Ladies and gentlemen, Tommy Emmanuel

with Dr Michael Whiticker

If there is one Australian musician today who, probably more than any other, is a household name throughout the world – certainly amongst guitar lovers – it is Tommy Emmanuel. He tops chart after chart as the “greatest” player in the world and the love for his talents extends from country to jazz, to classical players and beyond. In late 2019 Music Radar announced with their award for The 10 Best Acoustic Guitarists In The World Today, “the winner Tommy Emmanuel was a clear favourite, bagging almost a third of the total votes cast”. Eric Clapton and Chet Atkins both said that he is the greatest guitarist they ever saw, and Todd Rundgren stated, “The two best guitarists in the world are Tommy Emmanuel”.

If you had to reduce Tommy’s playing to three things that you like most, they might be his complex fingerstyle technique, his percussive effects on the instrument and his energetic performances. But that still doesn’t capture the total magic that he brings to a show, which is experienced in his exquisite musical taste, his fascinating arrangements, and more than anything, his easy going nature. He really is a classic Australian of his generation, and that can be appreciated in an “interview” he gave recently with Rick Beato on YouTube –  I encourage you to google it, where he interjects after each musical example he plays, to avoid receiving compliments with which Rick, a huge fan, wants to shower him! If anything it is probably this humility which sets him apart from other artists who have achieved anywhere near his mastery of the instrument.

I recall reading somewhere that Tommy does 250 odd shows a year. It might be an exaggeration, but he truly is an artist who lives to play. That also comes across clearly in the Beato interview. He has the instrument in his hand the whole time and if not playing he appears itching to play! Rick asks him at one point how he warms up for shows. He replies, “I warmed up at six this morning”. One imagines that going to bed is probably the only time he puts the guitar down.

I was chatting to a friend recently who had just attended a concert of a major name artist and he lamented that he didn’t make much of an effort to reach the audience. He didn’t play any of his old hits, instead concentrating on songs from his new album, which unfortunately weren’t resonating with the audience. I immediately thought of Tommy, who is such a consummate performer, that communicating with his audience and giving them a fantastic time, while extolling the beauty of the music he loves, is paramount. At a Tommy concert you will probably get an original or two but you will certainly receive a feast of bluegrass and jazz ‘n blues along with a few classical pieces – reimagined in extraordinary ways, and reworked pop classics from artists such as the Beatles, the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, John Mayer and Sting. Wow, catch Tommy if you can!