MWE3 Feature Story
conducted by Robert Silverstein for and 20th Century Guitar 

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Continued From Home Page

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 God’s love, of the things that happen to us and the reasons why. It’s like sometimes you wonder, ‘why is this happening to me?’ and there must be a reason. Things like that.”It’s no mystery, however, that Emmanuel’s 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 Majesty’s 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 haven’t yet seen him live in concert. Tommy adds, “the old proverb that says, ‘when one door closes, a bigger one opens’ kind of thing. That’s whats happened to me in my life, many times.” Clearly the release of The Mystery and Live At Her Majesty’s Theatre is the right key to discover one of today’s great guitarists. In October 2006 Tommy spoke with Robert Silverstein of 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.

MWE3: 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: It’s seven at night.

TE: Okay... Is that a good time?

MWE3: Can you hear me alright...I’m on a land line at my mom’s house.

TE: Yeah, you sound great. You sound just fine. I can hear you fine. I’m actually very close to my mom’s house as well. My mom’s dead of course, but she used to live like two blocks from where I am just now.

MWE3: So you’re in Australia now.

TE: Yes, I’ve got one more show to do tomorrow night, which is a private charity event and then I’m off to Singapore and South Korea, Japan and then back into Europe. Just finished the Australian tour.

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 haven’t seem him for a while and I’ll 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. We’re 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 I’d 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 Majesty’s 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) I’ll 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. I’d 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. That’s 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 don’t 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 God’s love, of the things that happen to us and the reasons why. It’s 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. That’s 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. That’s whats happened to me in my life, many times and I see that principal reoccurring and it’s a mystery why but it’s 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. There’s something Irish, there’s something Appalachian in that song. I don’t quite know what it is. I’m 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, there’s some photos of me when I was a kid and my first electric guitar, I’d got in 1960 and it was a Maton guitar. Still have it. So, I’ve 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 don’t 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. There’s nothing I’ve heard that can even come close. It’s the feel and the sound of these guitars. What you’re hearing on the CD is really mostly the acoustic sound of the guitar. Volume wise, they’re 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, isn’t it? You’ve got to find what works for you. And it really doesn’t matter if I play Maton or if I play a Kapoc, who cares as long as I play and I enjoy it and that’s really what I try to tell people. It doesn’t 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 that’s 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 days?

TE: Oh, I’ve got lots of amps and lots of guitars. (laughter) ‘Cause I’m an electric player as well but I haven’t 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 I’ll 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 don’t know whether you’ve heard them. Acoustic imaging it’s called. And that’s a wonderful sound. You can get a great sound from from this pedal. It’s like a little pedal. It’s quite expensive but it really does an incredible job. You can add that to your sound and really enhance your acoustic sound. But that’s about that most innovative thing that’s 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 Majesty’s Theatre DVD?

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 that’s what you got. And of course when you make a live DVD, if you make a mistake, it’s on there. That’s (laughter) the way it goes. I haven’t watched the whole thing so I’m not that aware. I don’t really get time to sit and look at all my stuff. I’d like to but I just don’t get the opportunity that often ‘cause I’m going on the road all the time. But I’ve heard a little bit of it and the sound quality is really wonderful. My sound guy Oliver DaCosta did a great job. It’s in 5.1 surround sound as well

MWE3: It’s 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. There’s 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 doesn’t touch people in the same way as when they’re actually there in front of you and you’re performing to them. There’s no comparison. With my albums, I try to capture performance. I don’t labor over recording and spend ages trying to make everything perfect. I get a good take with the right emotion and that’s what I go with. I don’t believe that recording should be such a sterile environment. It should be an emotional environment. So that’s what I go for when I’m recording. I try to get the best emotional performance. And there it is. I know for a many people say, ‘Why don’t you put out a live album?’ I’ve put out live albums and people came up and said, ‘We love your live album, but it’s 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 I’ve learned in my life is that you definitely can’t please everybody. You just got to get on and do the best you can. Be honest with it and true to your gift.

MWE3: There’s also a great scene in the DVD, I think it’s “Tommy’s New Mate” where you get a new guitar. Which guitar is that?

TE: Maton had made me a custom shop guitar. It’s rosewood back and sides and a rosewood neck as well. And that guitar is absolutely beautiful. If you want to hear it, it’s on The Mystery album. It’s on “The Digger’s Waltz.” That’s a brand new custom shop Maton. And they made that especially for me and I love that guitar. It’s beautiful. I don’t carry it on the road ‘cause I’ve already got three Matons on the road, but it’s in my house in Nashville.

MWE3: There’s 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,” it’s your meat and potatoes of finger style guitar. A great Travis piece. I actually wanted to record it but because it’d 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. I’m really glad about that. That’s 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 you’re just copying Travis and he’s already done it better than you anyway so, you’ve got to do your own thing. That’s one of the things that I think earned me a lot of respect with Chet Atkins when I first met him. It’s when I played for him, the first thing he said to me is, “I didn’t do that, I didn’t do that.” He, right away was telling me that, I was doing my own thing. So, that was good.

MWE3: There’s 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 we’re hunting around the studio and I found a bass drum, a snare drum and brush and a stick. That’s 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 I’m anything else. I sing songs that have a message. That’s what gives me a feeling, that I can get away with this. It’s because the songs that I choose have a message and getting the message across to the listeners is very important. So that’s the reason why I chose that song. Also on my previous album, the Endless Road album, there are two vocal tracks. And they’re both carefully chosen. I don’t 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: There’s like eight different models. If you go on to I’ll bet you’ll 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, I’d 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 don’t you do it more often? So I’d finish a tour with a band and then we’d 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 I’ll just work on my own.’ So, that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Although next Christmas, not this year but the year after I’m doing some shows with some symphonies down here in Australia and I’m 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. That’s what I’m 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. I’ve been on stage all my life and so I know how to make a show work. I don’t need a set list and I don’t need the security of having a proven kind of formula. I just get out there and away I go and let it fly. I’ve 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 the future?

TE: Yes. My first project is recording an act from Australia. I’m recording them in Nashville over Christmas time this year. So that’ll be my first project.

MWE3: Will it reflect your favorite types of guitar music?

TE: I’m just looking for good songwriters, good players. It’s really about people who write good music, who play well. But it’s really all about the songs. I’m looking for people who have a unique style and a great sound. I’m 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. It’s 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 it’s kind of like a second home to me and always has been. There’s a lot of quality people there and when you first come there you really feel that you’re in a special place. There’s people here with enormous talents and sometimes it can be very daunting, it’s a daunting take to be in Nashville sometimes when you’re 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 Chet’s songs as well and I first saw him playing with Lyle Lovett. And he’s an amazing player.

MWE3: How about Australian guitarists? You played with Air Supply...

TE: That’s 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 don’t know where they are. I think they live in Connecticut or somewhere like that.

MWE3: It’s interesting that Hank Marvin lives in Australia these days.

TE: That’s 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 people.

MWE3: How did The Shadows influence you growing up in Australia? It’s going to be 50 years of Shadows music in a few years!

TE: That’s right. The Shadows were the first big influence really, on us. And my brother Phil was actually the lead player so he did Hank’s part and I did Bruce Welch’s 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 you’re planning a follow-up studio album to The Mystery at some point?

TE: Sure, yeah. I’ve already got some new songs that I’ve written since The Mystery. We are hoping to get a Grammy nomination and so we’re keeping out fingers crossed for that.

MWE3: So much of your stuff hasn’t 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 @




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