When the MC introduced him to the audience at Richmond’s Carpenter Center last night, he called Tommy “the best guitar player in the world.” And for the next three hours, Tommy proved why. (You’ll see why, too, if you watch this brief clip.)
He was amazing. With fingers flying and an appreciative audience jumping up to whistle and applaud his wizardry at the end of nearly every song, Tommy wowed us… and appeared to genuinely enjoy himself in the process.
Near the end of the evening, Tommy talked a few minutes about songwriting, inspiration, and his connection with guitarist Chet Atkins, whom he called a father figure to him.
He said as a teenager in Australia, he wrote Chet a fan letter. And Chet replied. That, he said, inspired and motivated him to work at his own guitar-playing craft. “I knew I had to make that same kind of music,” he said.
“I worked hard and saved up my money and went to Nashville, Tennessee.” He called up his hero, thinking Chet would say, “Who?” But, to his surprise, Chet said, “Come on over.” When he arrived, Chet invited Tommy to play for him.
As Tommy played, revealing his own unique style, Chet would comment every few minutes, “I didn’t do that. I didn’t do that.” It was a lesson in encouragement and affirmation.
Chet was saying, “You’re not just mimicking me. You’re going your own way.”
That helped launch Tommy Emmanuel on a nearly five-decade-long career and worldwide acclaim as a guitar virtuoso.
It’s a great lesson, no matter what field you’re in. We all have heroes and role models. We gain inspiration from them. But we neglect our own God-given talents if we stop there.
I’ve heard it said in several contexts: Many of the world’s greatest achievements were accomplished by innovators who didn’t know that what they were doing couldn’t be done.
So pick on, Tommy Emmanuel. I can’t wait to hear the generation of guitarists that you inspire.
Tommy Emmanuel’s concert was sponsored by Richmond Cultureworks, an organization that seeks to strengthen arts and culture organizations and independent cultural artists in the greater Richmond, Virginia area. My friend John Bryan is the organization’s president. Check out his blog.