from a man who Chet Atkins idolized and tried to imitate when he was living in Georgia in 1938. The two men share many attributes in addition to their pioneering work on the guitar. They were both unassuming and quiet, with sharp senses of humor. They loved performing with other guitarists (including each other) and were generous in imparting skills and techniques they had learned.
They were also two of the most frustratingly modest musicians one could ever meet. Where Travis would shake his head while listening to one of his records and give an “aw-shucks, t’weren’t nothin’” response, Atkins would absolutely refuse to listen to anything he had ever recorded. As early as in the liner notes to his first album, the 10" collector’s item “Chet Atkins’ Gallopin’ Guitar,” issued in 1952 on RCA Victor, Atkins professed this reluctance for self-analysis: “I don’t like any of my records, nor do I like to hear them. It hurts me to hear them, I notice so many little things I think I could have done better.” Remember that this was in 1952, his recording career only just begun, with over a hundred record albums to come during the next 45 years.
Chester Burton Atkins was born on June 20, 1924 in the small town of Luttrell, Tennessee, located in Union County, about 20 miles northeast of Knoxville. As a child, Chester’s interest in music was piqued by several influences. His father was a music teacher who played old- time fiddle, tuned pianos, and sang with gospel groups. Chester’s older half-brother Jim was a guitarist who left home when Chester was a boy to be a performer on radio. Eventually, Jim would join Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, where he would meet guitar innovator Les Paul. Jim Atkins would sing on records as a member of the Les Paul Trio in 1939.
During the Depression, the Atkins clan had their own family band with young Chester playing a fiddle brought to him by an uncle. The fiddle bow had no hair on it so Chester went out to his barn and “borrowed” some from the tail of his horse, Ol’ Bob. Within two weeks, he had learned a few tunes, including “Red Wing” and played it at a dance. Eventually, he began to learn to play guitar, trading a .32 caliber pistol for his first instrument. The guitar was missing some strings, so Chester took some wire from an old screen door and began practicing.