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Chet Atkins

“I never listen to my records. I can’t stand to hear them.”

October, 1994

By phone from Chet Atkins’ Nashville office

“Simpatico” duet album and tour with Suzy Bogguss

It took me a long time to learn to appreciate Chet Atkins. Under the influence of the Gram Parsons/Clarence White-era Byrd’s “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” I risked buying my first country album — Merle Haggard and the Strangers’ “I Take A Lot of Pride In What I Am” — in ‘68 or ‘69 and slowly but surely fell in love with it. But even after I expanded my listening to Hank Williams, Bob Wills George Jones and Tammy Wynette, I still had no use for the “countrypolitan” country music of Chet Atkins, who seemed the squarest of the Nashville squares to me. I had zero interest in Atkins until I wandered into my neighborhood branch of the New York Public Library one day in 1977 and chanced upon a copy of “Chester & Lester,” a Chet Atkins-Les Paul duet album. I was curious about Les and I liked the black-and white photo of the two smiling guitar pickers on the cover, so I checked the LP out of the library. When I got home and played it, what I heard delighted me: country/jazz swing performed with deceptive ease and elegance. Before the first side was over, I had a newfound admiration for Atkins.

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