Two-time Grammy nominee Tommy Emmanuel is one of Australia’s most respected musicians. The legendary guitarist has a professional career that spans five decades and continues to intersect with some of the finest musicians throughout the world. A household name in his native Australia, Tommy has garnered hundreds of thousands of loyal fans worldwide. Tommy’s unique style – he calls it simply „finger style“ – is akin to playing guitar the way a pianist plays piano, using all ten fingers. Rather than using a whole band for melody, rhythm, bass, and drum parts, Tommy plays all that – and more – on one guitar. Guitar legend Chet Atkins was one of the first to inspire Emmanuel to try this „fingerpicker“ style as a child. Decades later, Atkins himself became one of Emmanuel’s biggest fans.
Emmanuel has had an amazing year fueled by a successful world tour, a new website, a new album, a new PBS TV special, and, most recently, he received the very prestigious CMA Global Country Artist of the Year Award. The Global Artist Award, presented to Tommy by country star Keith Urban during CMA’s Global Artist Party at the Billboard Country Music Summit in Nashville, TN, recognizes outstanding achievement by an artist who has furthered country music’s popularity and brought it attention in a foreign territory. Previous winners include Paul Brandt (Canada), Troy Cassar-Daley (Australia), Lee Kernaghan (Australia), and Jason McCoy (Canada).
This summer, Tommy begins the second leg of his 2011 US tour which kicks off Sept. 7 in Milwaukee, WI with multiple stops including Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis and Knoxville. Select cities will be treated to special guests Joe Robinson (2008 winner of Australia’s Got Talent) as well as Pam Rose and Anthony Snape, both featured on Tommy’s latest album Little By Little and his PBS special Tommy Emmanuel And Friends: Live From The Balboa Theatre. Just prior to the tour, Emmanuel will perform on the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon on September 4.
Coinciding with the summer tour, Tommy will launch his brand new Tommy Emmanuel Web 3.0 which interweaves three sites: TommyEmmanuel.com, CertifiedGuitarPlayer.com and TommyEmmanuel.TV. Tommy Emmanuel Web 3.0 will utilize all the tools of the web and social media to create greater outreach and communication with his legion of fans around the world and will create a total information, merchandise sales, entertainment and education presence. The goal is to build a structure that allows for a much deeper relationship with Tommy’s fans, as well as introducing him to potential new fans. While TommyEmmanuel.com and CertifiedGuitarPlayer.com have been revamped, TommyEmmanuel.TV is brand new and features exclusive performances, interactive video lessons, engaging interviews and valuable insight from Tommy.
On February 15, 2011, Tommy released his latest solo 2-disc album Little By Little to great reviews. The Knoxville News Sentinel’s Wayne Bledsoe raved, “Emmanuel’s playing, compositions and covers are all gorgeous…he never fails to deliver.” He continued, “For those who aren’t familiar with Emmanuel, he is one of the world’s most astounding guitarists to ever perform on a stage. In live performance, he is a marvel of speed, inventiveness and showmanship.”
As the Swahili proverb says, all things are possible if you just take it little by little, step by step. This was the inspiration behind the album title, Little By Little. Emmanuel explains, “The proverb holds a special significance to me because it’s a lesson I had to learn in my life – to take things one day at a time and not be so concerned about tomorrow and I think that’s an important lesson to learn.” Emmanuel describes the album as “a joy to make” but says “it took a lot longer than any other project I’ve ever done purely because the songs kept coming. With this album, I was really pleased that all these elements came together so I could get that message across through my music and get a good positive message out there to people.”
The 24 tracks, spread over two discs, brilliantly showcase Emmanuel’s distinctive “finger style” playing, using all ten fingers, and features collaborations with special guests Rick Price, Anthony Snape, Victor Wooten, Doyle Dykes, Dr. John Knowles (CGP), Pam Rose and others. The album’s tempo moves from break-neck, in-your-face finger-picking tunes such as “Locomotivation,” “Mighty Mouse,” and “The Welsh Tornado” that have their roots in Merle Travis, Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins to more melodic songs such as the title track “Haba Na Haba,” – Swahili for “little by little” – which is featured twice both as an instrumental version and a vocal version with Anthony Snape and Pam Rose. The album also includes live favorites such as “Ruby’s Eyes,” “The Fingerlakes,” “Jolly Swagman,” and “Papa George” which have never been recorded in a studio.
