Tommy Emmanuel – Part 1 – Chet Atkins & Dads
TG Matt: I watched you play this song and I thought about the original song.
Tommy Emannuel: Chet Atkins?
TG Matt: Chet Atkins.
Tommy Emannuel: Yeah. Well let me tell you the story.
TG Matt: Yeah, I’d love to.
Tommy Emannuel: Before Chet died, I got a call from his doctor and his doctor just said to me, “You should come now because he won’t be here next week. He’ll be gone.” So I jumped on a plane from England and I went straight to his house.
In my suitcase was a photograph of my father that my mother had given me. And Chet and I had this bond. Because when he was a kid, his father was very distant with him and didn’t show him much respect as a musician when he was growing up because he considered him like a hillbilly, right? Because he didn’t go and study classical. Although he did later in life, right?
And so him and his dad were reunited towards the end of his dad’s life, but for most of his younger life, him and his dad were very much estranged. He told me once, he said the thing I remember the most was when my mother and father separated and my father left, that he came to the gate and he said, “Well, kids, goodbye.” And he walked down the road whistling. That’s what Chet remembered. Yeah.
So we had that. And my father was kind of abusive and distant with all of us, too. And I remembered trying so hard to get close to him and you just couldn’t. He died just before my 11th birthday and I never really had anything to grieve about.
But it wasn’t until my first daughter was born that I had this kind of revelation. I walked outside the hospital and I looked up in the sky. And I grabbed my hands and I grabbed hold of a bunch of imaginary strings holding the balloons full of the memories of my dad. And I said, “I’m letting you go now because I’m a dad.”
TG Matt: Wow.
Tommy Emannuel: Yeah. And it was a wonderful moment for me because I felt all the time that I was searching for more about him and how could I learn about him and what was he really like? I didn’t remember. So I just let it all go.
And so anyway, I told Chet this and he told me his story. Then I showed him a photo of my dad, and he said, “Look at this.” And he opened a drawer and took out a photo of his dad. It was the same hat on the same angle.
TG Matt: Oh, wow.
Tommy Emannuel: Yeah. And I said to him, “There’s the sign. We still can’t say goodbye.” The hat and trying my daddy’s hat on. And he looked me right in the eye and he said, “You keep singing that song.” And I said, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that. That’s precious to you.” And he said, “People need to hear this song. It’s important. I want you to sing it.” So I said, “OK, I will.”
So that’s the only reason I do it because other than that, it would be too close to copying what he did. But at the same time, I only look at it as this. I play Chet Atkins’s music and Merle Travis’s songs to keep that music alive.
TG Matt: I’ve discovered it as a result, for example.
Tommy Emannuel: Exactly. And the younger generation have discovered because they’re into me, that they’re like where is this coming from? Let’s follow the trail. It comes down to Merle Travis, down to Ike Everly, Mose Rager and all the other… The line, you can see the line.