Who and / or What Has Influenced Your Life? (Part 2)

by Jon on January 1, 2011

I mentioned in “Part 1” of this series that Les Paul had a huge influence on me in my earlier years.  I’ve never lost my appreciation for his music and inspiration, not only on me, but also on the entire world of music.  However, I could never play his style of music, much as I’d like to have, because I simply did not have the equipment or talent to pull it off.  All of the music Les Paul and Mary Ford recorded consisted of multiple tracks, or overdubbing.  It would be years before this technology would be available for the general public and still more years until it was really affordable.  Now, it can be done on a home computer and everyone can point and click and drag to their heart’s content and create all kinds of wonderful sounds and music.  In fact, in one of my articles I call “Tropical Paradise” I have done just that.  But in 1956 that technology was not available to anyone, much less a twelve year old wanna be.

When it came to music, in my head I could hear the melody, the harmony, the rhythm – ALL of it all at once; and I was not satisfied to just play a single string melody.   Somehow I wanted to create a full sound, but had no idea how to do it.

My grandparents were so wonderful.  They loved me and trusted me with the key to their new car even though I was only twelve years old.  I used to sit in their new 1956 Ford and listen to the radio.  I’ll never forget one day while turning the dial looking for some good music, I stumbled onto a station that was playing some of the most beautiful guitar music that I’d ever heard.  It was like magic and in fact, I’d NEVER heard a guitar played like that before.   Just as clearly as anything I remember thinking the words “Those guys are really good!”  The radio station featured a whole album of this wonderful music without a break as I sat listening, totally entranced.  I loved the sound I was hearing.  I don’t ever remember hearing the radio host announce who the artists were.  So it was months, or maybe even a year before I learned that “they” were, in fact, one Chet Atkins.  I didn’t actually know that until later.  But I heard someone talking about this guy Chet Atkins who played all the parts at one time.  He played the melody, the harmony, the rhythm and everything all at once!  This I had to hear because that’s exactly what I wanted to be able to do to get that full sound that I could hear inside my head.   I must have mentioned this to my parents because for my grammar school graduation in 1957 they gave me two 33-rpm albums by Chet Atkins.  The first was “Chet Atkins, Finger Style Guitar” (still my favorite to this day) and the other one was “Chet Atkins in Three Dimensions”.  When I played those first two albums, I remembered that day in 1956 listening to the radio and it all came together.  This was the sound I had been searching for and didn’t even know was possible.   Chet became my hero from then on.  He was also heavily into technology, which further boosted my interest in sound and electronics.  I learned everything I could about how to play finger style guitar; but in addition to that, I began learning about electronics, amplifiers, sound effects, and recording.  I even built a simple reverb unit out of an old speaker and a spring and phonograph pickup.  It was based on an article I found in Popular Electronics magazine.

Though I never made it as a professional musician I went on to become an engineer in the field of electronics – and later computer software.  So these two great men, Les Paul and Chet Atkins together helped fashion the direction my life took, both musically and professionally.  I owe them BIG TIME.

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