On Little By Little’s release day, Tommy performed a once-in-a-lifetime concert, taped before a sold-out audience, at the historic Balboa Theatre in San Diego, California. He invited a few very special friends to join him on stage including the extraordinary talents of Pam Rose, Anthony Snape, Frank Vignola, and Vinny Raniolo. The result was pure musical magic. Tommy Emmanuel And Friends: Live From The Balboa Theatre began airing on PBS in local US markets in June 2011.
June 14, 2010 was an unforgettable day in Emmanuel’s career. Tommy was honored as a Queen’s Member of the Order of Australia which is bestowed on Australian citizens for meritorious service in a particular area or field of activity. Emmanuel was cited for his “service to the music and entertainment industries as a guitarist, and to the community as a supporter of Kids Under Cover.” Kids Under Cover is an Australian charitable organization working to build homes and provide scholarships for homeless and at risk young people.
“I was humbled and honored to be awarded with the Order of Australia,” said Emmanuel. “To be so recognized by my country for making music and for serving the young people of Australia is incredibly wonderful and deeply fulfilling.”
In December 2010, Tommy was one of a small number of acclaimed musicians whose talents were tapped to complete the unfinished recordings on Michael Jackson’s posthumous record, MICHAEL. Emmanuel was asked to contribute a solo to the album’s closing track “Much Too Soon” which Jackson originally wrote in 1981 – during the Thriller era –but never released.
Emmanuel’s unusual talent and life are common lore in Australia. Born into a musical family, Tommy and his older brother Phil were considered child prodigies. Tommy got his first guitar at age 4 and was taught by his mother. He learned by ear, with no formal instruction, and has never read music. By the age of 6, he was already working as a professional musician in the family band, variously named The Emmanuel Quartet, The Midget Surfaries and The Trailblazers. Tommy played rhythm guitar and his older brother Phil played lead, along with their brother Chris on drums and sister Virginia on slide guitar. The Emmanuel siblings earned the family’s sole income for several years. Tommy doesn’t remember such responsibility as a hardship: „I’ve spent all my life from the age of four playing music and entertaining people. I never wanted to do anything else.“ By age 10, Emmanuel had played his way across Australia.
In 1962, Tommy heard Nashville guitarist Chet Atkins‘ music for the first time and was riveted by the complexity of Atkins‘ solo sound. He spent hours trying to figure out the „fingerpicking“ style and gobbled up each of the American star’s albums as they came out. Shortly after his father’s death of a heart attack in 1966, Tommy even wrote Chet a letter and, to his surprise, the famous artist and producer wrote him back. Chet would grow to become Tommy’s mentor and primary influence, but it would be another 15 years before the two would finally meet in person.
After his father died, the Emmanuel family was approached by Australian country music star Buddy Williams, who took them on the road until they were forced by the Australian child welfare department to stop traveling. The children were then sent to a regular school. During these years, Tommy was playing in The Trailblazers on weekends. He also taught guitar and made numerous television appearances in musical competitions. Emmanuel’s first brush with fame came when The Trailblazers won two televised talent contests and were able to produce an album.
Leaving school and home in his early teens, Tommy embraced big city life in Sydney in order to pursue his career as a professional guitarist. By the 70’s, he was playing in clubs all over the city and soon found himself in high demand as a session player and sideman known for his versatility and easy-going personality. During the mid 70s through the early 80s, Emmanuel played on recordings for Air Supply, Men at Work and dozens of other popular bands and artists, as well as thousands of commercial ‚jingles.‘ He became known as one of the best modern guitarists in Australia. Some of his most notable appearances were on the Air Supply hit singles “Lost in Love,” “All Out of Love,” “Every Woman in the World,” and “Now and Forever.”
In 1980 Emmanuel made a trip to the United States and finally met and got to play with his hero, Chet Atkins, in Nashville. From that magical moment forward, the Tennessee master guitarist and producer took the twenty-something Australian ace under his wing and began introducing him to other guitar legends. Tommy speaks of his mentor with the love and gratitude of a son and Atkins‘ influences are evident throughout his music and personal philosophy. Emmanuel’s technical precision, his virtuosic improvisations and his unusually broad repertoire – which encompasses not only country and bluegrass, but pop, jazz, blues, gospel, even classical, flamenco, and aboriginal styles – bespeak Chet Atkins‘ legacy.
