up from down under...
an interview with TOMMY EMMANUEL
by Robert Silverstein
Commenting on his 2006 CD The Mystery, Tommy Emmanuel says,
The Mystery itself is about the mystery of life, of Gods
love, of the things that happen to us and the reasons why. Its
like sometimes you wonder, why is this happening to me?
and there must be a reason. Things like that.Its no mystery,
however, that Emmanuels 2006 CD will be among his most popular
albums to date and just to make sure, the CD release of The Mystery
coincides with the DVD release of Tommy Emmanuel Live At Her
Majestys Theatre. Caught live in Australia last year, the
DVD will be a real eye-opener for music fans who might have heard
Emmanuel on CD but havent yet seen him live in concert. Tommy
adds, the old proverb that says, when one door closes,
a bigger one opens kind of thing. Thats whats happened
to me in my life, many times. Clearly the release of The
Mystery and Live At Her Majestys Theatre is the right
key to discover one of todays great guitarists. In October 2006
Tommy spoke with Robert Silverstein of MWE3.com and 20th Century Guitar
magazine about a range of guitar related topics. This full length
version first appeared in an edited version in the December 2006 issue
of 20th Century Guitar magazine.
Hi Tommy! Good morning...are you in Australia?
TE: How are you? Long time! How you doing brother? What time is it
to you there?
MWE3: Its seven at night.
TE: Okay... Is that a good time?
MWE3: Can you hear me alright...Im on a land line at my moms
TE: Yeah, you sound great. You sound just fine. I can hear you fine.
Im actually very close to my moms house as well. My moms
dead of course, but she used to live like two blocks from where I
am just now.
MWE3: So youre in Australia now.
TE: Yes, Ive got one more show to do tomorrow night, which is
a private charity event and then Im off to Singapore and South
Korea, Japan and then back into Europe. Just finished the Australian
MWE3: I met you a few years ago when you visited Les Paul at the Iridium
in NYC. I know you played at the Les Paul 90th birthday bash...
TE: Yeah, I saw him a little after that but I havent seem him
for a while and Ill look forward to catching up with him in
the new year I think.
MWE3: Any memories of Les birthday concert at Carnegie Hall...
TE: Oh, lots !(laughter) Jose Feliciano and I shared a dressing room
so we got to catch up. Were old friends. And we got to play
a lot that night, before the show. And Steve Lukather came down. And
Bucky Pizzarelli. And we just all hung out and played together in
my dressing room. (laughter) It was pretty wild. One of my fondest
memories of that night was standing up on the drum riser beside Omar
Hakim, looking from behind, of Les, with the audience behind him.
It was just such an amazing to see this guy just getting into it so
much and the audience so into it. It was a really, really special
experience to see that. I wish I could have taken a photo from back
there. Cause it was only happening in my mind.
MWE3: How would you describe the influence Les had on your playing?
TE: He had a unique way of playing melody and the humour in his playing
and just the way that he kind of always was flying his kite. He was
always trying things. Just to hear the freedom that he played with
was great for me to hear. There seemed to be some kind of carefree
way of him playing. His ideas were just flowing. He had so much humour
in his playing and technically, his stuff is just really hard to play.
It was well thought out on his records. He was just such an innovator.
MWE3: Can you say something about your new releases. The Mystery
and the new live DVD were released at the same time?
MWE3: Yeah. Once Id shot the DVD and the record company had
seen it...Cause Steve Vai is my record label manager. So Steve
has to approve everything. When he saw the footage from Her Majestys
DVD, he was very moved and he said to me when he put in on in
his house that all the stings just broke on his acoustic guitar sitting
in the corner. (laughter) Ill just backtrack a little bit. The
Mystery album, I had written all the songs with the exception
of the Billy Joel song and the song where I sing with my fiancé,
Walls. Everything else I pretty much wrote. Id been
playing a lot of this music on the road and so I knew it was strong
enough and good enough for me to record and get out there. Thats
always been my way of testing my material. First of all, I make a
demo recording of the songs and listen to it myself and share it with
other people that I trust. And then I play it on the road and hone
it and see what the reaction from the people is. And then I kind of
gut it down to the twelve of fourteen songs on that album. And went
in and recorded. I did it in three days, finished. So, I dont
spend a lot of time recording. The way I record is...I sit in one
room with two microphones on my acoustic guitar. And I plug that guitar
in to my AER German amplifier. And I isolate it. I put the amp in
another room and we mike the amp as well. So you get a combination
of clarity and dryness and the closeness of the microphone and then
you get the amp in behind it. And then what I do is I add the reverb
onto the amp signal. That creates a beautiful depth but you still
have got the microphones in front of it in the mix if you look at
it that way.
