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Internationally acclaimed guitarist Tommy Emmanuel believes in dreams - the good, bad and ugly.

The good karma began with the Maton guitar given to him as a four year old by his CSIRO engineer dad Hugh - a former RAAF airman shot down over the Kokoda Trail in the Coral Sea battle in World War 11.

Tommy, now 49, performed with his three siblings - guitarist Phil, drummer Chris and Virginia on slide guitar - from the age of four in family groups.

Emmanuel Quartet, Midget Safaris and Trailblazers worked the Aussie bush as tykes from Tommy's birth place Muswellbrook and latter day home Gunnedah to the coast.

Tommy and Phil also strutted their stuff with artists diverse as the late Tex Morton, Slim Dusty and Buddy Williams.

They also blazed their own trail in the cities, suburbs and bush with Anne Kirkpatrick and Sydney supremos Goldrush with Tommy on drums and Phil on guitar.

Then there were the nightmares during the eighties when Tommy became a cocaine abuser and victim during his era with New Zealand reared rock chart toppers Dragon and The Bushwackers.

But Emmanuel banished those dreams when he hooked up with his mentor - the late Chet Atkins - in 1980.


"When I first wrote to him it was just after my father died in 1966," Tommy told Nu Country TV while promoting his 14th album Endless Road (ABC-Universal).

"He wrote back and sent me a lovely photograph and a very encouraging letter.

Some people later recorded me playing and sent the tapes to Chet without my knowledge. I suddenly got a letter from Chet saying 'if you come to Nashville let's hook up.' I was living in Sydney when I eventually got there. I arrived in 1980. He said 'come on down to my office.' We sat and talked and played all day. Lenny Beaux was there. It was a beautiful day. The in 1993 when I was making my album The Journey I asked him to play on a track. I flew out to Nashville, went to his home and he recorded on that track. We just stayed in touch - he saw me play a few times in Nashville. I got back here and he called me and said would you like to make an album.

Chet Atkins

That's how The Day Fingerpickers Took Over The World came about in 1997."

But tragedy struck for Atkins, born in Luttrell, Tennessee (the same town as latter day superstar Kenny Chesney.)

The former RCA Records Nashville CEO - produced and played on albums by artists diverse as Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Hank Snow, Perry Como and Jerry Reed - died 10 days after his 77th birthday on June 30, 2001.

Now, three years down the lost highway, Atkins inspired four songs on Emmanuel's new album that he is promoting with a TV and radio blitz prior to his December tour.


Emmanuel wrote The Man With The Green Thumb about Atkins and revamped I Still Can't Say Goodbye as a tribute to the legend.

Atkins made the latter song famous during his shows and asked Tommy to continue singing it for him.

It is a song about a father and son. Tommy and Chet had similar stories about their fathers. And both of their fathers wore the exact same hat, which is referred to in the song. Chet was very much like a father to Tommy so it's a fitting homage.

Tommy also finished Chet's Ramble - a song they worked on before Atkins died.

"A year after his death I dug out the tapes we were sending to each other," Emmanuel said.

"I found this little melody of his. I thought what better way to celebrate his life than write a song with him after he's gone."

He also revamped the John D Loudermilk song Windy And Warm.

"I first heard it in 1964," Tommy recalled, "it was the first song I heard Chet play. John Loudermilk told me Chet asked him to write that song. It was in the late fifties when Chet was coming back to country after doing jazzy stuff and needed something more bluesy. But most time it was recorded too fast or slow."


Another Atkins eulogy came to Emmanuel in a dream.

"Endless Road has a double meaning about life," says Emmanuel, "even though we grow old and die, a little bit of us lives on either in our children or in our music. It's like life never ends. I had a dream after Chet died. It was very vivid. I was walking along this beautiful road in the country. There were fields on either side, what seemed to be this road goes on forever. Chet came along dressed dapper like he was going to play golf. He said 'how are you going?' and then walked on out of sight. I couldn't catch up with him. It was like a message '

Emmanuel has passed the baton to countless guitarists from across the globe in a career spanning six decades.

Expatriate Australasian Keith Urban, an international chart-topping superstar who has been shunned by commercial radio in Australia, is the best known.


But Emmanuel also nurtured the career of hotshot guitarist and former child prodigy Jedd Hughes who hails from Quorn north of Adelaide.

Hughes has played on albums by artists including Texan troubadour Ben Atkins who was produced by fellow South Australian refugee Kym Warner.

Warner performs and records in Austin, Texas, and beyond with singing spouse Carol Young - another expatriate Aussie - in the lauded band Greencards.

Jedd met hit writer Terry McBride of McBride & The Ride fame while studying the bluegrass course at South Plains College in the Texas Panhandle at Levelland near Lubbock.

