Atkins

He Bought His First Guitar With A Pistol

When he was a youngster, Chet Atkins started out playing the ukulele and then the fiddle. But when he was 9, he did a swap with his brother Lowell. 

He got Lowell’s guitar and Lowell got an old pistol and a rest from some of his chores that Chet took on as part of the deal.

He Played Guitar On Many Elvis Tracks

Chet Atkins not only produced Elvis Presley’s early work, he also played guitar on several of Elvis’ songs including; “I Got A Woman”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Money Honey”, “I’m Counting On You” and “I Was The One”. 

Chet also played on Elvis’ studio sessions for RCA in 1958 on a number of songs. Chet even provided a walking bass line on the track “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” that helped to complete the failing rhythm after they changed the tempo.

The last time Chet worked with Elvis was in January 1964 in Nashville where they recorded “Memphis, Tennessee”, “Ask Me” and “It Hurts Me”.

SEE ALSO: The Very Best Elvis Presley Songs You Need To Listen To Right Now (list with chords & lyrics)!

He Has A Road Named After Him

On the Interstate 185 road somewhere between LaGrange and Columbus in Southwest Georgia there is a section that is named “Chet Atkins Parkway”. It runs through Fortson which is a place that Chet spent a lot of time at when he was a child.

Do You Know Any More?

That’s our 28 impressive facts about Chet Atkins you didn’t know, can you think of any more? We’d love to hear them, it would be great if you could share them with us in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the title of Chet Atkins highest charting single?

Chet Atkins highest charting single is “Yakety Axe” which was released in 1965.

Did Chet Atkins produce any records for Dolly Parton?

During the 1960s Chet Atkins produced many artists at RCA’s country division including Dolly Parton.

Where was Chet Atkins Born?

Chet Atkins was born on June 20th 1924 in Luttrell, Tennessee, USA.

Which year was Chet Atkins first single released?

Chet Atkins released his first single “Guitar Blues” for Bullett Records in 1946.

Was the guitar the only instrument Chet Atkins could play?

Chet Atkins could play the ukulele, fiddle, mandolin and banjo as well as the guitar.

Which guitarist was Chet Atkins’ first influence?

When he first started playing the guitar, Chet Atkins had no particular style, until he heard Merle Travis on the radio in 1939. Merle was his first and biggest influence. Chet even named his daughter Merle.

What year did Chet Atkins first appear at the Grand Ole’ Opry?

Chet Atkins first appeared at the Grand Ole’ Opry as part of Red Foley’s band in 1946.

Was Chet Atkins session guitarist on Hank Williams hit song “Your Cheatin’ Heart”?

Chet Atkins was session guitarist on Hank Williams song “Your Cheatin’ Heart”.

Apart from Gretsch, which other guitar manufacturer worked with Chet Atkins and released signature models?

The two guitar manufacturers that made Chet Atkins signature models were Gretsch and Gibson.

What did Chet Atkins use to buy his first guitar?

Chet Atkins used an old pistol to buy his first guitar. He swapped with his brother Lowell. Chet gave Lowell his old pistol and did some of his chores for the guitar.

Did Chet Atkins produce and play guitar on several of Elvis Presley’s early recordings?

Chet Atkins not only produced Elvis Presley’s early work, he also played guitar on several of Elvis’ songs including; “I Got A Woman”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Money Honey”, “I’m Counting On You” and “I Was The One”. 

Which Chet Atkins album is titled one of his nicknames and contains a track titled another of his nicknames?

The Chet Atkins album That is titled one of his nicknames and contains a track titled another of his nicknames is the 1959 album “Mister Guitar” which contains the track “Country Gentleman”.

What is the title of the album Chet Atkins recorded with Mark Knopfler?

The title of the album Chet Atkins recorded with Mark Knopfler is “Neck And Neck”which was released in 1990.

What is the title of the album that Chet Atkins recorded with Doc Watson?

The title of the album that Chet Atkins recorded with Doc Watson is “Reflections” which was released in 1980.

In 1965 Chet Atkins released the single “Yakety Axe” which he copied from his friend Boots Randolph, what was Boots’ original version called?

Chet Atkins single “Yakety Axe” was based on his friend Boots Randolph’s original track “Yakety Sax” which was released 2 years before Chet’s version, in 1963.

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