Read Diary of a Player Online

Authors: Brad Paisley

Diary of a Player (8 page)

Days later, I called Steve Wariner. Besides having charted more than fifty singles on the country charts, including ten number one smashes, like “Holes in the Floor of Heaven,” “Some Fools Never Learn,” and “You Can Dream of Me,” Steve was another big influence on me as a guitar player, and a very close friend. In addition to our love of music, Steve and I had something else in common: we each had a brilliant guitar teacher who had meant the world to us. The man who took Steve under his wing was none other than the great Chet Atkins—who was himself perhaps the ultimate guitar hero to my grandfather, Hank Goddard, and pretty much the world.

Because I knew that Chet Atkins was like a father to Steve, I asked Steve to come over, and I shared the song I had begun
to write. “You wanna write your own verses of this song for Chet?” I asked him. One of my more treasured possessions is a photo of Chet, Hank, and me. Though I had the honor of meeting Chet on a few occasions, I didn't get to know him personally, but I feel like I knew him through Steve, who has shared a million Chet stories with me over the years.

One of my more treasured possessions is a photo of Chet, Hank, and me.

C
hester Burton Atkins—better known as Chet—was one of the most respected and influential figures in the history of country music and American music generally. He was born dirt-poor in the tiny Appalachian town of Luttrell, Tennessee, yet somehow he became a symbol for sophistication in country music. Chet became known as “Mr. Guitar,” and you don't need me to point out that the man picked as well as anyone ever has.

You can still hear Chet's extraordinary playing on countless recordings, including songs by Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Elvis Presley, and the Everly Brothers. Next time you hear “Cold, Cold Heart” by Hank Williams or “Heartbreak
Hotel” by Elvis, think for a moment about the great Chet Atkins standing right beside them playing his guitar. And when you hear one of those incredible Everly Brothers classics like “Wake Up Little Susie” or “Bye Bye Love,” reflect on the fact that the Everlys might not have made nearly as much musical history if Chet Atkins hadn't been not only in the studio with them, but also in their corner.

Chet Atkins was much more than a great player. His trademark “Atkins style,” which my grandfather and Hank Goddard loved, is very hard to master. Of course, Chet was influenced by hearing Merle Travis before him, as well as other all-time guitar greats, like Django Reinhardt and Les Paul. As the story goes, Chet heard Merle on some old-time radio program, playing with his thumb and index finger on his right hand, and just assumed Merle had to be using at least three fingers.

That's how Chet developed his own distinctive style of playing with his thumb and the first two fingers on his right hand—occasionally the first three. That's the same style that countless others have tried to master, most of them failing miserably. That's also the style my grandfather loved and the style that somehow came easy to Hank Goddard. Thanks to
Hank, it's a style that I learned and that is part of the bedrock of how I play today.

More than anyone, Chet built what became known as the Nashville Sound. When Chet was running RCA Records' country division, he helped bring the world a generation of great artists, including legends like Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed, and Charley Pride. Before he passed in 2001, Chet Atkins did it all, and he did it all well. Chet once said, “Years from now, after I'm gone, someone will listen to what I've done and know I was here. They may not know or care who I was, but they'll hear my guitar speaking for me.”

I think it's safe to say that Chet Atkins's guitar is still speaking to us and speaking very eloquently.

Steve Wariner and I spoke about our two amazing guitar teachers, and soon we finished the song that we wrote together for Hank and Chet—two guys to whom we owed “more than just this song.” When it came time to record it, I brought Hank's personal guitar from back in West Virginia to the session. Steve brought one of Chet's guitars. In the studio, when I opened up the case of Hank's old Gibson to show Steve, we found the bulletin for Hank's funeral laying right there on top. A second later Steve opened up the case that
held Chet's guitar, and right on the top was the bulletin for Chet's memorial service at the Ryman. Looking almost identical! It turns out Steve had used the guitar when he played Chet's service and hadn't taken it out. Steve and I both felt like we were in some strange
Twilight Zone
episode. When the song was finished, I felt such a sense of pride. It really did capture who they were, I think, and I know that Hank would have loved being remembered right there alongside Chet Atkins, right on top where he
always
belonged.

T
hank you, Hank, for all those years of telling me, “Take it, Brad.” From the bottom of my heart, I don't think that I ever would have taken it nearly as far without you and your shining example.

Guitar Tips from Brad

LESSON # 3

Start off acoustic. You have a lifetime to get plugged in.

4

CELEBRITY

When you're a celebrity It's adios reality

—“Celebrity,” written by Brad Paisley

S
o I got pretty good on the guitar. And now people know who I am. Good-bye anonymity.

As the song “Celebrity” suggests, sometimes saying hello to celebrity means saying adios to reality. Almost monthly, someone out there reinvents what it means to lose touch due to fame.

Some of you probably remember the video we did for “Celebrity,” costarring my friends William Shatner and Jason Alexander. The video made fun of what modern celebrity looks and sounds like here in the twenty-first century. Looking back at the video recently, I couldn't help but notice that all three of us goofing around in the video were anything but overnight success stories. Here's what you might not know: before William Shatner went off on any star trek, entering that dangerous stratosphere of fame and fortune, he paid his dues
and studied hard to become a trained Shakespearean actor back home in Canada.

By the same token, way before Jason Alexander became George Costanza on
Seinfeld,
he first became a major theatrical sensation onstage in New Jersey and later a Tony-winning actor on Broadway. It's important to take plenty of time to get good at something substantive before you focus on getting famous. This just makes good common sense to me. And it's true whether you're playing a guitar, acting, or working behind the scenes.

It's important to take plenty of time to get good at something substantive before you focus on getting famous.

But in our culture today, the paradigm has shifted. It's a very different process, this fame-and-fortune game. In the earliest days of pop culture, people did something well and then became successful and known. The horse was properly in front of the cart. The horse being unique ability, the cart being fame and fortune. Now it's almost always cart first, horse optional.

That's why I relate to guitar players. There is no way to cheat at being skilled in this field. If you are known for your sound, for your style, your unique ability, then you got there woodshedding. Almost no other way
around it. Unless you went down to the crossroads, sold your soul to the devil, and made that deal. But that's only happened once, I'm told.

As a famous person, I look for inspiration in people who have earned their status.

One of the most talented and successful people I have ever known is my pal John Lasseter, the groundbreaking and visionary animator, writer, director, and chief creative officer of Pixar who's behind the
Toy Story
franchise and some of the greatest films of our lifetime. But before John ever ran Pixar and became the principal creative adviser for Walt Disney Imagineering in his spare time, he was a creative little kid drawing cartoons during church services in Whittier, California. Long before he ever became an animator at Disney, John got his first experience with the company as a Jungle Cruise skipper at Disneyland in Anaheim, and my guess is that John was as good as any tour guide they ever had at Disneyland. He is someone who always does his best at anything he does and always will. If you want to be a successful guitar player, be that in a guitarist.

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