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Chet Atkins

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  • Famed guitarist Chet Atkins influenced country, jazz and pop music artists.

    Famed guitarist Chet Atkins influenced country, jazz and pop music artists.

  • Chet Atkins was more than a musician. He also was an executive with RCA.

    Chet Atkins was more than a musician. He also was an executive with RCA.

Chet Atkins, born in Tennessee but raised in Georgia, had a significant influence on the direction of country music in the mid-20th century as a guitarist, producer and label executive. With producer Owen Bradley, Atkins co-created the “Nashville Sound,” typified by more “pop” elements such as strings and backing vocals. With a three-fingered playing style he pioneered, Atkins also was one of pop music’s most influential guitarists, counting country artists, jazz musicians and rockers as fans.

RCA executive Steve Sholes signed Atkins in 1947, and while his first albums weren’t hits, Atkins quickly found a role playing guitar at—and eventually leading—RCA sessions, which led to roles of increasing responsibility at the label. By the time Sholes moved to RCA’s pop division in 1957, Atkins was the head of the label’s Nashville operations and had just overseen the design and construction of a new RCA studio on Music Row, where country’s smoother, more pop-oriented sound was born. While at RCA, Atkins signed Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and many others.

Despite his label responsibilities, Atkins still made respected, solid-selling records that showed off his guitar skills. At the same time, he served as a design consultant to (now Savannah-based) Gretsch Guitars, which made a Chet Atkins signature model from 1955 to 1980 before resuming in 2007. Atkins was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1995.