Country’s Grandest Homecoming: The Country Music Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Celebration on CBS-TV in Nashville (April 1992). Chet Atkins and Cliffie Stone sitting on a piano bench talking about Merle Travis (who wrote “16 Tons” and was once a member of Cliffie’s Hometown Jamboree band) while they patiently waited for the filming of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Celebration to begin. Cliffie was so pleased that it was legendary, award-winning guitarist, Chet Atkins who presented him with his CMA Hall of Fame award on the Country Music Association’s CBS-TV’s Award show in 1989. Here’s Chet Atkins’ cut-to-the chase quote about Cliffie’s songwriting book: “Cliffie Stone has been in the business long enough to know all about songwriting and he does!” Chet Akins was a legendary guitarist in all musical genres – country, pop and jazz. At one point in his long tenure at RCA/Nashville division, he wore four musical hats at the same time: as a guitar recording artist, session guitarist, record producer and an executive who oversaw their A&R country division and eventually a Vice President in charge of RCA/Nashville operations. But Chet was first and foremost a guitar player and he would also perform whenever he could! Chester Burton Atkins was born on June 20, 1924 in Luttrell, TN. His father, James Atkins, was an itinerant music teacher and his mother, Ida, sang and played piano. In 1932, Chet started learning how to play the fiddle, but later on, he switched over to guitar and by his late teens, he was an accomplished guitarist. In the mid 1930s, he became inspired when he heard Merle Travis’ unique thumb and finger picking style; and Chet created and expanded on Merle’s style with his own version of thumb and two-finger picking variation. (In later years (1974), Chet and Merle recorded a wonderful RCA album together entitled: “The Atkins – Travis Traveling Show.” Chet liked and respected Merle Travis so much that he named his daughter after him.) Like all musicians who aspired to be the best that they could be, Chet paid his dues. After high school, Chet performed on the Bill Carlisle show on WNPX in Knoxville and became part of the Dixie Swingers. Three years later, he performed on a Cincinnati radio station and played with Red Foley’s group and made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry in 1946. His first guitar record releases where on Bullet Label that same year. He also worked for various stations in Richmond, VA and Springfield, MO. In this time frame, a tape of one of Chet’s performances was sent to RCA’s office in Chicago, which was heard by Steve Sholes, who was head of RCA’s country division. Steve tracked Chet down, called him and in 1949, Chet moved to Nashville where he recorded eight tracks for RCA. Steve was so impressed with Chet’s guitar licks and playing style that he hired him to be the studio guitarist for all of RCA’s Nashville recording sessions, which was the beginning of Chet’s tenure at RCA. In 1950, he got a call from Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, who hired him as a sideman whenever they performed on the Grand Ole Opry, which solidified his guitar credentials on the Nashville music scene. Chet played on countless RCA hit records and in 1953, RCA began to release instrumental albums that showcased Chet’s inimitable guitar talent. In 1955, he had his first hit with his guitar version of “Mr. Sandman.” By the late 1950s, Chet’s reputation was intact as one of Nashville’s first-class accomplished guitarists. It was at this point in time where he wore four musical hats at the same time: as a guitar recording artist, first-call session guitarist, record producer, and as an executive who was head of RCA’s country A&R division. As an executive, the artists that he discovered, signed and/or produced includes Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Don Gibson, Charlie Pride, Connie Smith and extraordinaire piano player, Floyd Cramer. In this time frame, Chet at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca, Ken Nelson at Capitol and Don Law at Columbia, all helped to create and promote the lush ‘Nashville Sound,” which eliminated the banjo, fiddle and steel guitar and focused more on violins and other stringed instruments with pop-style backup choruses performed by the Anita Kerr Singers, Millie Kirkham and the Jordanaires. And let’s not forget the memorable piano riffs of Floyd Cramer and Harcus Robbins – both of whom would be in the Country Music Hall of Fame someday. The Nashville Sound gave the traditional country artists’ records a ‘pop’ feel, which expanded and took country music into the pop mainstream genre, which generated higher record sales. The first traditional style country artists to use the ‘Nashville Sound’ and cross over to the pop genre were Jim Reeves, Eddie Arnold and Patsy Cline who sang her unique version of “Crazy,” which was produced by Owen Bradley. Chet’s awards include: Country Music Association’s “Hall of Fame” award in 1973; Musicians Hall of Fame in 2009; the Academy of Country Music’s “Pioneer Award” in 1982; and the Grammy “Lifetime Achievement” Award in 1993. In 1997, he received “Billboard’s highest honor – “the Century Award.” Other Country Music Association (CMA) awards included: CMA’s ‘Musician of the Year” – 9 awards starting from 1967 through 1988; and CMA’s ‘Instrumentalist of the Year’ – 8 awards starting from 1967 through 1985. The Academy of Country Music (ACM) awards included ‘Guitar Player of the Year" – 1987, 1986. Other Grammy Awards include: Grammy for ‘Best Country Vocal Collaboration’ in 1990; Grammy Awards for ‘Best Country Instrumental Performance’ – 13 awards starting in 1967 through 1996; and a Grammy for ‘Best Pop Instrumental Performance’ in 1967. Chet had two nicknames – ‘Country Gentleman’ and ‘Mister Guitar.’ Through Chet’s longtime association with Gretsch guitars, various types of “Mister Guitar” styled guitars are still on the market. Chet released his autobiography in 1974 (copies are still available on Amazon and/or Ebay) that he co-wrote with William Neely entitled: “Chet Atkins: Country Gentleman.” PBS television presented a ‘special’ show entitled, “Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player.” (On Chet’s albums/CDs, he always put C.G.P. which stands for the aforementioned show title.) Chet and other first-class musicians and artists not only performed but were also interviewed about his influence and effect that he had on their lives as well as the music industry. A DVD of this show as well as a CD is available on Chet’s official website, www.misterguitar.us.