Finger picking musician stops by Santa Barbara

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Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel isn’t a stranger to life on tour. He first hit the road when he was 6 years old, playing shows throughout his home country of Australia alongside his family band.

“We were very poor, and we traveled around in two cars with our gear on the roof,” said Emmanuel. “We either slept on the ground under the stars, or in a tent.”

Today’s tours look a little different. Emmanuel rarely plays with others. His crew consists of only two people, a tour manager and a merchandise seller. His manager handles his sound. Emmanuel himself handles his guitars.

“When I walk out on stage, I’m concentrating on everything,” said Emmanuel, who plays at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on January 22. “The sound I’m getting, the feel of the music, how I’m making the melody feel, my tuning, my phrasing. The times that I make a mistake is if I allow my mind to wander, if I get too relaxed.”

He took major inspiration from guitarist Chet Atkins, who’s known for helping to create the smoother country music style in the 1960s known today as the “Nashville sound.”

Tommy Emmanuel and Chet Atkins. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

“He really set a standard for all of us to try to reach for,” said Emmanuel, who is now known for his own unique finger-picking style.

Emmanuel and Atkins joined forces in 1997 to produce The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World. 

“I think it’s nature’s way, that we all start out emulating somebody. Someone inspires us, lights a fire under us, but eventually we have to find our own voice and our own way.”