Posted September, 2014
It’s always an honor and very flattering when an artist agrees to an interview with me for the second or more time. That is especially the case when I was given the opportunity to chat again with Australian born guitar virtuoso, Tommy Emmanuel.
For the uninformed, let me fill you in on just who Tommy Emmanuel is. As just stated, he is a self-taught guitarist who first picked up the guitar at the age of four and began playing professionally at the age of six. He had played the entire continent of Australia by the time he reached the age of ten.
Consequently, his considered one of that country’s most respected musicians – guitarist or otherwise. He has been nominated for a GRAMMY twice. His hero, Chet Atkins, bestowed the title of “Certified Guitar Player” onto Tommy. “Big deal,” you might say. Considering that the honor has been given by Mr. Atkins to four other people in the world, yes, it’s a big friggin’ deal.
Since that time, Tommy moved to the United States by way of England, and is calling Nashville, Tennessee, home. The fifty-nine year old guitar maestro maintains a grueling tour schedule that is not for the weak or faint of heart. Perusing his itinerary posted on his website, the man is literally all over the world each and every year. He’s virtually a touring animal!
Currently on tour, I learned that he was going to be performing nearby at the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee and, when offered a chance to speak with this great man for a second time, I naturally jumped at it.
Emmanuel called me from his hotel in Syracuse, New York, after a TV appearance and other media related events. As we settled into our chat, I mentioned that I would be catching his show at the Tennessee Theater in the near future and asked how he liked performing in them.
“They have such a feeling to them, haven’t they – those older theaters? They’re such a good atmosphere. The Tennessee Theater is one of the best theaters in America to play. It’s a beautiful art deco kind of place; that big beautiful blue dome in the middle of the ceiling of the hall. And there’s just not a bad seat in the house. It’s a really nice place to play. They’ve done a really good job on the dressing rooms and stuff like that. It’s special to me because backstage my dressing room is the Chet Atkins Room. Chet’s always there.”
Tommy allows his thoughts to step outside the legendary theater to reminisce about how special the city of Knoxville is to him.
“Knoxville’s one of the places I got started in America. I first came there and played a little hall called Ossoli Circle which is really where ladies meet and play Bridge. We started there and then I moved to the Bijou and I played a couple of clubs in town. Eventually, I had my sights set on the Tennessee Theater. We eventually got there. AC Entertainment – the promoters there – they’re the ones who really set me up there so I have a lot to be thankful for.”
Not only is Tommy Emmanuel a touring maniac, he’s a prolific recording artist, too. In fact, he has two recordings that have just been released: A 2-CD set entitled, “The Guitar Mastery Of Tommy Emmanuel,” and a CD/DVD package, “Live And Solo From Pensacola, Florida”. I asked Emmanuel about the “Mastery” offering.
“It’s a real carefully chosen song list of songs – the best stuff that I’ve done. We went back over the last twelve or fifteen years of my life and chose the songs that we felt were kind of the landmarks along the way for me. If I could join the dots in my life using songs these are the ones that I would use.”
When I mentioned that I understood that there were two bonus tracks (“Sunset” and “Only Elliot”, Tommy replied, “There are. That was because the record company in Japan wanted to put this album together and they said, ‘What we really want to be able to offer people are a couple of tracks that they’ve never heard before.’ So, I went into the studio and recorded those tracks. When I came back home from touring, I went in and recorded them, re-mastered them, sent them to Japan and they pieced it all together. So, there are two new performances of new songs on there as well as stuff from previous albums.”
And what does he hope that his fans and others get from this 2-CD set?
“I hope that they get a great experience from the quality of what we’ve chosen to do, the song order and also, of course, the song choice. It’s really about getting the best quality and integrity into your music. I think that it’s a good cross section not only my writing styles but of my playing styles, as well. It’s like a snapshot of my life, really. The music and the songs came from deep places.”
On Facebook, I often share videos of songs that are then-currently looping on the jukebox in my mind and Emmanuel’s music is often in that loop – especially his performances of “Initiation,” “Morning Aire,” and (my all-time favorite) “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” which brought tears to my eyes when I saw Tommy perform it in Dallas a couple of years ago. I shared that with him as a backdrop to when I asked him which song from “Mastery” he would point to as the calling card to the collection.
“It would be ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’”.
I’m glad that great minds think alike.
“I mean, everybody knows the song. When you hear someone play it their way, you get an insight into who they are, how they think and what makes them tick. That’s an interesting way of being able to do it is to just play a song to somebody in your own way which speaks volumes about you. So, I would have to say ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ would be my calling card for this double album.”
