Chet Atkins (1924–2001)

Updated: February 28, 2011

Guitarist and record producer.

Born June 20, 1924, Chester Burton “Chet” Atkins grew up on a Luttrell, Tennessee, farm. His father was a music teacher and his older half-brother, Jim, was an accomplished pop and jazz guitar player. Atkins initially played the fiddle but soon turned to the guitar, influenced by Merle Travis, whose thumb-and-finger picking style Atkins heard on the radio. For many years Atkins traveled from one radio station to another, often encountering resistance to his eclectic repertoire, which incorporated country, folk, pop, and jazz stylings.

After signing a contract with RCA Records in 1947, he soon became one of Nashville’s early “A-Team” session musicians, playing primarily the arch-top electric guitar. He subsequently recorded, as a solo artist or collaborator, more than a hundred predominantly instrumental albums in many styles, playing his thumb-and-three-finger style on both electric and acoustic guitars. He also appeared as a sideman on recordings by countless country and pop artists, including Hank Williams Sr., Elvis Presley, and the Everly Brothers. Numerous awards attest to Atkins’s stature as one of the preeminent guitar players of his era. In 1973 he became the youngest living musician to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Equally significant was Atkins’s role as a record producer. From 1955 through the 1970s he directed most of RCA’s Nashville studio work. Atkins produced artists as di- verse as Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Dottie West, Bobby Bare, Jim Reeves, Waylon Jennings, and Perry Como. Named a vice-president of RCA in 1968, Atkins left the label in 1982 and continued to make predominantly instrumental recordings for Columbia, often in collaboration with celebrated guitarists from across musical genres and continents, including Mark Knopfler, George Benson, and Tommy Emmanuel.

Bringing sophisticated production techniques to the music industry in Nashville, Atkins was a central figure in the development during the late 1950s of the Nashville Sound, which featured string, horn, and choral backups instead of steel guitars and fiddles. His interest in technology and commercial acumen ensured the crossover success of these innovations. Atkins died of cancer June 30, 2001. He was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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"Chet Atkins," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 23 Sep 2018 <>

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Chet Akins