P. D. Kelley
Starting out last Saturday, December 8th to a packed Rogue Theater crowd was Jerry Douglas, standing and playing a slung over the shoulders lap steel guitar. The uplifting, and invigorating sounds of bluegrass, country and folk floated across the stage to an appreciative audience and the three time Country Music Association Musician of the Year and 14 Grammy award winner never disappointed. He has a relaxed and intimate stage presence and his musicianship is superlative. He’s produced many albums and played with a variety of folks from Dolly Parton to Keb’ Mo’ to Elvis Costello. He’s been in a band with Alison Krause for twenty years. It was wonderful. How could it get better? Well, right now he’s touring with the next guy who came on stage.
Where do you start with Tommy Emmanuel? The story goes that Rolling Stone asked Eric Clapton in an interview what it felt like to be the greatest guitar player in the world. “Go ask Prince.” he is credited with saying. Prince might have said, “Go ask Tommy Emmanuel.” The title of Greatest is impossible to assign and the truly great musicians are notoriously generous to their fellow players, but surely Emmanuel is on the short list.
He comes from humble beginnings and, if you get a chance, look up his bio, especially the treasured story about his first guitar and the Chet Atkins connection. At some point he left his native Australia, moved to England, then went from sideman to solo and developed into the phenomenon he is today. Many tours and PBS specials are under his belt and to see him on the Rogue stage was more than a thrill. He is not just a dazzling guitar player but is also a stellar percussionist. At least one of his guitars has a bald patch on the face where Emmanuel has rasped, scratched and popped. He is all over the instrument plucking and strumming on every part, creating sounds that are his personal signature. He employs a style called Travis picking in which he uses all ten digits to create bass lines and chords that produce rich harmonies to make the guitar sound like more than one instrument. He can play any genre and does: country, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass and pop. It is not an exaggeration to say that he demonstrates complete mastery over the guitar. His stage presence is engaging and charismatic and his audiences clearly love him. We were in a swoon at the Rogue and got a double treat when he and Jerry Douglas did a few numbers together. He has a newly released album and another coming out in which he plays duets with, oh name anybody that’s anybody, and they’ll be on the album. After he finished up a Beatles medley to include “When I’m Sixty-four”, he said he would be that age next year. I thought, yes Tommy, we’ll still need you and feed you! But I’ll end with a comment from a fan and professional musician who said, after Emmanuel’s dramatic encore, “That was God talking!”
Catch you on the flip side…