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August 29, 2006 | Author: Greg Phillips

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA new album (The Mystery) , a DVD (Live at Her Majestys) and an ever-growing international fan base has Tommy Emmanuel grinning from ear to ear. Tom was in the midst of a US tour when he found time to call up Greg Phillips for a chat.

“It’s a blessed life in a major way,” remarked Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel in reference to his lifestyle. “The places I am playing now are much bigger than a couple of years ago and things are really building in an organic way.” He was speaking down the phone line to me from Syracuse, New York state having just arrived from a gig, media commitments and a master class in Toronto, Canada. The tour he was on was due to wrap in Kentucky in early July, heralding the beginning of new east coast US tour. The following month he was due to head to Germany for his own guitar festival. Come September, he’s back in America, before finally heading to Australia for a tour in October. Slotted in after his antipodean performances are stints in South Korea, Japan, Sweden, Denmark , Norway, Germany again and England. Such is the life of the acclaimed international performer, whom guitar legend Chet Atkins labelled “The best fingerstyle guitarist on the planet.”

In order to capitalise on his ever growing international stature, Tommy relocated to Nashville in June, however he has so far only managed to spend two weeks there.  While he travels the world picking up an abundance of new fans on a nightly basis, a new album release can only further increase the momentum of his global acceptance. ‘The Mystery’ is a beautifully recorded album consisting of twelve heart felt tunes, played with the precision and passion we come to expect from Emmanuel. A surprise to many however, will be the inclusion of a vocal track, “Walls” in which he duets with partner Liz Watkins. “I’m not really a singer,” said Emmanuel of the experience. “I can get away with it. If I sing with all my heart and conviction then I think people will still like it.

I made a last minute decision to record the vocal song … and I went in and did my vocal part and Liz did her part. Then I thought I’d try a bit of lead on it. So I put a second guitar part down. I thought then, I’ll put a little bass down, and then… ‘damn, it needs drums’, so I played the drums on it too! So it sounds like a band but its actually all me. It seemed to work very well.”

The album was produced and engineered by Kim Person, who had worked previously on recordings by Tommy’s friend and fellow guitar picker Stephen Bennett. Together, Person and Emmanuel have perfectly captured every nuance of the maestro’s fluid style of playing. “I was after an absolute pure sound. If you sat with your ear right next to my guitar, that’s the sound you should hear through the speakers,” explained Tom. “We used Kim’s microphones and pre-amps. What I did this time was that I had two microphones in front of my guitar. I took a lead and plugged it into the little amp I use on stage (AER compact 60 amp). I put it in a separate room and put a microphone on the amp. The microphone in front of the guitar we left dry and when we come to mixing, we put the reverb on the amp signal. So we got that right up front clarity, then the reverb behind… a real depth and dimension to it but with that clarity.”

Emmanuel used several guitars on the album, including his workhorse Maton EBG 808 TE, a Maton TE Custom Jumbo, a borrowed Travis Williams Dreadnought, Gibson J185, Fender Tele, and his brand new Maton custom shop guitar which the kind people at Maton built as a gift to celebrate Tommy’s 50th birthday, as well as acknowledging his longtime allegiance to the Maton brand. “It’s beautiful,” Emmanuel said of his new toy. “It has rosewood back and sides and neck, not just the fretboard, but the whole neck. I used it on the song ‘The Diggers’ Waltz’.”

The presentation of the custom-built guitar to Tommy is captured as one of the extras on his new DVD “Live at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Ballarat, Australia’. Apart from duets with Liz Watkins, Tommy has worked solo for some time now and his current show and the intimacy he forges with his audience is immediately apparent on this DVD. The solo show set up works perfectly for Tom. Not only does it provide economic benefits for the world traveller, but also allows him to tailor his shows for the moment rather than having to synch with a light show or be restricted by a full band situation with its repertoire limitations. It also greatly narrows the chances of any Spinal Tap-like mishaps occurring. “When I play my solos shows, particularly when I don’t have my own sound and lighting people… I just tell them how I want everything and just to leave them, don’t touch them! Just turn the sound on and it’s fool proof. If you have to rely on others then you haven’t got your own stuff together. I like to be in charge of what I am doing. I know how I like it to sound,” said Emmanuel.

As for the future, Emmanuel has many projects in mind, including an album of duets with other guitarists. “Like a Tommy and friends project,” he explained. “That’s one pipe dream. There are a lot of people I’d like to work with. I’d like to write a song or at least play on a song with James Taylor. I have a lot of people I’d like to work with. It’s just a matter of finding the time. I’d also like to be able to get some of my music in films.”

When the time finally arrives for Tom to record an album with friends, I’m sure some of the world’s greats will be lining up to lend a hand. For example, while The Doobie Brother’s Patrick Simmons was in town earlier this year, it was Emmanuel that he enquired about and the band dedicated their finest guitar picking instrumental to Tom during their Melbourne show.

However, the project that Emmanuel is most excited about is his continual work and development of young talent. The mentor program he implemented with guitar players such as Kieran Murphy and Brett Wood here in Australia, he also applies with equal enthusiasm in many other countries worldwide.  One of Emmanuel’s  burning ambitions is to record these young guys and market them through his website. It’s this website (, that any fan of world class guitar pickin’ should be keeping tabs on as national Australian tour dates will be posted soon.

‘The Mystery” is out now through ABC Music, as is his DVD “Live at Her Majesty’s”.

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