Tuesday, September 27, 2005


duded up for trouble

Chet Atkins, Country Gentleman.
Earl Hooker, Guitar Rag.

All hail the electric guitar! Here are two masters from the second generation of players--the country session man genius Chet Atkins, disciple of Merle Travis, and the blues slide guitar legend Earl Hooker, first cousin to John Lee Hooker and protégé of Robert Nighthawk.

Atkins, born in Luttrell, Tennessee, already has been heard a half-dozen times or more on "Locust St." as he played guitar on seemingly every country session of note from @1948 onward. Atkins played fiddle about as often as he did guitar, but the latter instrument made him immortal. Atkins' playing owes a lot to Travis', but with far more sprightliness to his playing--the way "Country Gentleman" just cleanly hums and jumps along. His style would inspire contemporaries like Carl Perkins, and would be a seminal influence on George Harrison, among others (the first five Beatles LPs are riddled with Harrison's Atkins imitations).

"Gentleman" was recorded in New York on March 20, 1953, with Henry Haynes on rhythm guitar, Kenneth Burns (who gets a solo on mandolin) (under the names Homer and Jethro, these two later became a comedy team) and Charles Grean (bass.) Released as Victor 20-5300. On Guitar Legend. This song led to Gibson creating a guitar in Atkins' honor.

Earl Zebedee Hooker was born in Clarksdale, Miss. in 1930 and moved with his family to Chicago as the Depression worsened. In Chicago, Hooker saw the likes of Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy & Robert Nighthawk--the latter mentored Hooker, who in turn was soon able to perfectly imitate Nighthawk's smooth slide guitar playing. Hooker returned South in the early 1950s, playing with Ike Turner and cutting some sides for Sun Records that Sam Phillips never released. Hooker spent much of the decade constantly touring, providing slide guitar on some epochal records like Muddy Waters' "You Shook Me", and only recording a few one-off singles of his own.

"Guitar Rag," possibly recorded in July 1953, is a marvelous display of Hooker's style, though the mix oddly highlights a dire performance on bass by some incompetent who history has blessed with anonymity (check out the massive screw-up around :45 into the track). On Two Bugs and a Roach.

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