MWE3: I heard The Mystery, the album and the song, has
a concept running through it?
TE: The Mystery itself is about the mystery of life, of Gods
love, of the things that happen to us and the reasons why. Its
like sometimes you wonder, why is this happening to me?
and there must be a reason. Things like that. For instance, the people
that seem to be putting out the power at the right time. Thats
another thing that amazes me about how life works. Plus the fact that,
the old proverb that says, when one door closes, a bigger one
opens kind of thing. Thats whats happened to me in my
life, many times and I see that principal reoccurring and its
a mystery why but its another reason why I was inspired to write
that song. I had also been listening to a lot of music by Alison Krause
at that time and I feel that there was a good influence in there,
in the song writing of that particular song. Theres something
Irish, theres something Appalachian in that song. I dont
quite know what it is. Im channeling something!
MWE3: Can you say something about your Maton guitars and what you
like about them?
TE: If you look on my web site, in there gallery, theres some
photos of me when I was a kid and my first electric guitar, Id
got in 1960 and it was a Maton guitar. Still have it. So, Ive
known about and been a fan of Maton guitars since I started playing,
46 years ago. The guitars have a unique sound. They have a unique
voice. They dont sound and feel like any other guitar. And another
reason why I love these guitars is the pickup in them, the actual
electronics in these acoustic guitars is so damn good. Theres
nothing Ive heard that can even come close. Its the feel
and the sound of these guitars. What youre hearing on the CD
is really mostly the acoustic sound of the guitar. Volume wise, theyre
probably not as big as a Martin. Some of them are not are not quite
as loud as Larrivée but they have a voice that I particularly
love. A guitar is such a personal thing, isnt it? Youve
got to find what works for you. And it really doesnt matter
if I play Maton or if I play a Kapoc, who cares as long as I play
and I enjoy it and thats really what I try to tell people. It
doesnt matter how much the guitar costs or where it was made
or who made it or whatever. If you love it and you want to play it
and it makes you want to play it, then thats what matters. But
the Maton guitars are the ones for me official.
MWE3: Do you have any electric guitars and amps around the house these
TE: Oh, Ive got lots of amps and lots of guitars. (laughter)
Cause Im an electric player as well but I havent
played electric in years. Every now and again I strap on my old Telecaster
and crank up my Fender amps. I use old Fender amps, but Ill
plug into anything that sounds good. But my preference is Fender Deluxe
and Fender DeVilles and old Fender Twins. I like joining amps together
and getting a few different sounds.
MWE3: Guitar wise, anything new and interesting catch your ear lately?
TE: From an acoustic point of view, I think the Fishman Aura is a
great tool for us to use. I dont know whether youve heard
them. Acoustic imaging its called. And thats a wonderful
sound. You can get a great sound from from this pedal. Its like
a little pedal. Its quite expensive but it really does an incredible
job. You can add that to your sound and really enhance your acoustic
sound. But thats about that most innovative thing thats
come along for a long time.
MWE3: It must have been great coming back home to Australia to make
the live DVD. Any memories of making the Live At Her Majestys
TE: That theater is beautiful and was specially chosen by the director
of the DVD. It seems he went and did a lot of research. He knew my
tour was coming up and we had decided we really wanted to make a DVD
in Australia. We put that together. We did a little rehearsal on the
day just to check lights and camera shots and all that but it was
really one show, straight through and thats what you got. And
of course when you make a live DVD, if you make a mistake, its
on there. Thats (laughter) the way it goes. I havent watched
the whole thing so Im not that aware. I dont really get
time to sit and look at all my stuff. Id like to but I just
dont get the opportunity that often cause Im going
on the road all the time. But Ive heard a little bit of it and
the sound quality is really wonderful. My sound guy Oliver DaCosta
did a great job. Its in 5.1 surround sound as well
MWE3: Its one thing to hear your music on CD, but seeing you
live is incredible.
