Published in The Music Network
The guitar maestro has spent all but the first few years of his life on a stage. It’s been a relentless, lifetime pursuit to bring his music to the world. And there are no signs that his itinerary – or his finger picking style – is slowing down. In each of the last five years, Emmanuel has played upwards of 300 shows. This year is no different.
Born in Muswellbrook, NSW, Emmanuel now calls Nashville home. He has visited the States regularly since 1980, and there’s a hint of an American twang creeping in, and no doubt traces of everywhere else he’s visited. “Americans think I’m English, Australians think I talk like someone from another country. My accent is in the middle of everything,” he says. “I’ve been talking on stage my whole life.”
TMN caught up with the legendary guitarist just minutes after he wowed the audience at the famous House of Blues venue in New Orleans. Next up, Baton Rouge. It’s all part of an extensive US tour through much of the year, one which will take the guitarist around the world and back home for a special Australian tour. The 55-year-old has put the finishing touches on a new album Little By Little, and plans are in the works for a special Australian tour this December, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tommy and his brother Phil’s musical collaboration.“There will be a lot of surprises,” says the younger brother.
Emmanuel’s musical genius gave rise at an early age. He picked up his first guitar at the age of four. Two years later, when most of his peers were learning to tie their shoelaces, Emmanuel was already learning his craft in the family band, known in various incarnations as The Emmanuel Quartet, The Midget Surfaries and The Trailblazers. He’d played his way across Australia well before his teens. In the years that have passed, Emmanuel has collected a handful of ARIA Awards, a pair of Grammy Award nominations and countless gongs from the guitar community. He’s also been feted by American guitar great Chet Atkins with the rare distinction of “Certified Guitar Player.”
An unrivalled acoustic guitarist, Emmanuel’s body of work includes 20 full-length musical recordings, and a shelf of platinum certifications. And he’s played to billions at the Closing Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. But the latest gong, the Member of the Order of Australia medal, is particularly special. “It’s just wonderful to be recognised by your home country,” he notes. “It’s very important for a person in the public eye to represent their country properly. I’m always very aware of that. Australians have a great reputation all around the world. In general, if you say you’re from Australia you get a better reception, you get a warmer welcome. I’ve seen that so many times.”
And how do the letters AM sound to the ears of Tommy Emmanuel, a self-taught musician who has never read music. “It has a beautiful ring to it,” he muses.