Australian guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel on My Life As A One-Man Band at TEDxMelbourne – Transcript
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Tommy Emmanuel – Australian guitarist
Thank you. Hello. Hello there, thank you very much.
I’m going to stop by telling you that I’m a musician and I travel the world playing concerts. I play that three hundred concerts a year that’s how I make a living. It’s also my calling in life. I’m one of the luckiest people on the planet. I get to make a living doing what I love, and people say “Are you in the music business?” I call it “the happiness business.” I play music and you get happy. That’s what matters to me.
So I was on a long flight in business class, I was hobnobbing at up in business class. And a gentleman beside me starts talking to me, and he says, “So what do you do for a living?”
And I said “I’m a guitar player.”
And he looked at me like I was in the wrong place you know, I should have been downstairs. And he said, “You make a living playing the guitar? Wow! What band do you play with?”
And I said “I don’t. I don’t play with the band, I play solo.”
And he said, “Oh, then you’re a singer.”
I said no. “No, I’m a guitar player.”
But then I started thinking about, you know, I do have a band and the band is me. And I think like a band and that’s what’s different about what I do. I think like a band when I play, and when I write, and when I perform. And that’s how I hear music. I hear it is if it is a band, and I write as if I’m writing for a band.
So I’d like you to meet my band just to get started and that is: my bass player, drummer, I’ve got a rhythm guys as well. Think of the money I’m saving up here.
And then finally the melody going (playing a phrase from “Blue Moon”) on playing a bridge I think.
Thank you. That’s my one-man band. Thank you. And I wouldn’t be standing up here tonight in playing this way if it wasn’t for a great man by the name of Chet Atkins. And I was about seven years old when I heard him, I was on the road with my family. I’m one of six children and four of us played music, but we were driving along in the car. I tuned in the radio and I heard this song by this American guitar player by the name of Chet Atkins. And what he was doing is something I’m just going to quickly explain to you. With his thumb he was playing the left hand, on the piano would play, the accompaniment, and then with his fingers he was playing the melody and the harmonies. And this is what it sounds like — here is the accompaniment and then here is the melodies. Is that enough? No. I’ll play with it.
So that moment was a galvanizing moment in my life and I heard that sound and I knew he was playing everything at once, and everybody told me, “Oh don’t take any notice to that, it’s a recording trick, you can’t really do that.” But I do somehow I could hear it and I wanted to work it out. And I just kept added, added, and added and listening to Chet Atkins. And I eventually got it. And of course many years later I wrote him a fan letter and we became penpals.
And then by the time when I was in my early twenties I had learned so much of his material, and I taught myself to play in a way that was different from everybody else. And I knew it and I was enjoying it so much it was so much of a challenge and so creative in its own way, and when I eventually got to medium I played for him and he confirmed that I was doing everything right even though I had no training and I still haven’t had any training. I still don’t read or write music but I can write you a song, I just can’t write it down on paper.
So anyway, this style that I developed has helped me to keep my one-man show interesting and to try to come up with new ideas. So in my late teens I started listening to a lot of pop music and trying to come up with arrangements using these techniques — the technique of playing everything at once.
So some tunes by the Beatles make really interesting pieces, and they have become a big part of my repertoire and people love it where you get that: (playing “Day Tripper”) Something like this (playing “Lady Madonna”) So you get the idea, right? Thank you.