Some may not realize that the label that that disc is released on is Steve Vai’s label, Favored Nations. I asked Tommy how that has worked out for him working with a label that is headed by a fellow respected guitarist. Were there unique synergies being affiliated with such a company?
“It’s been encouraging and inspiring to me because Steve, obviously, gets what I’m doing. I can’t play like him and he can’t play like me. We remain who we are. We’re also at an age – both of us are very similar in age – we’re family guys. We have the same kind of values in life. I think he’s always looking to do something with quality and integrity and I’m the same, you know? I think both of us are always looking for ways of expanding ourselves out into the world in ways that are of quality.
“Steve totally gets me which is a great thing to be able to say about your record label. He totally understands where I’m coming from and what I’m doing. He gets the whole thing of being true to the music and just trying to play the music with the best feeling. He totally gets all of that.”
This begged the question in my mind of whether there was any chance of he and Vai would do anything together.
“Well, I hope so! I definitely would love to do something with Steve. If I could just get him to play acoustic with me, that would be wonderful! Whenever I go to visit him at his house when I’m in L.A., I always get out my guitar and play it and he’ll play on it. We like to pick at each others guitars. Ha! Ha!”
Bringing it back to the subject of collaboration, Emmanuel added, “You just never know until you try. I remember when we were at Carnegie Hall doing Les Paul’s 90th Birthday Bash. Joe Satriani and I were sharing the same dressing room so Joe gets Steve on the phone and we say to him, ‘Okay, we’re going to G3 but it’s going to be acoustic. It’s going to be Steve, Tommy and Joe.” It was hilarious and was a joke, of course. But Steve was, like, ‘Oh, no! We’re not doing that!’ I think it would be fun to give it a go, at least. If we didn’t do any shows, at least get together in a room and jamming on a song. I think that would be so cool!”
Bringing the conversation around to his “Live and Solo in Pensacola, Florida,” I mentioned that it looked like the song list was all tunes that he hadn’t previously recorded live.
“I just recorded the studio album – the new solo studio album that is being mixed at the moment – and that has a lot of those songs on it. I was wanting to get out and play those songs to an audience and film it. That’s how that all came about. It was a PBS driven project. So, in the middle of the show, I pick up my Larrivee guitar and just used a mic on it. That was something I wanted to do. I wanted to have a part of the show where I just played on the mic and played a different guitar, as well. It brought another dynamic to the show. The audience loved it and it was one of those TV shows with a live audience where there was no stopping, there was no fixing up. There was no two or three shows and pick the best. There was just one show straight through.
“It all worked very well and everybody left feeling like, ‘Whoa! We did it! We kept that feeling – that moment.’”
With the upcoming Knoxville show, I asked Tommy what could fans expect from him in that show as well as other stops on his tour.
“Oh, I’m going to play a lot of the new songs on the show. I’ve also got Loren and Mark – Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb – they’re the first part of the show. Those guys are fantastic players. They’re really popular with guitar players everywhere now. So, I’ve got those guys opening. They’re really doing a wonderful job. Then we get together and play at the end of the show. It’s a wonderful crescendo at the end of the night.
“I’m going to be playing some songs from the album I did with Chet Atkins (“The Day Finger Pickers Took Over The World”) and as many new songs (from the upcoming studio album) in the show as I can.”
As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Mr. Emmanuel what was on his radar for the next twelve months. His answer surprised me.
“Well, the most important thing in my life right now is I have another daughter coming. Hopefully, with everything going well, she’ll be born the first week of January. I will have three daughters, then. My eldest daughter was born in Sydney and she just got married two weeks ago. My second daughter, Angelina, was born in England. And, then, our little girl will be born in America so I’ll have an Australian, English and American! My wife and I are so happy – so excited to have her on the way. She’s in good shape. We’ve seen her on the screen a few times. She seems to have all her fingers and toes and is normal. We’re hoping that her health will be good and that things will run smoothly.”
When I asked if the ultrasounds showed his new daughter playing some decent riffs in the womb, he replied, “Yeah, yeah! She’s gotta little ukulele in there! Heh Heh Heh! Actually, a friend of mine put up a photograph of an ultrasound photo with a little baby and he PhotoShopped a guitar. He said, ‘Yep! It’s Tommy’s child!’ Ha! Ha! Awesome stuff!”
Keep up with the latest in Tommy Emmanuel’s life and career by checking out his website, TommyEmmanuel.com. If you get a chance to catch this amazing guitarist in concert, do so. You’ll be in for a phenomenal experience that you’ll never forget.
Note: Be sure and read Boomerocity's first interview with Tommy Emmanuel here.