STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
For as long as Australia’s Tommy Emmanuel can remember, he has been obsessed with the guitar.
These days, armed with his signature Maton TE guitar, Emmanuel dazzles audiences with his hypnotic guitar riffs and animated stage presence.
His latest release, the appropriately titled “It’s Never Too Late,” is Emmanuel’s first fully solo all-acoustic album in 15 years. Emmanuel shines on the emotionally charged 14-song album (featuring the singles “Blood Brother” and “It’s Never Too Late”), which exemplifies why he is one of the great guitar players of our time.
“A lot of my life went into this album,” says Emmanuel, from his Nashville, Tenn., home. “I tried to really capture the sound of me sitting down with a microphone in front of me, and I’m just playing for you. I’m a fairly new dad with a 15 month-old daughter. Before baby Rachel came along (she was born January 2015), I was on tour in Poland kind of winding down the year and getting excited in knowing that when I got home we’d be expecting Rachel any day. I wrote this song while we were driving through Poland. So I called the song ‘It’s Never Too Late.’ It has many meanings. It’s really about doing what you need to do to make your life the best and the happiest experience that you can have. It’s never too late to change your life for the better.
“I have a sign in my house. When you walk through the front door the first thing you see is this sign that says, ‘It’s never too late to live happily ever after,’” adds Emmanuel “It’s kind of a childlike approach to modern life, which is all very serious. Really, life is a fun adventure. It’s a special experience, and that’s really what the whole thing is about.”
Playing professionally by age 6 as a member of his family’s group, the Emmanuel Quartet, Emmanuel, who never learned to read or write music, was destined for a life in show business.
“When I was on stage, people lit up,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what it was, but it made me kind of show off and do all the things that cocky little kids do at 6, 7, 8 years old. Music was the worst drug I ever had, and I’m still hooked on it.”
A self-taught musician, Emmanuel, has spent a lifetime drawing inspiration from jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk and rock. Working feverishly to hone his country finger-style skills accented by percussive effects on the guitar, Emmanuel has blossomed into a one man show that is a must-see for any guitar enthusiast.
Earning the attention and praise of many of his musical peers, Emmanuel has had the honor of playing with a variety of notable artists, including Eric Clapton, Les Paul, Doc Watson and Chet Atkins, whom he considers one of his greatest influences.
Emmanuel and Atkins recorded as a duo in 1997, releasing the album “The Day Finger Pickers Took Over The World,” which was to become Atkins’ last album before his death in 2001. Atkins, who considered Emmanuel to be one of the greatest guitar players he had ever seen, paid homage to Emmanuel at the 15th annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention in 1999, presenting him with a Certified Guitar Player Award.
Guitar Player Magazine named Emmanuel “Best Acoustic Guitarist” in their 2008 and 2010 readers’ polls. In 2010, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his extraordinary contributions to the arts. Nominated for a Grammy award in 1998 for “Smokey Mountain Lullaby,” a duet with Chet Atkins, he later won the Grammy for “Best Country Instrumental Performance” in 2007.
“Everything that I dreamed about when I was kid has come true,” says Emmanuel. “I can remember looking at the Fender catalog and saying to myself, ‘Oh I wish I had a Fender guitar. I’d give anything to have a Fender.’ Now I have three or four of them in my house. I have a car, a house, a family and I have lots of work. I feel so grateful. It didn’t happen over night, but here it is. And it just goes to show you, if you hang in there, what you dream about will come to you. You just have to figure it out.”
“When I walk out on stage you’re mine,” says Emmanuel. “I’m going to give you the best time I can, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m ready. I try to do things in a way that are unexpected and I take a lot of risks. I think it would be boring to watch someone get up there and do something technically brilliant, but he’s done it a million times. He’s just going through the motions. Who wants to see that? Nobody!”
“I tell stories,” adds Emmanuel. “I paint pictures but I don’t need the words. I just need to tell you the name of the song and the reason why I wrote it and here it is. I slowly build things. You have to create something that people will want to come to see. It’s always about making the night special — having a great time and feeling like, when you walk away and you’ve done your job, everybody leaves happy. That’s really what the bottom line is for me.”
IF YOU GO
What: Tommy Emmanuel
When: Tuesday, June 21, at 8 p.m.
Where: Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville