Paul and Linda McCartney’s note to Nashville guitar picker Chet Atkins
“Country Gentleman” Chet Atkins influenced countless guitar players over a 60-year career. A multiple Grammy winner and a member of both the Country and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, he invented the Atkins Style where he used the thumb and the first two fingers — sometimes three — of the right hand to pick a tune on his Gretsch Country Gentleman electric guitar, a customized model adopted onstage by George Harrison, Elvis Presley, and other rock luminaries.
Besides accumulating hit singles “Mr. Sandman” and “Yakety Axe,” Atkins’ forays into jazz and classical brought sophistication to audiences exemplified by Chet Atkins’ Workshop . “Mister Guitar” pioneered the Nashville Sound which controversially sanded away rough honky tonk elements — fiddles and steel guitar — for pop listeners. He guided Presley’s early RCA Victor trajectory and played rhythm guitar on “Heartbreak Hotel” and “A Big Hunk O’ Love.” As Vice President of RCA Victor’s country division, he mentored Jerry Reed, producing most of the “Guitar Man’s” career-making singles.
With so many accomplishments to Atkins’ credit, it is no wonder that other musicians idolized him. Take Paul McCartney and Wings, the third most successful rock act of the 1970s. When Wings planted roots on “He Stopped Loving Her Today” songwriter Curly Putman’s 133-acre farm in Lebanon, Tennessee — 40 minutes east of Nashville — for a six-week long combination rehearsal-recording session in the summer of 1974, meeting Atkins was at the top of their agenda. An intimate conversation with McCartney about their fathers prompted the duo to tackle “Walking in the Park with Eloise”, a toe-tapping jazz instrumental distributed as a rare A-side.
Five years later Wings was recording inside London’s famed EMI Studios. Fingerstyle guitar expert Laurence Juber had plans to catch a concert by Atkins that evening. Although Paul and devoted wife-keyboardist-backing vocalist-photographer Linda Eastman couldn’t attend, they devised an ingenious method of contacting the legendary picker.
A prolific studio cat — Soul of Light is ideal for a late at night romantic rendezvous— who also routinely wows North American crowds, Juber exemplifies a committed musician who doesn’t bide time by reclining on his laurels. In an extensive four-part conversation featured in this column — check out “Have Guitar, Will Travel: Maverick Wings Axeman Laurence Juber Steps Out” to catch up — Juber sheds light on his long career. The story reaches it finale as the musician humorously recalls his delivery of the McCartneys’ note to the Country Gentleman.
The Laurence Juber Interview, Part Four
Did you really deliver a handwritten note from Paul and Linda McCartney to “Mister Guitar” himself, Chet Atkins, in 1979?
Yes [laughs]. I was recording in the studio with Paul and Linda one day. I told them I was going to see Chet later that night, since he was doing a concert in London. As I got ready to leave, Linda exclaimed, “Oh, let me give you a note for him!” So she grabbed the nearest thing, which was a Cornflakes box, and a black Sharpie and scribbled a note on this cardboard box. Then she and Paul signed it.
I then dutifully took it with me to his show. I was very respectful, so I didn’t actually read what was on the note. Now I couldn’t tuck it in my pocket. I mean, I held it for the whole concert. Afterwards, I went backstage and was introduced to Chet. I said, “Chet, I have a note for you from Paul and Linda McCartney” [laughs]. I handed it to him, and he chuckled.
At the time, Steve Wariner was playing bass for Chet. Steve was a huge Beatles fan. Many years later, I ran into Steve, and he said, “Do you remember that note you gave Chet?” I had forgotten all about it, and I went, “Oh my goodness.” He admitted, “I still have the note. I framed it” [laughs].
Chet, knowing that Steve was such a big Beatles fan, gave it to Steve [Terry Wariner, a longtime rhythm guitarist in his elder brother’s band, now possesses the paper]. I thought that was very sweet. I’ll never forget having to clutch that note through the whole concert, then actually handing it to Chet.
Around 1996, I did an all-star guitar night in Nashville where I shared the stage with a number of guitar players. If I remember correctly, I performed “Pass the Buck” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Chet went onstage right before I played. That was my second Chet experience [Author’s Note: Spotlighting a rare lead vocal, Atkins notched a Top 40 country hit with the comical, Buddy Kalb-penned “Frog Kissin’” in August 1976].
Having a ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ with passionate Wings guitarist Laurence Juber [PART ONE OF THE LAURENCE JUBER INTERVIEW]
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Have guitar, will travel: Maverick Wings axeman Laurence Juber steps out [PART TWO OF THE LAURENCE JUBER INTERVIEW]
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