TE: You can never get on CD, the feeling across to the listener, like
as if you were sitting there and you were playing for him. Theres
no way that you can capture that. You have to actually be there. You
can do the best recording of your whole life and be happy with the
recording, but it still doesnt touch people in the same way
as when theyre actually there in front of you and youre
performing to them. Theres no comparison. With my albums, I
try to capture performance. I dont labor over recording and
spend ages trying to make everything perfect. I get a good take with
the right emotion and thats what I go with. I dont believe
that recording should be such a sterile environment. It should be
an emotional environment. So thats what I go for when Im
recording. I try to get the best emotional performance. And there
it is. I know for a fact...so many people say, Why dont
you put out a live album? Ive put out live albums and
people came up and said, We love your live album, but its
still not the same as you playing live. Well, there it is. You
have to be there to feel it. Just do the best you can. One thing Ive
learned in my life is that you definitely cant please everybody.
You just got to get on and do the best you can. Be honest with it
and true to your gift.
MWE3: Theres also a great scene in the DVD, I think its
Tommys New Mate where you get a new guitar. Which
guitar is that?
TE: Maton had made me a custom shop guitar. Its rosewood back
and sides and a rosewood neck as well. And that guitar is absolutely
beautiful. If you want to hear it, its on The Mystery album.
Its on The Diggers Waltz. Thats a brand
new custom shop Maton. And they made that especially for me and I
love that guitar. Its beautiful. I dont carry it on the
road cause Ive already got three Matons on the road, but
its in my house in Nashville.
MWE3: Theres also a segment on the DVD called Finger Pickin
Good where you play Cannonball Rag...when did you
start playing the Merle Travis song?
TE: What I did with Cannonball is... every thumb and finger
style player plays Cannonball Rag, its your meat
and potatoes of finger style guitar. A great Travis piece. I actually
wanted to record it but because itd been done so much by so
many people, including Travis and Chet and everybody, I wrote Game
Show Rag so I could have another piece to segue into Cannonball
Rag. Just to kind of set it up. And Game Show Rag
is a piece of music based on some of that over the top music that
you see in these game shows where they tell people to come on
down and all that kind of stuff. I wrote it in the Travis style,
which allowed me to set up coming into Cannonball Rag.
And everybody loves that piece. Im really glad about that. Thats
my way of doing Cannonball Rag plus with my version of
Cannonball on there, I changed some of the chords around
and did a few different licks and things than the original. I do know
how to play the original but I always choose to do things in my own
way, otherwise youre just copying Travis and hes already
done it better than you anyway so, youve got to do your own
thing. Thats one of the things that I think earned me a lot
of respect with Chet Atkins when I first met him. Its when I
played for him, the first thing he said to me is, I didnt
do that, I didnt do that. He, right away was telling me
that, I was doing my own thing. So, that was good.
MWE3: Theres also a vocal track on both The Mystery and
the live DVD, Walls - how did that track come about?
TE: Yeah, one of my good friends, Pam Rose, who co-wrote that song
is a songwriter from Nashville. She did some opening spots for me
on a tour last year and I just fell in love with that song. Liz and
I were on tour, actually in Australia last year and we started listening
to her version of Walls. And just one day I got the idea,
maybe we could make this into a duet. So we wrote out the lyrics and
I sang the first two verses and then she sang the next two lines and
it just sort of fell into our hands that it would make a good duet.
Actually when I come to recording it for the album I put down my guitar
part and then I put my vocals on and Liz put her vocals on. And then
I started messing with it and I thought, this would be nice
with a little bass on it. So I put a little bass on it and then
I thought oh, it really needs drums. And were hunting
around the studio and I found a bass drum, a snare drum and brush
and a stick. Thats all I found in the studio! (laughter) I actually
put the bass and drums on later, as an afterthought and then built
the track around that and put a little bit of electric guitar on at
the end. Pam came in and put her harmony vocal on. And it suddenly
sounded like a band. What I wanted to say was, I know my limitations
as a singer and I never try to pretend Im anything else. I sing
songs that have a message. Thats what gives me a feeling, that
I can get away with this. Its because the songs that I choose
have a message and getting the message across to the listeners is
very important. So thats the reason why I chose that song. Also
on my previous album, the Endless Road album, there are two
vocal tracks. And theyre both carefully chosen. I dont
have to worry about trying to be the best singer in the world. I just
sing a song totally from my heart that has a message.
MWE3: Is there a Tommy Emmanuel signature guitar?
TE: Theres like eight different models. If you go on to
maton.com.au Ill bet youll find a whole bunch there
MWE3: You started playing electric guitar. When and why did you make
the switch to playing only acoustic?