In 1985 Emmanuel joined one of the decade’s biggest Australian rock bands, Dragon, and recorded the platinum-selling album Dreams of Ordinary Men. In 1987, Dragon toured with Tina Turner on her ‚Break Every Rule‘ tour. As a songwriter (co-writing with 1960s Australian star Steve Kipner), his compositions have been recorded by Olivia Newton-John, Al Jarreau, and Sheena Easton. It is for his successful solo career, however, that Emmanuel is best known.
Emmanuel got his solo instrumental career off the ground with the release of the gentle and textural Up From Down Under album in 1988. In the 90’s his efforts blossomed and began to be recognized and rewarded by the Australian music industry and media. Sales of his albums set records that have yet to be broken.
His versatility has taken Emmanuel from international Jazz Festivals to shows with the Sydney Philharmonic, The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and performances for the Masai people in remote areas of Kenya. Tommy’s dream of recording with Chet Atkins came true in 1996 when the pair made an album titled The Day The Finger Pickers Took Over The World, for which Emmanuel received his first Grammy award nomination.
Tommy was well-known in Australia, Asia, and Europe long before his presence was felt in the U.S. However, in 1997 his album Midnight Drive was in the top five for 16 weeks, which made him the “most added artist” on the NAC radio charts that year. In Nashville in 1999, Tommy was honored by his mentor, Chet Atkins with the title of “Certified Guitar Player” for his contribution to fingerstyle guitar, a rare distinction shared by only four other people in the world (Jerry Reed, Steve Wariner, John Knowles and Paul Yandell). It was a crowning moment for Emmanuel and a title the self-proclaimed „humble, uneducated, country kid“ from Down Under takes very seriously.
After Tommy’s appearance with his brother Phil in the Closing Ceremonies of the Sydney Olympic Games and his debut at the famous Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas, in late 2000, Americans wanted to know who this mysterious Australian guitar virtuoso was. In 2001, Emmanuel released his first solo-acoustic album, ONLY, and in 2002 it debuted in the U.S.
Emmanuel’s popularity in the US has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years, aided by a non-stop touring schedule and increasing exposure in the media. 2005 kicked off a stream of US honors and awards. Tommy was inducted into the National Thumbpickers‘ Hall of Fame in Muhlenberg, KY (the only non-American ever to be selected) and awarded with Thumbpicker of the Year and Album of the Year by the group, as well. He played Carnegie Hall for Les Paul’s 90th birthday Tribute Concert. His The Mystery album earned a Grammy nomination in 2006 for Best Country Instrumental for ‚Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag‘. In 2008, Guitar Player Magazine and Acoustic Guitar Magazine named him Best Acoustic Guitarist and Gold Medalist – Fingerstyle category in the Readers‘ Choice and Players‘ Choice Awards, respectively.
In 2008, Emmanuel’s solo album and DVD Center Stage were produced based on the popularity of his episode of a PBS series called Sierra Center Stage filmed live at the famous Sierra Nevada Brewery venue in Sierra Nevada, CA. Tommy’s Center Stage video was featured on PBS stations around the country during 2009, drawing ever-larger sellout crowds to his live shows. Tommy was also honored with Guitar Player Magazine’s most prestigious annual Guitar Legend award in 2009, as well as being named Thumbpicker of the Year for the second time. Most recently, Guitar Player’s 2010 Readers Choice awards named him Best Acoustic Guitarist for the second time!
In all, Emmanuel’s catalogue includes over 20 musical recordings running the gamut of solos, duets, ensembles, cover tunes, originals, both electric and acoustic guitar. He has made 4 live performance DVDs, 3 additional instructional DVDs, and regularly teaches master classes on the road. At 54, performing live is more important to him than ever and he tours constantly, playing over 300 concerts a year for the last five years. Guitar players of all levels come to his shows to watch the magic hands of the ‚guitar Wizard of Oz,‘ but his appeal goes far beyond musicians. His live shows are known for their humor, passion, and infectious joy. The power of his charismatic showmanship will be an enduring part of Emmanuel’s legacy. Tommy Emmanuel’s message is pure love for the music and his delight in sharing it with the world, one audience at a time.
Tommy’s next offering will be a Christmas album entitled All I Want For Christmas, which will be released in early November 2011 world-wide. It will feature time honored favorites and two original tunes.
„…run, do not walk, to a Tommy Emmanuel concert near you. True happiness is in tragically short supply right now, all over the world, but you will definitely find it there.“
– Richard McFalls, Cactus Cafe Show Review (Austin, TX)