Tommy Emmanuel

I serve people by playing guitar…

T. Emmanuel


“The embodied charm”, “the performance-man”, filling the entire stage, “the great improviser” – all these epithets can be applied to just one guitarist, known throughout the world as . This man is striking in his tireless search for art in himself and the world, being in constant motion and development. According to Tommy himself, he came to his own sounding only at the age of 35 and before that he studied a lot and searched for it.

His concerts are always marked by a special dialogue with the audience. He never works according to the previously composed set list, but simply goes on stage and plays, yielding to the imagination and the trend of the listeners’ mood. If he is asked to play any song at a concert, even if it is not from his repertoire, he will play only to make someone happy. “People are the most important thing to me,” Tommy admits.


Tommy Emmanuel is famous for his love of percussion numbers, which makes his guitar look pretty worn. He is also known for his virtuosic mastery of such a playing technique as artificial flageolet. The story of mastering this technique is interesting. Heard by Tommy on the early recordings of Chet Atkins, this technique gave him no rest and could not be mastered for a long time. But one night, in a dream, Chet has played flageolets for him on stage in the spotlight, revealing the secret of his skill. And the next morning Tommy Emmanuel was able to replicate the playing techniques seen at night.

William Thomas Emmanuel (this is the full name of Tommy Emmanuel) was born on May 31, 1955 in the small Australian town of Muswellbrook in a family of musicians. Being familiar with a musical environment from his birth, 4-year-old Tommy tried a guitar for the first time, which was a birthday gift, and almost never parted with it from that moment. Tommy’s first teacher and musical mentor was his mother. It is noteworthy that Tommy Emmanuel never studied musical notation, he has no “official” musical education, but, nevertheless, this did not prevent him from becoming one of the greatest guitarists of our time.

So, at the age of 6, Tommy Emmanuel begins to take his first steps as a musician, playing rhythm and bass lines in a family band consisting of his brothers and sister, which had different names: “The Emmanuel Quartet”, “The Midget Surfaries”, “The Trailblazers”. Shortly after the formation, the band has already participated in various competitions and toured the neighbourhood.

According to Tommy Emmanuel, the first works that influenced the shaping of his musical taste were the songs of the British band “The Shadows”, it was them that he first learned on the guitar.


At the age of 7 (in 1962) Tommy Emmanuel for the first time acquainted with the work of Chet Atkins, which predetermined his entire future. Chet’s music startled him, turned his mind, forced him to work more and more on himself and his playing mastery: “I could clearly hear what was being played at the moment, but I could not play it myself. I worked on my technique and eventually learned how to play,” says Tommy Emmanuel in an interview. In 1966, after the death of his father, Tommy writes a letter to Chet with appreciation for his work and, to his surprise, receives an answer. Chet was always sensitive to those who wrote him. Precisely this moment became the birth of communication through correspondence and later of lasting friendship and creative cooperation of two talented musicians. But this will happen only after their personal meeting 15 years later. After the death of his father, who was engaged in producing the band, a country star Buddy Williams offered his help in organizing the tour, but after a while, the Child Protection Department prohibits the band to tour and Tommy along with his brothers and sister returned home and go to school. “The Trailblazers” continues to play, but only on weekends.

At the age of 12 Tommy Emmanuel, wanting to help the family financially, begins to to lend guitar lessons and does this very professionally for his age, on a par with adult teachers. He takes part in a variety of talent shows, but the first-time recognition of him comes when he played in “The Trailblazers” band, when they became winners of two competitions for young talents and got the opportunity to record their album.

Tommy was not interested in settled life and education in a comprehensive school and he goes to conquer Sydney, where he begins a career as a professional guitarist. In the early 1970s, he was already playing in many city clubs, becoming known as a versatile session guitarist. From the mid-70s to the early 80s, he played on recordings of songs by various Australian bands, such as “Air Supply”, “Men at Work”, as well as many other popular bands and artists.