McBride and Hughes co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs on the Adelaide refugee's hot debut disc Transcontinental for Mercury in Nashville.

CLICK HERE for a Hughes story.

Emmanuel urges fellow Australians, shunned by radio in their homeland, to pursue their dreams.

"You really do need to get out and experience the rest of the world," Emmanuel says.
"Take your music to the rest of the world and learn from everybody. Last summer I saw Jedd at a bluegrass festival in Kansas. He said he was going to Texas to do a course. I'm happy to hear about his album. He's got great talent and a good head on his shoulders. It doesn't matter what genre. I'm happy with where country music is going in Australia, it's bigger than ever. A person who says I'm not going overseas. I can do it all in Australia. Well, good luck to you but the market can chew you up."


Emmanuel launched his tour of duty when he moved to the U.S in 1997, England a few years later and then returned to Nashville where he lives in a hotel when not on the road.

"I'm based in Nashville but don't have a home," says Emmanuel who shares his mode of living but not digs with Urban.

"It's like when I was a kid. We used to live in a caravan and a tent. My caravan and my tent are hotels now. We just live on the road. My dream is to come back and live in Australia eventually but I have a lot of work ahead of me. I'm trying to lay a foundation and career path for younger players to carry on. No-one has done that instrumentally before. I don't see radio as a problem - I see it as a challenge.

I remember when I released Up From Down Under in 1988 the record company said there's no market. I said I'm going to create one. My album Determination made in 1991 is still the biggest selling instrumental album of all time in Australia."


Emmanuel also warns young peers of the perils of the road that ended his 15-year marriage to his Danish wife Jane, whom he met on a European tour with Dragon.

The split inspired his new song Sanitarium Shuffle.

"My wife has met someone else and we're getting divorced," Emmanuel confessed.

"I went to my friend's place in Germany to regroup and see where I was. At that time my life had been turned upside down. The sanitarium is the nickname of the house where I went to stay with friends and get well again. I always write from real emotion. I tried as hard as I could to make it work but it was impossible. We had been together 15 years and I was there for the long haul. But these things happen. It's a career hazard. We met when Dragon opened for Tina Turner. She didn't know I was a musician when we met. She didn't see me play."

Tommy and Phil Emmanuel

Emmanuel, a committed Christian since beating substance abuse two decades ago, has turned negatives into positives with touring and singing partner Elizabeth Watkins.

"Everything has worked out for the better," says Emmanuel.

"My ex-wife is very happy where she is. My children are very happy there. I have a partner in my life who I love dearly who travels with me who loves music and sings and wants to be on the road. She's singing harmonies on the album and will sing with me here in December. We met in Philadelphia."

He also wrote Christmas Memories for late mother Linda Virginia who raised him and his three siblings after their father Hugh died in 1966.

The family patriarch, who gave his eldest son a Maton guitar when he was just four, suffered heart problems after being shot down over the Kokoda Trail in the Coral Sea battle.

Emmanuel blended Christmas Memories with the standard Wheels - his mother's favourite song.

It was written at Christmas and invokes the image of a sleigh racing across a snowy plain and spending time with family.


Emmanuel's elder daughter Amanda, now 15, suffered from the marital split that followed his long tours.

But it was his youngest daughter, now five, inspired the song Angelina.

"I wrote it about three years ago when we were living in Suffolk in England," Emmanuel recalled.

"I wanted to write a song that spelled out her name. The melody spells out her name. I do have a lyric also."

Ironically, Emmanuel suffers tyranny of distance to ensure his daughters' quality of life.

"The hardest part of my life is being away from my children, no doubt about that," the said.
"I need to work hard so they can have a good life in that country. That's where their mother lives and it's an expensive place. At the same time my girls are close to me. I get to spend time with them and see them every couple of months. No matter what I'm still their dad."


It was an Australian tour that prompted the new song Morning Aire.

"I was in Sydney in the middle of one of busiest schedules and I thought I was about to crack up," Emmanuel recalled.

"I just needed to stop and play my guitar for myself. I retreated and wrote it to sooth my own soul and get back my sanity. I had very little sleep and it was very noisy. I retreated to the empty kitchen of the place to get some rejuvenation"

Emmanuel's star has arisen to the level that he now has regular Tommyfests all over the world.

"There's one in Oklahoma, one in California, one in Texas, one in England, one in Germany and one in England and others, about eight or nine altogether,' says Tommy.

"It was my manager Gina Mendello (an expatriate American who ran the Australian country division before Sam Laws and Graham Thompson) came up with the idea.

They're like the Merlefests named after Doc Watson's son Merle was tragically killed in a tractor accident. I have American guests, German guests, a couple from England. They include bluegrass and unknown country guitarists here such as Richard Smith, Steve Bennett and Thom Bresh.

Hang on.

Thom Bresh is not exactly unknown although it was late in his career he revealed he was the son of the legendary Merle Travis.


Emmanuel wrote his new song Son Of A Gun about Kentucky bred Bresh and his dad Travis.

Merle was born in Mulenberg County - made famous by former singing postie John Prine - on November 29, 1917.

Both Chet and Doc Watson named their sons after singing actor Merle whose last movie was Clint Eastwood classic Honky Tonk Man.

Travis died at 65 on October 20, 1983, after a colourful career that included hits such as Divorce Me COD (1946), So Round, So Firmly Packed, Dark As A Dungeon and Sixteen Tons (all 1947.)

Merle also wrote No Vacancy with Cliffie Stone and oft covered Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette with Tex Williams.

"Thom's mother married a state senator after he was born," Tommy explained, "his name was Bud Bresh. When Thom was growing up and he would see Merle Travis every now and then he felt something. He ended up playing exactly like his dad. He waited until Bud Bresh died and then he was able to say Merle Travis was actually his father. God bless him. He's one of my favourite guitar players on the planet."

Emmanuel performed an a cappella version of the Jerry Reed song Today Is Mine as the album finale.

"Jerry's health not too good these days," says Tommy, "but not many guitar players have written the body of work that he has - especially for finger pickers."

Tommy also dedicated Old Town to guitarist friend Tommy Jones who died after a long and painful illness.


Emmanuel plans to bring his Tommyfests to Australia next year.

"I'm looking at two dates in each city," Tommy says, "guests from America, Europe, basically it's a showcase for all different guitar styles. It's my way of bringing that to the public. They wouldn't get a chance to see a good classical player, a guy who plays slide, a hard guitarist, a bluegrass player, a Django style player, a Gypsy jazz style player, in one show.'

The guitarist promotes his festivals through the thriving American public radio shows with strong support from Mountain Stage, Prairie Home Companion and other outlets supportive of country, roots, acoustic and instrumental music.

So what about the hits and memories mausoleums strangling Australian radio?

"Things are changing all the time in Australia," the ever optimistic guitarist enthused, "I can see a shift going on here. Within five years I'll have guitar festivals that will draw people all over the world. There's quite a few young guitar players I'm trying to nurture, quite a few from Melbourne."


So will Emmanuel bring back Byron Berline - inspiration for another new song Tall Fiddler?


Berline first toured here in the seventies and eighties with his band Sundance.

On the first tour a then unknown Vince Gill, one time lead singer for Pure Prairie League, was hired at the 11th tour on a visit that included the Tamworth festival.

But Tommy didn't meet him then.

"I must have been somewhere else that year, says Tommy, "I have known Byron for years. I met him at Winfield, Kansas, at Walnut Valley Bluegrass festival. We played together and got invited to his Guthrie Bluegrass festival where he lives. He's about six foot tall and then wears a big tall cowboy hat. He's also a great fiddler."

Emmanuel earned healthy royalties from writing songs for artists diverse as Olivia Newton-John, Sheena Easton, Fee Waybill, Al Jarreau, Donny Osmond, Jimmy Barnes and Johnny Farnham.

Movies once inspired his songs - now he has been approached to write music for movies.

"I wrote Brother Of Mine for Jimmy Barnes after seeing Cool Hand Luke," Tommy recalled, "I had a dream after watching that movie, it was so vivid I wrote that song. I wrote Mombassa after watching Out Of Africa. Now I have been approached to write music for movies. I'm pitching music to Walt Disney. They're doing a new version of The Fox And The Hounds. It's based in Nashville and full of country music. I have submitted quite a few songs. There's also a guy in Texas whose movie has a great script and wonderful story. I submitted a song only just wrote a few weeks ago."


Emmanuel's road brings him and partner Watkins and English guitarist Clive Carroll to Australia in December.

Tickets for the concerts went on sale on September 6.

CANBERRA THEATRE - December 1 - Bookings - 02 6275 2700 or Freecall 1800 802 025 or visit www.canberraticketing.com.au
WREST POINT - HOBART - December 3 - bookings - 03 6221 1700
BURSWOOD THEATRE - PERTH - December 4 - Bookings at box office - 08 9484 1133 or Freecall 1800 193 300 - or visit www.bocsticketing.com.au
HER MAJESTY'S THEATRE, ADELAIDE - December 7 - Bookings Bass - 131 246 or visit www.bass.net.au
CITY RECITAL HALL ANGEL PLACE - SYDNEY - December 8 - Bookings 02 8256 2222 or visit www.cityrecitalhall.com or www.ticketek.com.au
DALLAS BROOKS HALL - MELBOURNE - December 11 - Bookings - Ticketek - 13 28 49 or visit www.ticketek.com.au
JUPITERS THEATRE - GOLD COAST - December 12 - Bookings 07 5592 8303

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