INTERVIEW: Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel is one of the world’s greatest guitar treasures. He’s on the road pretty much constantly in the US, Europe and Asia; Chet Atkins famously conferred upon him the title of CGP (Certified Guitar Player); and he’s generally regarded as the finest fingerpicker in the world. But his skills were developed from an early age as a child star playing all over Australia in the Emmanuel family band, and he proudly plays Melbourne-made Maton guitars. And Tommy never forgets where he came from, returning home regularly to thrill audiences with his acoustic and electric brilliance. Tommy toured Australia 18 months ago with his brother Phil, and that tour featured plenty of electric guitar playing and a full band. But he’s back right now to play a run of acoustic dates, with special guest Frank Vignola.

Tommy was something of an underground guitar hero in the 1980s but he came to the attention of the Australian music world at large with the release of his album Determination in 1992, and its 1993 follow-up The Journey. The associated tours took Tommy and his band all around the country, playing to regional audiences not often visited by instrumental guitar acts. “That’s right,” Tommy says. “Half the guys still don’t go to Perth because it’s so far to get over there and it’s hard for them to make the kind of money they’re looking for. But I always do Perth, no matter what. You’ve got to!”

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Tommy Emmanuel clinic on GuitarTV, Thursday Feb 9

This is a must-see! GuitarTV will be broadcasting Tommy Emmanuel’s clinic and performance from The Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, California on Thursday, February 9th at 4 PM PST. Check this page to see what time you need to tune in, and click here for more info.

During the clinic GuitarTV will activate their “live chat mode” so everyone can connect while Tommy is performing. In the meantime, be sure to register to participate.


REVIEW: Tommy Emmanuel – Center Stage CD/DVD

This DVD and CD, recorded at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in California, finds Tommy in solo acoustic mode (aside from a few songs which include guest Bob Littell on harmonica), and it’s interesting to observe how the same material can seem quite different depending on whether you’re listening to the CD or watching the DVD.

On CD, Tommy conjures up a virtual orchestra with six strings and a bunch of fingers, creating the ultimate one-man band on songs like ‘Papa George,’ ‘I Go To Rio’(yes, that ‘I Go To Rio’), his famous Beatles medley (when I first heard this it just included ‘Lady Madonna’ and ‘Day Tripper’ – now it also includes ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘When I’m 64’). There’s an almost easy-listening quality apparent in the CD version of Center Stage, where Tommy’s ability to play bass, chords and melody at the same time all mesh into a soothing, listenable whole.

Then there’s his concert centrepiece, ‘Initiation,’ in which he uses a digital delay to invoke all sorts of ancient spirits, in stereo ping-ponging brilliance, while whomping the hell out of his bruised and battered (but still very much intact) Maton. It’s always a highlight of his live shows, and every performance is different so it’s always nice to have another new version on record.

On DVD, the very same material that felt relaxed and contemplative suddenly becomes exhilarating and exciting. Hearing Tommy play is a thing of beauty: watching him play is a thing of wonder. His bag of tricks include scratching out a rhythm on the guitar body while hammering a bass line with his left hand; fretting wide chord shapes built solely out of harmonics; and executing speedy, confident runs which never get out of control no matter how fast he’s playing, or how far he travels along the neck.

The CD and DVD are available separately but because there is such a difference between seeing Tommy’s performance and hearing it, each is a valuable addition to his catalog.

You can win a Tommy Emmanuel pack over at Guitar Noize which includes the Center Stage and Live At Her Majesty’s Theatre DVDs, and the Center Stage, The Mystery and Endless Road CDs.

NEWS: New Releases 13/10/2008

Click any title to buy the album

Yngwie Malmsteen – Perpetual Flame Rising Force Records
Everyone’s favourite fury-unleashing, donut-disdaining, Strat-twirling Swedish shred god is back with Perpetual Flame, the first release on his own Rising Force Records. This one features former Iced Earth/Judas Priest singer Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens.

Pat Travers – Radio Active,Black Pearl, Hot Shot Lemon Records
Unbelievably, these classic Pat Travers albums from 1981, 1982 and 1984, respectively, arrive on CD for the first time in 2008. Come for the phrasing, stay for the flanging. These albums are from the period described as Travers’s commercial peak.

Tommy Emmanuel – Center Stage DVD Mel Bay
Come for the Beatles medley, stay for ‘Initiation,’ but maybe dip out for a wee when Tommy plays ‘I Go To Rio.’ The sound and video quality of this release are outstanding, with lots of close-ups of Tommy’s impeccable technique, which is great news for Tommy fans but quite heartbreaking for Maton guitar fans, as Tommy wails and wallops his beloved acoustic to within an inch of its life, then wallops it a few more inches for good measure.

Various – We Wish You a Metal Xmas…and a Headbanging New Year Eagle Records
‘Silent Night’ featuring Chuck Billy and John Tempesta (Testament), Scott Ian (Anthrax), Jon Donais (Shadows Fall) and Geoff Tate (Queensryche). ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ by Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi (Heaven & Hell/Black Sabbath). ‘Run Rudulph Run’ by Lemmy (Motorhead), Billy F Gibbons (ZZ Top) and Dave Grohl. What more do you need to know?

Faxed Head – From Coalinga to Osaka Mimicry
Okay, this freaks me out because on the way to work this morning I was listening to Mr Bungle’s ‘Disco Volante’ and I thought “I wonder if Trey Spruance is releasing anything soon.” Then I log on and find this. Yet another brilliant side project from the Mr Bungle/Faith No More/Secret Chiefs 3 guitarist.

Joe Satriani – Surfing With The Alien (Vinyl) Sony Legacy
If you’re a guitarist and you don’t have this album, there’s probably something wrong with ya – there, I said it. Sony Legacy rereleases this noodle-filled classic on vinyl to coincide with Satch’s current US tour. Read my recent Joe Satriani interview here.