Posted April 2018
Tommy Emmanuel and Boomerocity have a special relationship that goes back seven years when a friend and reader first turned us on to the Australian guitar virtuoso. Boomerocity became instant fans of the man’s work and performances and have been telling everyone who will listen that they should check this guy out.
It had been a couple of years since we last chatted with Tommy and with his upcoming April 27th show at the historic Tennessee Theatre, I felt now was a good time to catch up on news.
I caught up with Tommy to talk about that upcoming show as well as the others on the tour as well as his new CD, Accomplice One. We chatted by phone while he was vacationing in California.
“I’m in sunny California right now. No smog. Clear as a bell. Cold breeze but warm sun. I’m spending some time with my baby daughter.
“She was born January 6th, 2015. She’s so smart! Into just everything! Loves music. Sings along with everything. I sit and play for her. She calls the tunes. ‘Daddy, play Angelina. Daddy, play Halfway Home. Daddy, play–‘ She knows all the songs. Her favorite song is the one I wrote for her called ‘Rachel’s Lullaby’. That’s what she likes. ‘Play Rachel’s Lullaby, Daddy!’ And I play it!
“I’ve got a 30-year-old, as well. She married and lives England. And Angelina, my middle daughter, she’s nineteen. She’s in the UK. She’s an English citizen. My daughter, Amanda, was born in Sidney but because she married an English guy, I think she’s got an English passport, now.”
Regarding the Knoxville show, he shared:
“We’re coming back to the Tennessee Theater. One of my favorites. We kinda mix it up. The last time, I did two nights at the Bijou, which was nice, but the Tennessee was my ideal place. That’s what I was aiming at, you know? It’s a special place, there’s no doubt about it. It’s made extra special by the fact that my dressing has Chet Atkins’ name on the door. It’s Chet Atkins’ dressing room. It’s always good to call in the master’s voice.
“There’s beautiful theaters like that all-around America. The Fox Theaters, everywhere, were always the elite theater. The best place to play. But, of course, me playing in Knoxville is like coming home to me because it’s really where I started in America with the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society.
“We started in a little place called Ossoli Circle which was, basically, a lady’s bridge club. We got a little stage there and some seats. That’s where I started there.
“I used to go out there to Luttrell (Tennessee) to see where Chet was born and where he was from and visit some of the folks that lived next door and all that. It was a bit of a pilgrimage for me when I was young. And, then, to play in Knoxville was a great feeling because I felt like my life was coming full circle, almost, you know? I played the guitar because I loved the music that came out of that area and now I’m back there playing it.
“The same thing when I go to Kentucky. I play some Merle Travis tunes. It’s a great feeling because it’s like the music came all the way to Australia and I brought it back.”
I asked Tommy where he liked playing in Kentucky.
“Oh! Louisville, Lexington, Frankfurt, E-Town (Elizabethtown). I play a lot of places in Kentucky. Of course, every now and again I get a chance to go to Middleburg and Central City and places like that and pay homage to the Everly’s and to Travis.”
Boomerocity LOVES the new album, Accomplice One – especially his cover of Purple Haze. I asked Emmanuel about the LP.
“First of all, it’s called “Accomplice One”, which might give you a hint that I did a lot more recording than is just on that one record. With each of the artists, with the exception of Mark Knopfler, just about every one of the other artists and I recorded more than one song. I figured that we might have an Accomplice Two down the road with some of the same people but mix it up with some different people, too. I’ve already got people like Allison Krause organized to be on the next album. So, that’s fun!
“Basically, I wanted to do an album of, mostly, Americana/Bluegrass sounding music because that’s the music of my roots and my raising. And I also wanted the album to be absolute live in the studio kind of thing. I didn’t want people to be mailing in their part sort of thing. I wanted us all to be playing together each time I got an artist in the studio. We sat and worked out what we were going to do. Then we set up mics and we played is as if we were on the stage. That’s why the music sounds so fresh, I think, is because there was no laboring over stuff. There was capturing the performance and that’s what I love about recording . . . and another reason why I called the people that I called – because they’re on the same level. You sit down with Jerry Douglas and start running a tune and, all of a sudden, he’s got the arrangement remembered; he’s embellishing; he’s soloing. He’s just a great, all-around musician. That’s the kind of people I want to work with because it’s so exciting.
“Jerry came in on another track, which was a ballad that I had written. He nailed it and got it really beautiful and took the melody and all that sort of stuff.
“And, then, we had about an hour left before our studio time was up and I said, ‘Do you want to have a go at Purple Haze?’ and he said, ‘Hell, yeah!’
“I played a bit of it for him and he joined in and he said, ‘Let’s not rehearse it. Let’s just play it.’ So, we did and that’s the track. We only played it once.”
When I asked Tommy what was it about that song that made him think of it, he said:
“Well, I just thought it was the most unexpected thing: acoustic guitar and dobro playing Purple Haze. You would just never imagine that. Jerry said, ‘This will really tick off all the bluegrass purist against me and I’m okay about that.’ It was just an experience and an experiment, and it worked really well.
“Now, as far as tracks like I did with Jason Isbell, Deep River Blues: he was the right choice for that because he’s from Muscle Shoals. He’s got that sound when he sings. It’s so relaxing. It’s such a relaxed sounding way of singing. I just love his voice, too. He’s the right choice for that.
“And his wife, Amanda Shires, will be at the Tennessee Theatre with me. Her and I did a cover of Madonna’s ‘Borderline’. Again, I chose that because she can carry that off. She can sing in that way – almost like a young Dolly Parton. She plays the fiddle great and all that and I just thought it was something unusual to do. It might grab the attention of radio and people who listen to radio. That was what I was trying to achieve there.
“The cut with Ricky Skaggs: I taught him a song – he’d never heard it before and in five minutes he owned it. Ricky’s such a good singer. And, of course, the track with Mark Knopfler: that was Mark’s song and he taught it to me in five minutes. We did the same thing. We just sat there in front of the microphones and played live. That’s the recording. I was at his studio a total of one hour and I had the finished master in my hand. It’s been really great.
“The Django Reinhardt track, Djangology, that I did with Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo: that was done with an audience, live in the studio and the audience were our students. We were teaching the first-ever guitar camp in Havana, Cuba, last year. The lesson for the day that day was everybody came into the studio and we seated eighty-five students in the orchestral room. Then, we proceeded to arrange Djangology for three guitars. Each one of us worked out a part that would harmonize with the other and we showed them how we did that. Then, we put it all together. Musically, it sounded really nice.
“We set up mics and said, ‘Okay, everybody, quiet as we can. We’re going to record it, now.’ So, we recorded it with eighty-five kids sitting in front of us. It’s just a great way of doing stuff.
“This album has so many quirky things going on with it. I think that’s why people like it. It doesn’t sound contrived or overproduced, you know? Everything’s just real instruments; real people; real microphones; and that’s it.”
Does Tommy feel that he’s moving more into the American direction?
“Well, it’s my favorite kind of music and I think it’s what I play best. I’ve had a go at jazz albums. I’ve had a go at rock albums and all that sort of stuff. I think this is the kind of music that’s in my blood. I can find a lot good songs in that genre that I enjoy playing and singing. I think it’s a great chance to collaborate with some real talent from this country, you know?
“David Grisman, Brian Sutton, and I recorded six songs together that morning. I think they were all one take because guys at that level are so ‘on’ when they play that you just gotta capture it. You don’t need to be stopping and starting again. They can play it right every time.”
Tommy’s very good at reaching out and bringing in talent that people may not have heard of. He recently toured with another great guitarist that Joe Bonamassa turned me on to a few years ago: J.D. Simo. I asked Emmanuel how that tour went and there will be future tours together.
“I’m bringing J.D. to England with me next year because he’s well respected and loved in Europe and England. We’re going to tour together next year over there. The American tour was mostly in California and it was really wonderful. He just played on his own. Then he and I did ‘Dock on the Bay’ and a couple of other instrumental tunes. He just tore it up!
“J.D.’s a great talent. For that kind of fast, bluegrass tune, ‘Wheelin’ and Dealin’’, that’s on the album where he’s playing electric (guitar), I could’ve had Brent Mason or James Burton or Albert Lee – I could’ve had any of those guys play on that track and they would’ve done an amazing job. But J.D.’s more rock and blues so he’s kind of country/chicken pickin’ style is different. It’s definitely not predictable so I wanted him to have a chance at that track and he sure brought it home, that’s for sure!
“There are some videos on YouTube, if you want to see them. I think somebody filmed us at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. There’s some videos from that.”
I asked Tommy to tell me about the tour – especially the one that stops here in Knoxville – which includes Amanda Shires – and what fans can expect.
“Obviously, I’m going to be playing a lot of new stuff from ‘Accomplice’ and Amanda and I will do ‘Borderline’ and there’ll probably be something else. We’ll have to work that out. She’s going to showcase a lot of her new songs because she’s got a great, new album coming out. I’m going to play stuff from right through my whole career, really. I’m going to take everybody back to the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties – like that, you know? I’ll have that show all together.
“I’m about to go to Europe next week and the first show is in Germany. I’ll have the whole show mapped out by the time I get back.”
When I asked Emmanuel what was on his radar for the next year or so, it was obvious that he’s as busy as ever.
“I’ve got March in Europe and Scandinavia. Then, April is America. May is England and Scotland. I’m doing a camp in Scotland, up in the Highlands. June, I’m back recording some stuff. July is some dates here at the Chet Atkins convention and my guitar camp in Memphis. August/September will be in Australia and South Africa. October is Italy, I think. Jerry Douglas is doing that tour with me. November will be France and Clive Carroll – the guy who plays the Irish tunes with me on the album – Clive’s doing that tour. Then, December, I’m back here in America for Christmas.
“The last three years, I did Christmas tours. I’m not doing Christmas tours this year. But, I’ll do some solo shows and I’ll slip some Christmas music in there, of course!”
Boomerocity has said it before and we’ll say it again: If you’ve never seen Tommy Emmanuel in concert, you are truly missing out on a real musical treat. Keep up with the latest on him – including his tour schedule – at www.tommyemmanuel.com.