20 June 1924
Luttrell, Union County, Tennessee, United States
30 June 2001 (aged 77)
They weren't joined at the hip, yet Chet Atkins and Les Paul were far closer than many realize. Chet's half-brother Jimmy Atkins played rhythm guitar in the Les Paul Trio in the '40s. Both Chet and Les's playing reflected Belgian Gypsy jazz virtuoso Django Reinhardt's influence. They not only created records of monumental importance to guitarists in all genres, but their signature model electric instruments advanced guitar technology. In other words, ample common ground existed for these 1970s collaborations. The first, Chester & Lester, won the pair a Grammy in 1976; Guitar Monsters was the 1978 follow-up. Recorded in a loose, lighthearted atmosphere that bypassed country (except for the tongue-in-cheek "Give My Love to Nell"), these albums explored their roots in the big band era. In some cases, such as "It's Been A Long, Long Time" for Les and "Hot Toddy" for Chet, they revisited songs they recorded years earlier. Les, downplaying his electronic wizardry, proved that he didn't need it to dazzle. Chet, who'd come to favor sterile perfection over passion, unleashed his old intensity in the presence of a fellow virtuoso. –Rich Kienzle
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