A Review of the Great Country Pickers
Country music has always been home for many of the world’s best guitarists. This article reviews the lives and careers of several of the all-time greats.
Now considered by many the greatest country guitarist of all time, Chet Atkins wasn’t initially held in that high of regard. He was criticized and often fired from gigs for not being “Country enough.” Indeed, he had a strong Jazz influence and helped to create a smoother form of Country called “The Nashville Sound.” But over time, he became not only revered for his unique playing style, he became a producer at RCA Records in Nashville. In that capacity, he worked with artists as varied as Elvis Presley, Perry Como, and Mark Knopfler.
Recommended recordings: CHET ATKINS IN HOLLYWOOD, CHESTER AND LESTER (with Les Paul), STAY TUNED
Perhaps best known as the legendary co-host (with Buck Owens) of the long-running music-variety show HEE HAW, Roy Clark is a true guitar virtuoso.
Recommended recordings: THE LIGHTNING FINGERS OF ROY CLARK, COUNTRY COMES TO CARNEGIE HALL, GREATEST HITS (Varese label)
Jerry Reed was famous for not only his guitar playing, but for his songwriting skills. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and many others covered Reed’s songs. Unlike many other country guitarists, Reed used his fingers to play and often tuned his guitar in a unique style. He was also known for his acting, most notably his appearances in the successful SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT series (to which he also contributed music).
Recommended recordings: HOT A’MIGHTY, LORD MR. FORD, TUPELO MISSISSIPPI FLASH
Although best known for his smiling country-boy persona and his uncanny ability to choose great songs to sing, he was also a stellar guitarist. He was part of the L.A. based group of session players known as The Wrecking Crew and played guitar on many hit records. He also filled in briefly for Brian Wilson as touring bassist for The Beach Boys in the 1960s. He branched out as a Country singer and had multiple hits in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and was a strong concert draw until Alzheimer’s disease forced him to retire in 2012.
Recommended recordings: WICHITA LINEMAN, GENTLE ON MY MIND, BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX, RHINESTONE COWBOY
He had a string of hits in the 1940s and 1950s and wrote the classics “Sixteen Tons” and “Dark as a Dungeon,” but Merle Travis will be forever known as one of the greatest guitar players in any genre. His unique style of picking has influenced players of all types of music. He also recorded several themed Folk albums. Sadly, his personal habits overtook him and his later works weren’t as popular. A perusal of his music will reveal just how brilliant he was.
Recommended recordings: THE BEST OF MERLE TRAVIS: SWEET TEMPTATION 1946-1953, GUITAR RAGS AND A TOO-FAST PAST, FOLK SONGS OF THE HILLS
These are but a few of the many renowned Country pickers to listen to. Even if Country isn’t your “thing,” you can find much to learn by observing their picking styles.