And finally, in 1980 in Nashville (USA) happened a long-awaited meeting of Tommy Emmanuel with his idol – Chet Atkins. It is from this moment that Chet takes Tommy under his protection, introduces him to many musicians, has a great influence on the shaping of his musical style and personal philosophy. All the versatility of the technique, a variety of playing styles of Tommy Emmanuel is in many ways the legacy and merit of Chet Atkins.

In 1985, Tommy Emmanuel joined the famous Australian rock band “Dragon”, with which he recorded the “Dreams of Ordinary Men” album, which later became platinum. In 1987 he participates together with “Dragon” in Tina Turner’s tour, takes part as the composer in recordings of Olivia Newton-John, Steve Kipner, Al Jarreau, Sheena Easton.


1988 is commonly recognized as the start of the solo instrumental career of Tommy Emmanuel, with the release of his album “Up From Down Under”, which has brought him prominence and acknowledgment in native Australia. And already in the early 90s sales of his albums set records in his homeland. Tommy’s versatility knows no bounds: from international jazz festivals, performances at the Sydney Philharmonic, to concerts before the Maasai people in remote corners of Kenya.

In 1993, Tommy Emmanuel’s dream came true – the first song “Villa Anita” (from “The Journey” album) was recorded jointly with Chet Atkins. And already in 1996 their first joint album “The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World” was released, which, unfortunately, became the last for Chet Atkins. One of the songs of this album, written by Tommy Emmanuel (“Mr. Guitar”) is dedicated to Chet.Enjoying great popularity in his native Australia and Asia, Tommy Emmanuel managed to conquer the United States only in 1997. The ascent to the American Olympus begins with the moment when his album “Midnight Drive” lasted 16 weeks in the top 5 best albums according to the American radio station NAC. And in 1998 “The Day Finger Pickers Took Over The World” album brings Tommy’s first nomination for a Grammy.


Tommy Emmanuel will remember 1999 for the rest of his life. This year he receive the “Certified Guitar Player” (“Certified guitarist”) award for a lifetime contribution to the development of fingerstyle from the hands of his idol and mentor, legendary guitarist Chet Atkins. According to Tommy himself, this award was a complete surprise to him, and all the more valuable, because only four people in the world have such a title.


And finally came the deserved fame and recognition: in 2000, Tommy and his brother Phil participate in the closing of the Olympic games in Sydney; in 2005 he was introduced to the hall of fame of the National Thumbpickers (and this despite the fact that previously this title was received only by American musicians); in 2006 – gets his second Grammy nomination for the song “Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag”; in 2008 and 2010 “Guitar Player Magazine” and “Acoustic Guitar Magazine” called him the best acoustic guitarist, according to the readers and professional guitarists; in 2009 he received the prestigious award of the “Guitar Legend” magazine and the “Thumbpicker of the Year” title for the second time; in 2010 he was awarded the title of a member of the Royal Order of Australia for special services to the country, was involved in the recording of the incomplete and not previously released songs by Michael Jackson; in 2011 he was awarded the Artist of the Year by CMA Global Country. And this list is far from complete, the awards and titles of Tommy Emmanuel can be spoken of for a long time. And surely this talented guitarist will fill it with new achievements from year to year.

At the moment, with more than fifty years of professional career of a musician, more than 20 studio albums, many awards and titles, being a recognized musician of the world scale, Tommy Emmanuel does not slip into complacency and constantly developing, being in search of new ways to express his talent. For example, his “Initiation” can hardly be called just a melody, it is a genuine action taking place on the stage, captivating the viewer into the mysticism and mystery of the aboriginal ritual. With the help of a guitar deck, percussion and equalizer settings the sounds of wildlife are recreated on the stage: wind, rain, storm, animal cries. And the creator of all this is just one man with a guitar.

In addition to extensive touring activities (more than 300 concerts a year), Tommy Emmanuel gives master classes, conducts Internet projects, which, along with information about the musician and his new works contain video lessons from the guitarist. The ranks of his admirers are growing steadily, with numerous fan clubs around the world. One can follow the work of Tommy Emmanuel and his new projects on the sites: