“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams is easily the most popular and successful instrumental guitar tune ever written. Written during a weekend break from his day job as a writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the tune was released in February 1968 and climbed to the top of the charts, winning three Grammy Awards that year. It has since been performed by countless people and ensembles playing a wide variety of different instruments.
Years ago, my guitar teacher tried to teach me how to play “Classical Gas”, but I was more interested in 3-chord rock at the time. Years later, after hearing Lisa Simpson playing it on an episode of The Simpsons, I decided that it was time to revisit the tune. Its not wildly difficult, but the timing is tricky as it changes time signatures several times throughout the piece.
Here is the original recording:
And here is Tommy Emmanuel’s take on the tune (note the nods to the Ventures and Elton John mid-way through):
Today marks the tenth anniversary of Chet Atkins’ death.
Chet Atkins was one of the most influential guitar players of all time. A member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, he was a pioneer of the so-called “Nashville Sound”, a smoother, more fluid style of country music. Strongly influenced by Merle Travis (the father of “Travis picking”), Atkins further developed his right-hand picking technique to become a guitar virtuoso.
In addition to recording over eighty studio record albums, he was a prolific producer of recordings for many other artists including the likes of Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers.
Here is what Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel had to say about Chet Atkins in a recent interview with Acoustic Guitar magazine:
“I was eleven years old… I wrote a letter to Chet. I remember telling him my name, and what I did, and that I was a fan. On the envelope, I addressed it to ‘Chet Atkins, Nashville, America.’ It got to him, and he answered it! I’ll never forget, I came home from school and my mother said, ‘Put your bag down and go into your room, there’s something on your bed for you.’ There’s this big brown envelope, I open it, and inside was a black and white photo of Chet with his Gretsch, and he’s wearing a Perry Como-style cardigan, his hair looking perfect. He signed it ‘Best Wishes to Tommy, from Chet.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
“It made me think that if a boy from nowhere could write to the greatest instrumentalist of all time, and get a reply, then anything is possible.”
“… Years later, I was around my friend’s place and he recorded me playing some things by Chet and by Jerry Reed, and he sent the tape to Chet – without telling me! So I get this handwritten letter on Chet’s office stationary: ‘I received your tape and I played it for Lenny Breau. We were impressed,” and ‘Here’s my office number, look me up when you are in the States,’ which was all I needed to light a fire under me.”
I was hoping to find video of Wendell Ferguson playing “Fret No More”, his excellent tribute to Chet. I didn’t find that, but I did find Wendell playing a medley of Chet Atkins’ tunes at Hugh’s Room in Toronto:
You can read more about Chet Atkins life and accomplishments on Wikipedia.
This month we have yet another young fingerstyle virtuoso.
Joe Robinson is a young man from Australia who, in 2008, at age 16, won Australia’s Got Talent as an instrumentalist. He has also won the World Championships of Performing Arts in 2009, beating out 75,000 other performers.
Joe grew up in rural Australia and learned much of his skill from watching videos on YouTube. He was especially influenced by fellow Australian guitar guru Tommy Emmanuel. He released his first CD Birdseed in 2005 at the age of fourteen, and few years later released Time Jumping. His songwriting and performance skills continue to improve and a new CD is expected shortly.
If you are in the Greater Toronto Area you can see Joe perform at Deer Park Church (1570 Yonge St.) on Saturday, June 4th at 8 pm. You can get tickets at www.FingerStyleGuitar.ca. (Once again, I have no financial interest in this event.)
“First of all, you have to be honest and acknowledge it. Admit to yourself, ‘I can play like crazy in my bedroom, but the moment I have to walk on stage I crap myself.’ Then you have to find a way of overcoming that. The first thing you gotta know is that the audience is not the judge and jury. They are not against you. The audience is with you. It’s hard to believe that when you’re terrified, but one of the best things that you can do is go out and say something like, ‘Hello. I’m nervous as Hell. Look at my hand. You should see the other one.’ Find a way of telling the audience that you’re gonna do your best but you’re very nervous. And you’ll find a surge of emotion will hit you from the audience, and it will make you feel a bit better. Practice being in front of an audience and it will slowly disappear.”
“Choose your songs wisely, and get out there and give ’em all you’ve got”
— Tommy Emmanuel on dealing with stage fright (from the July 2011 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine).