Tommy Emmanuel

Last updated

Tommy Emmanuel
Tommy Emmanuel soave.JPG
Emmanuel at the Soave Guitar Festival
in Italy, May 2010
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Thomas Emmanuel
Born (1955-05-31) 31 May 1955 (age 65)
Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia
Genres Jazz, pop, rock, country
Years active1962–present
Labels Sony, Columbia, Favored Nations
Associated actsSouthern Star Band, John Farnham, Dragon, Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Martin Taylor, Hank Marvin, Gabriella Quevedo

William Thomas Emmanuel AM (born 31 May 1955) is an Australian guitarist who is known for his complex fingerstyle technique, energetic performances and the use of percussive effects on the guitar. Originally a session player in many bands, Emmanuel carved out his own style as a solo artist, releasing award-winning albums and singles. In the May 2008 and 2010 issues of Guitar Player magazine, he was named "Best Acoustic Guitarist" in its readers' poll. [1] In June 2010 Emmanuel was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). [2] In 2011, Emmanuel was inducted into the Australian Roll of Renown. [3]


Life and career

One of four children, Emmanuel was born in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia, in 1955. He received his first guitar in 1959 at age four and was taught by his mother to accompany her playing lap steel guitar. In 1961, at the age of six, he heard Chet Atkins playing on the radio. He vividly remembers that moment and said it greatly inspired him as a musician. [4]

By the age of six, he was a working professional musician. Recognizing the musical talents of Emmanuel and his older brother, Phil, their father created a family band, sold their home, and took his family on the road. With the family living in two station wagons, much of Emmanuel's childhood was spent touring Australia, playing rhythm guitar, and rarely going to school. After their father died in 1966, Australian Country Music star Buddy Williams approached the family and asked permission to take the Emmanuel brothers on the road with his touring show travelling around Australia. Tommy Emmanuel would go on to record a number of Buddy Williams albums in the early 1970s. Eventually, the New South Wales Department of Education insisted that the Emmanuel children had to go to school regularly. [4] [5]

The Emmanuels eventually settled in Parkes. Tommy Emmanuel eventually moved to Sydney, where he was noticed nationally when he won a string of talent contests in his teen years. [4] [6] By the late 1970s, he was playing drums with his brother Phil in the group Goldrush as well as doing session work on numerous albums and jingles. He gained further prominence in the late 1970s as the lead guitarist in the Southern Star Band, the backing group for vocalist Doug Parkinson. During 1985–1988 and 1995, he joined in 1982 reformed lineup of the leading New Zealand/Australian 1970s rock group Dragon, touring widely with them, including a 1987 tour with Tina Turner; he left the group to embark on a solo career.

In 1994, Australian music veteran John Farnham invited him to play the guitar next to Stuart Fraser from Noiseworks for the Concert for Rwanda. Emmanuel had previously been a member of Farnham's band during the early 1980s and featured on the album Uncovered and rejoined after the 1994 concert.

In July 1999, Chet Atkins commented that Emmanuel was a "fearless" fingerpicking guitar player and awarded Tommy and four others (John Knowles, Marcel Dadi, Jerry Reed, and Steve Wariner) the "Certified Guitar Player" title. [7] [8]

Emmanuel and his brother Phil performed live in Sydney at the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics in 2000. The event was televised worldwide with an estimated 2.85 billion viewers. [6]

In December 2007, he was diagnosed with heart problems [9] and was forced to take a break from his hectic touring schedule due to exhaustion but returned to full-time touring in early 2008. In 2009 he worked with fellow local artists, Ray Burgess, Marty Rhone, John St Peeters and John "Swanee" Swan to release a single, "Legends of the Southern Land". [10]

In June 2010, Emmanuel was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). [2]

At the 2011 ‘TommyFest’, Tommy took the chance to talk to the audience about his strong Christian faith. “The Lord is my shepherd, so I lack nothing—it’s true!” he told the gathered crowds. [11]

In 2012, Governor Steve Beshear awarded Emmanuel the state of Kentucky's honorific title of Kentucky Colonel. [12]

During a July 2019 concert he mentioned recently receiving American citizenship. [13]