TE: Well I think it started out as a...when I used to play with my
band, Id send the band off and play something on my own. And
people would come up to me and say that was their favorite part of
the show, was when you played on your own, why dont you do it
more often? So Id finish a tour with a band and then wed
have some time off and I would go and play some shows solo. And it
started to work so well that I just thought, you know what,
I think Ill just work on my own. So, thats what
Ive been doing ever since. Although next Christmas, not this
year but the year after Im doing some shows with some symphonies
down here in Australia and Im going to take a band back out
on the road and do an electric and acoustic tour in Australia. If
we do well enough financially with it I can bring it overseas. Thats
what Im hoping.
MWE3: Do you change the set list from show to show or are you mainly
planning to feature tracks from The Mystery live? Do you ever
draw on tracks from your earlier albums?
TE: Oh yeah. I never ever work to a set list. (laughter) I just get
out and start playing and see what I want to do and how I want to
build it. Ive been on stage all my life and so I know how to
make a show work. I dont need a set list and I dont need
the security of having a proven kind of formula. I just get out there
and away I go and let it fly. Ive got enough material that I
can just kind of fly my kite and build a show in whichever way I want.
MWE3: I was reading you have an idea to start a new record label in
TE: Yes. My first project is recording an act from Australia. Im
recording them in Nashville over Christmas time this year. So thatll
be my first project.
MWE3: Will it reflect your favorite types of guitar music?
TE: Im just looking for good songwriters, good players. Its
really about people who write good music, who play well. But its
really all about the songs. Im looking for people who have a
unique style and a great sound. Im looking for all the things
that I require in myself. The quality of song and sound and all that
kind of stuff.
MWE3: Will you be doing instrumental stuff too?
TE: Absolutely, you bet.
MWE3: How would you compare living in Nashville now to living in Australia?
TE: I love living in Nashville. Its a great town and one of
the most affordable places on the planet really. Some of my favorite
players...Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed and Ricky Skaggs...people like
that all come from Nashville, so its kind of like a second home
to me and always has been. Theres a lot of quality people there
and when you first come there you really feel that youre in
a special place. Theres people here with enormous talents and
sometimes it can be very daunting, its a daunting take to be
in Nashville sometimes when youre surrounded by people with
so much talent
MWE3: Are there other guitarists in Nashville you enjoy these days?
TE: Pat Bergerson. He was a co-writer on some of Chets songs
as well and I first saw him playing with Lyle Lovett. And hes
an amazing player.
MWE3: How about Australian guitarists? You played with Air Supply...
TE: Thats right. I played on all their early hits...All
Out Of Love, Lost In Love, Every Woman In
The World American Girls...all those songs. I played
on those tracks.
MWE3: Are you still in touch with Air Supply?
TE: No, I dont know where they are. I think they live in Connecticut
or somewhere like that.
MWE3: Its interesting that Hank Marvin lives in Australia these
TE: Thats right. He was at my show last week. Every time I play
in Perth, Hank and Carol, his wife always comes to the show. Nice
MWE3: How did The Shadows influence you growing up in Australia? Its
going to be 50 years of Shadows music in a few years!
TE: Thats right. The Shadows were the first big influence really,
on us. And my brother Phil was actually the lead player so he did
Hanks part and I did Bruce Welchs part. I was a rhythm
player. I was always a big, big fan of The Shadows and still am. They
were just an amazing band. They had great quality of melody and all
that kind of stuff. Really, really loved their music
MWE3: We had The Ventures and Duane Eddy after Buddy Holly and before
The Beatles but all over the world, except here in the States, The
Shadows had hit after hit after hit...
TE: I think the quality of The Shadows music was far better than a
lot of the music that came out of America at that time. The melodies
that The Shadows played were just awesome...they really were. And
they had so many good songs. And I think Duane Eddy had a great sound
too and still does.
MWE3: So youre planning a follow-up studio album to The Mystery
at some point?
TE: Sure, yeah. Ive already got some new songs that Ive
written since The Mystery. We are hoping to get a Grammy nomination
and so were keeping out fingers crossed for that.
MWE3: So much of your stuff hasnt even come out here in the
U.S. Are you planning a box set in the future?
TE: I would hope so. Let me get a couple more albums under my belt.
MWE3: Thanks Tommy.
TE: Thanks very much for your time today. And say hi to your mom.
Thanks to Tommy Emmanuel @ www.tommyemmanuel.com