photos by “Honest” Todd Salive
By Steve Newton
“I’m not out to prove I’m the world’s greatest guitar player,” Tommy Emmanuel told me back in 1994. But if that’s the case, just what the hell did he think he was doing at the Vogue Theatre last night?
The 59-year-old picker from Australia spent the majority of his two-hour set boggling the mind of every guitar freak in the crowd, making them wonder if the six-string magic he was conjuring up there was even physically possible. As I write this the day after I’m still not sure how the hell he pulled some of that stuff off, especially the many times that he turned his beat-up Maton EBG808 (aka “The Mouse”) into a drum kit complete with highly efficient washboard.
After a wonderful opening set by the New York City jazz-guitar duo of Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo that included “Stardust”, “Cheek to Cheek”, and the old Shadows gem “Apache”–Vignola was clearly influenced by Hank Marvin’s precise picking style, if not his glasses–Emmanuel came out and set the bar extremely high for what one person can do with one guitar. It’s up in the stratosphere somewhere now.
A number of songs from Emmanuel’s setlist are included on the two-disc set he released last year on Steve Vai‘s Favored Nations label, The Guitar Mastery of Tommy Emmnuel c.g.p. (c.g.p. stands for Certified Guitar Player, a title bestowed on him by his idol Chet Atkins). One such tune is the lovely “Angelina”, which he wrote for the first of his three daughters.
“I wrote this song when Angelina was a little baby,” writes Emmanuel in the album’s liner notes. “The melody spells out her name: ‘An-ge-li-na’. Four melody notes. Four different chords underneath. I can hear the influence of piano players and songwriters like James Taylor in this composition.”
Another track off Guitar Mastery that went over exceedingly well was a version of Arthur Smith’s 1945 instrumental “Guitar Boogie”. That one really brought the inner 12-bar-boogier out in Tommy, even got the cool cucumber sweating a bit.
The good times kept on rolling with a Beatles medley that included “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Lady Madonna”, and “Day Tripper”, which then led into Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas”. Emmanuel would later return to the genius of Lennon and McCartney with a gorgeous rendition of “Here, There and Everywhere.”
But perhaps the ultimate highlight of the night was Emmanuel’s moving interpretation of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, from The Wizard of Oz.
“I just love playing songs,” Emmanuel told me back in ’94, “and I love playing music for people, and that’s it.”
Fair enough, c.g.p. We’ll forget about that whole “world’s greatest guitar player” thing.
Until the next time you hit town, anyway.