Guitar style

Emmanuel's fingerstyle technique was featured at a June 2006 performance at City Stages in Birmingham, Alabama Tommy Emmanuel flickr.jpg
Emmanuel's fingerstyle technique was featured at a June 2006 performance at City Stages in Birmingham, Alabama

Emmanuel had said that even at a young age he was fascinated by Chet Atkins's musical style (sometimes referred to as Travis picking) of playing bass lines, chords, melodies, and harmonies simultaneously using the thumb and fingers of the right hand, achieving a dynamic range of sound from the instrument. Although Emmanuel's playing incorporates a multitude of musical influences and styles, including jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk and rock, this type of country finger-style playing is at the core of his technique. While Emmanuel has never had formal music training and does not read or write music, his natural musical ability, intrinsic sense of rhythm, and charisma gained him fans from all over the world. As a solo performer, he never plays to a setlist and uses a minimum of effects onstage. [6] He usually completes studio recordings in one take.

In his solo shows, he mainly plays guitars made by Maton, an Australian guitar manufacturer. He usually travels with two custom Maton EBG808 TE models and one TE1 model, both of which are Tommy Emmanuel artist signature models. [14] He has played Maton guitars for most of his career and is somewhat of an ambassador to the company due to his long-standing association with the brand. [15] Emmanuel is known for the battered and worn-down appearances of his guitars; a result of his dynamic, energetic playing and percussive techniques. One of his signature performances, for example, involves striking the whole body of the guitar in various places with his hands or a drummer's snare-drum brush to emulate the sound of a percussion kit.

Emmanuel usually keeps one Maton EBG808 in standard guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E), while he tunes his second Maton EBG808 to D-G-D-G-B-E (G6 tuning) and his TE1 to C-F-B-E-G-C. He generally uses 0.12 gauge (light) strings on one EBG808 and 0.13 gauge (medium) strings on the second Maton EBG808 and on the TE1. This allows him to quickly change tuning by swapping between guitars during a show if needed, rather than spending time onstage re-tuning one guitar.

Emmanuel often curls his left thumb around the neck of the guitar onto the fretboard to play some notes, rather than using only his fingers to play — contrary to how classical guitarists play, but not unusual for jazz and country guitarists. He frequently plays common three-finger chord shapes with just two fingers. He commonly uses a thumbpick, a flat pick (plectrum), his fingers, or a combination of these in his playing, a style known as hybrid picking. Amongst his trademark rapid virtuoso licks and cascading harmonic progressions, he often uses a technique that imitated an electric guitar's tremolo system on acoustic guitar — by pressing the palm of his right hand against the sound board of the guitar near the neck joint, while maintaining forward pressure with his left hand on the top of the headstock. The guitar neck slightly bends away from the body and consequently affects the pitch of the strings to achieve the desired sound.

Chet Atkins

As a young man in Australia, Emmanuel wrote to his hero Chet Atkins in Nashville, Tennessee. Eventually, Atkins replied with words of encouragement and a long-standing invitation to drop by to visit. [16]

In 1997, Emmanuel and Atkins recorded as a duo, releasing the album The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World. It would be Atkins's last album, with the exception of "Solo Sessions" which Atkins' estate released posthumously. [17] Emmanuel and Atkins appeared together on The Nashville Network's 'Country Christmas' in late 1997, and on that occasion, Atkins stated about him: "He is one of the greatest guitar players I've ever seen." Atkins gave Emmanuel the guitar on which Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith recorded "Guitar Boogie", one of the foundation performances of the blues guitar world and a regular feature of Emmanuel's shows.

In July 1999, at the 15th Annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention, [18] Atkins presented Emmanuel with a Certified Guitar Player award, an honour Chet personally bestowed to only four guitarists. [4] This award gains its fame from being bestowed by Atkins himself, a widely recognized leader in guitar music. The award states: "In Recognition of His Contributions to the Art of Fingerpicking." Tommy performed at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) in July each year in Nashville. [19]

In addition to being influenced by Chet Atkins, Emmanuel has stated that guitarist Hank Marvin is his mentor.

His rendition of "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams was used on the animated television series American Dad! in the season 10 episode entitled "Permanent Record Wrecker". It was played by Roger Smith in a coffee shop guitar battle. [20]


As leader

With Bill Wyman

With others


APRA Awards

The APRA Awards (Australia) are annual awards to recognise composing and songwriting skills, sales, and airplay performance by its members annually.

YearCategoryNominated workResult
ARIA Music Awards of 1992Jazz Composition of the Year"Stevie's Blues"Won

ARIA Awards

The Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards, commonly known as ARIA Music Awards, are held to recognise excellence and innovation and achievement across all genres of Australian music. Award nominees and winners, excluding for sales and public voted categories, are selected by the ARIA Academy comprising "judges from all sectors of the music industry - retail, radio and tv, journalists and critics, television presenters, concert promoters, agents, ARIA member record companies and past ARIA winners". [21] The inaugural ARIA Awards took place in 1987. [22]

YearCategoryNominated workResult
ARIA Music Awards of 1989 Best Cover Art "Up from Down Under"Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1991 Best Adult Contemporary Album Dare to Be Different Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1992 Best Adult Contemporary Album Determination Won
Best Male Artist Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1994 Best Adult Contemporary Album The Journey Won
ARIA Music Awards of 1995 Best Adult Contemporary Album Terra Firma Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1996 Best Adult Contemporary Album Classical Gas Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1997 Best Adult Contemporary Album Can't Get Enough Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 2013 Best Jazz AlbumThe Colonel & The GovernorNominated

Australian Roll of Renown

The Australian Roll of Renown honours Australian and New Zealander musicians who have shaped the music industry by making a significant and lasting contribution to Country Music. It was inaugurated in 1976 and the inductee is announced at the Country Music Awards of Australia in Tamworth in January. [23]

YearNominee / workAwardResult
2011Tommy EmmanuelAustralian Roll of Renowninductee

Country Music Awards of Australia

The Country Music Awards of Australia (CMAA) (also known as the Golden Guitar Awards) is an annual awards night held in January during the Tamworth Country Music Festival, celebrating recording excellence in the Australian country music industry. They have been held annually since 1973. [24] [25]

YearCategoryNominated workResult
2005Instrumental of the Year"Tall Fiddler"Won
2007Instrumental of the Year"Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag"Won
2019Instrumental of the Year"Wheelin' and Dealin'"Won
2021Bluegrass Recording of the Year"Finger Picking Good" (Kristy Cox feat Tommy Emmanuel)Won

Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards is an annual award presentation by The Recording Academy to recognize achievement in the mainly English-language music industry. [26]

YearCategoryNominated workResult
Grammy Awards of 1998 Best Country Instrumental Performance "Smokey Mountain Lullaby"Nominated
Grammy Awards of 2006 Best Country Instrumental Performance "Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag"Nominated

National Live Music Awards

The National Live Music Awards (NLMAs) are a broad recognition of Australia's diverse live industry, celebrating the success of the Australian live scene. The awards commenced in 2016.

YearNominee / workAwardResult
National Live Music Awards of 2019 [27] [28] Rosie Fitzgerald (I Know Leopard)Live Guitarist of the YearNominated



Related Research Articles

Chet Atkins American guitarist and record producer

Chester Burton "Chet" Atkins, known as "Mr. Guitar" and "The Country Gentleman", was an American musician, occasional vocalist, songwriter, and record producer who, along with Owen Bradley and Bob Ferguson, helped create the Nashville sound, the country music style which expanded its appeal to adult pop music fans. He was primarily known as a guitarist. He also played the mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and ukulele.


Maton is an Australian musical instruments manufacturing company based in Box Hill, Melbourne. It was founded in 1946 by Bill May and his brother Reg. The name "Maton" came from the words "May Tone" and is pronounced May Tonne.

Slim Dusty

Slim Dusty, AO MBE was an Australian country music singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer. He was an Australian cultural icon and one of the country's most awarded stars, with a career spanning nearly seven decades and producing numerous recordings. He was known to record songs in the legacy of Australia, particularly of bush life and renowned Australian bush poets Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson that represented the lifestyle. The music genre was coined the "bush ballad", a style first made popular by Buddy Williams, the first artist to perform the genre in Australia, and also for his many trucking songs.

Lee Kernaghan

Lee Kernaghan OAM is an Australian country music singer, songwriter and guitarist.

Troy Cassar-Daley

Troy Cassar-Daley is an Australian country music songwriter and entertainer, and author.

Doyle Dykes

Doyle Dykes is an American country acoustic guitarist from Jacksonville, Florida. He is influenced by a wide variety of musical styles and musicians such as Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Duane Eddy, to the Beatles and U2. Cited along with guitarists such as Tommy Emmanuel as one of the best fingerstyle guitarists in the world, he is also known for his capability of playing proficiently with a wide range of different guitar tunings. Some of his best-known works and interpretations are "Wabash Cannonball", "Country Fried Pickin'", "U2 Medley", "Be Still", "Amazing Grace" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". Dykes is a devout Christian and has served as a minister in a small church in Florida; the influence of Christianity is present in much of his work. He was a major endorser of Taylor Guitars and Rivera Sedona amplifiers, with his own signature models of each. In 2013 he began endorsing the Guild Guitar Company. Since 2015 he has touted his custom steel-fret Olson guitar as his "favorite guitar."

<i>The Mystery</i> (album) 2006 studio album by Tommy Emmanuel

The Mystery is an album by Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel that was released in 2006. The album includes the track "Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag" which was nominated for Best Country Instrumental Performance at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards. The song won Instrumental of the Year at the 2007 Country Music Awards of Australia.

<i>The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World</i> 1997 studio album by Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel

The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World is an album by American guitarist Chet Atkins and Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. Recorded when Atkins was 73, this was his last release of original material in the 20th century. "Smokey Mountain Lullaby" was nominated for the 1997 Grammy Award for Country Instrumental Performance.

<i>The Journey</i> (Tommy Emmanuel album) 1993 studio album by Tommy Emmanuel

The Journey is the sixth studio album by Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. Released in September 1993, the album peaked at number 5 on the ARIA Charts; becoming Emmanuel's first top ten album. The album was certified double platinum in Australia in 1994.

Chet Atkins' discography is large and diverse. Not only did he release principal studio albums as a solo artist, he was a prolific and much sought-after collaborator. He also played as a sideman on many more. His major collaborations were with Hank Snow, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra, The Country All-Stars, The Nashville String Band, Jerry Reed, Merle Travis, Doc Watson, Lenny Breau, Les Paul, Mark Knopfler, Suzy Bogguss, Floyd Cramer and Tommy Emmanuel. He frequently guested on a track or two with other friends. Several of his recordings won or were nominated for Grammy Awards.

<i>Work It Out with Chet Atkins C.G.P.</i> 1983 studio album by Chet Atkins

Work It Out With Chet Atkins C.G.P. is the fiftieth studio album by Chet Atkins. After recording for RCA Victor since 1947, Chet left the label to join Columbia. This release is background music for exercising. He was nominated for the 1984 Best Country & Western Instrumental Performance Grammy award for "Tara's Theme" but did not win. It peaked at No. 64 on the Billboard Country Albums charts.

<i>The Essential Chet Atkins: The Columbia Years</i> 2004 greatest hits album by Chet Atkins

The Essential Chet Atkins: The Columbia Years is a compilation recording by American guitarist Chet Atkins. The 15 tracks included here are from his recordings on the Columbia label from 1983 to the 1997. The tracks have all been digitally remastered.

John Knowles is an American acoustic guitarist.

Brett Wood is an Australian musician based in Melbourne.

Henno Althoff

Henno Althoff is a German record producer, recording engineer and studio owner, best known for his association with Australian fingerstyle guitarist Tommy Emmanuel.

Paul Yandell was an American guitar player from Mayfield, Kentucky. Yandell played fingerstyle, a style he learned to play from his neighbors, influenced by Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. In 1955 he was hired by The Louvin Brothers and performed and recorded with them. From 1959 to 1961 he served in the US Army and on his return was a touring musician with Kitty Wells, Johnnie Wright, George Hamilton IV, and Jerry Reed.

