CHET ATKINS 1924 – 2001

The influential Nashville guitar legend dies after a long battle with cancer...

Country guitar legend CHET ATKINS died at his home in NASHVILLE yesterday (June 30) at the age of 77, following a long battle with cancer.

Instrumental in creating the “Nashville sound”, his influence on the scene was great, both as a guitarist and record executive, as Nashville head of RCA records, helping to revamp and revitalise country music in the Sixties and giving luminaries including Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves, Hank Williams and Dolly Parton a hand up the ladder.

His guitar playing has influenced pop greats ranging from Duane Eddy, Jim Reeves and Eddie Cochrane to George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Mark Knopfler.

In his own right, self-taught Chet Atkins sold more than 75 million albums in his career, and had recorded over 100 solo albums, won 14 Grammys and nine CMA Musician Of The Year awards.

He has also guested on hits that included Elvis Presley’s historic, record-setting ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, and with the global recognition that RCA’s Nashville office received, he helped establish its name as ‘Music City’. He was also instrumental in the success of The Everly Brothers, working with them in the studio when they recorded hits including ‘Bye Bye Love’, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ and ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’.

Phil Everly told The Tennessean: ”Chet was like a second father to us. We loved him dearly, and we’ll miss him.”

Duane Eddy said: ”I think he influenced everybody that picked up a guitar. The first thing I ever recorded on guitar was one of Chet’s songs, and that was when I was 15. He’s one of my heroes. He and Les Paul, they turned everything around.”

Chet Atkins was initially backed by Gretsch and later lent his name to a make of Gibson guitar, and was in 1973 the youngest living person to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Nasvhille studio that he built, the famous “Studio B”, was opened as a museum.

In 1997, a four-day music festival which honoured him in Nashville was inaugurated, at the same time establishing the Chet Atkins Music Education Fund to benefit youth music education in Nashville.

This year’s event is due to begin on July 19 at the Sheraton Music City hotel.

Of the festival, he had said: ”The purpose of this festival is to one, honour the musician. Two, raise money to teach our youngsters music, and three, provide an excuse for us to get together and play music.”

He is survived by his wife, Leona and daughter, Merle Russell.

His funeral will take place in his native Tennessee on Tuesday (July 3).

To read a full obituary and tribute to Chet Atkins in local newspaper The Tennessean, click here.