The Wolfe Brothers

The Wolfe Brothers are an Australian country rock band, formed of brothers Tom and Nick Wolfe and childhood friends Brodie Rainbird and Casey Kostiuk. They came to prominence after being the runners-up of Australia's Got Talent in 2012.

High Tension is an Australian extreme metal band from Melbourne, Victoria. Formed in 2012, the band's original line-up featured Karina Utomo and Ash Pegram from Young and Restless with Matt Weston from The Nation Blue and Damian Coward from Love Like...Electrocution. Only Utomo and Weston remain from the original line-up; with the current formation of the band featuring guitarist Mike Deslandes, also of YLVA, and drummer Lauren Hammel.

Edwina Margaret Lumsden, professionally known as Fanny Lumsden, is an Australian country music singer and songwriter. Lumsden is best known for ARIA-award winning album, Fallow.

Phillip Ernest Emmanuel was an Australian guitar player who found fame with The Trailblazers, and as the older brother of musician Tommy Emmanuel. He played with many other Australian artists including INXS, Jimmy Barnes, John Farnham, Ian Moss and Slim Dusty, as well as playing with many international artists such as British guitarist Hank B. Marvin and American performers Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson, Duane Eddy and Dolly Parton. His debut album, Kakadu Sunrise, reached No. 33 on the New Zealand album charts. In 1994 Phil and Tommy Emmanuel released the album Terra Firma and it was nominated for the 1995 ARIA Award for Best Adult Contemporary Album. In 2011, Emmanuel was inducted into the Australian Roll of Renown.


  1. "Bio: Tommy Emmanuel" Archived 25 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine , official website
  2. 1 2 "It's an Honour – Honours – Search Australian Honours". 14 June 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  3. "Roll of Renown". TCMF. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "The Official Tommy Emmanuel Web Site – Interview". 19 April 1997. Archived from the original on 10 October 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  5. "Tommy Emmanuel: c.g.p". Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 "Tommy Emmanuel Interview". Music Frisk. 14 February 2003. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  7. St. James, Adam. "Tommy Emmanuel: Certified Guitar Player". Archived from the original on 11 January 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  8. Thompson, Art (1 September 2009). "Steve Wariner". Guitar Player . Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  9. Archived 16 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Pascuzzi, Carmine. "'Legends of the Southern Land' – a new Australian anthem". MediaSearch. Archived from the original on 19 October 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  12. Music News Desk (14 January 2014). "Tommy Emmanuel to Tour United States Alongside Martin Taylor in Early 2014". Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  13. "Review: Acoustic guitarists Tommy Emmanuel, Mike Dawes dazzle Garde crowd". The Day. 19 July 2019. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  14. "The Maton TE Series - Maton Guitars Australia" . Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  15. "Tommy Emmanuel - Maton Guitars Australia" . Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  16. "Just Jazz Guitar Online – Tommy Emmanuel Interview". Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  17. "Chet Atkins: Solo Sessions". Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  18. "The Chet Atkins Appreciation Society". 21 December 1997. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  19. Archived 9 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  20. "American Dad: "Permanent Record Wrecker"". 5 May 2014. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  21. ARIA Awards - FAQs. ARIA Awards. Archived from the original on 25 January 2012.
  22. Aria Awards overview. Australian Recording Industry Association. Archived from the original on 24 January 2012.
  23. "Roll of Renown". Tamworth Country Music Festival. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  24. "Past Award Winners" . Retrieved 2 November 2020.
  25. "Fanny Lumsden wins five Golden Guitar Awards despite cancelled Tamworth Country Music Festival". ABC. 23 January 2021. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  26. "Grammy Awards Artist Tommy Emmanuel". Grammy. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  27. "HERE ARE YOUR 2019 NATIONAL LIVE MUSIC AWARDS NOMINEES!". NLMA. 22 October 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  28. "AND THE WINNERS OF THE 2019 NATIONAL LIVE MUSIC AWARDS ARE…". NLMA. 5 December 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  29. Camp Quality (2007). Laugh Even Louder!. Gosford, New South Wales: Scholastic Australia Pty Limited. p. 4. ISBN   978-1-74169-022-4.