Tommy Emmanuel is as musically self-sufficient as one can get.

He plays acoustic guitar using a finger style that allows him to play all the parts of a song and often sound like a whole band.

While most guitarists have a little help — bass, percussion, maybe a banjo or mandolin — Emmanuel stands on stage alone, just a man and his instrument.

“It’s a joy to play with other musicians,” he says, “but I really don’t need to.”

The Grammy-nominated native of Australia says he owes his success to a couple of things — hard work and never settling for the middle of the pack.

“I’m very grateful I was born in Australia, because I think Australians know how to work and how to go the extra mile,” says Emmanuel, 57, who now lives in Nashville. “It’s not about getting a lucky break; it’s about building something real and constantly raising the bar on yourself, and not settling for the ordinary. “

Anyone who has heard Emmanuel play knows that neither his style nor his talent are ordinary. And if you haven’t heard him play, here’s your chance: He’s scheduled to perform Wednesday at the State Theatre in Portland. Jacob Johnson, a guitarist whose music has been described as “neo-acoustic folk/funk,” will open.

Emmanuel has twice been named best acoustic guitar player by Guitar Player magazine, in 2008 and 2010.

He’s been recording since 1979, and has toured the world for almost as long. He’s been the focus of specials on PBS and other networks, and has worked with a wide variety of legendary guitarists, from Eric Clapton and Les Paul to Doc Watson and Chet Atkins.

Emmanuel had no formal musical training. His musical journey started when he got his first guitar at age 4.

By the time he was 6, his father had recognized the musical talents of Emmanuel and his brother, Phil, and began driving them around Australia for concerts and promotional events.

During this time, Emmanuel first heard the Atkins and was inspired to learn the fingerstyle of guitar playing as opposed to strumming.

He uses all 10 fingers while playing any particular song.

Near the end of Atkins’ life, he called Emmanuel “one of the greatest guitar players I’ve ever seen.”

Emmanuel says becoming proficient in the fingerstyle of guitar playing is something akin to being a magician.

“It’s almost like an illusion, because the song can sound so complete,” he says. “If you play fingerstyle with a real groove, you kind of forget there are no other instruments.”

By the late 1970s, Emmanuel was playing in rock bands and doing session work. Then around 1980, Atkins invited him to Nashville for a visit.

He made connections in Music City, and eventually settled there in the late 1990s.

Although he’s sometimes classified as a country musician, Emmanuel doesn’t consider himself anything other than just a musician.

He writes his own instrumental songs specifically for his style, and does a wide variety of covers that he thinks he can “make my own” — everything from “The Pink Panther” theme and “Over the Rainbow” to The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” and Three Dog Night’s “An Old Fashioned Love Song.”

“I like all kinds of music, so I play all kinds (in concert): Classical, flamenco, rock and roll,” says Emmanuel.

And he admires and listens to all kinds of guitar players. The guitarists who have inspired him besides Atkins and Watson include Jeff Beck (rock), Larry Carlton (jazz), and Brent Mason (country).

He also enjoys listening to George Harrison and Eddie Van Halen.

Emmanuel’s latest album, released earlier this year, was a partnership with British jazz guitarist Martin Taylor called “The Colonel and the Governor.” (Emmanuel is “the Colonel” in that scenario.)

Emmanuel admits to being sort of single-minded. When he’s not touring, he’s “100 percent” devoted to his family, so he’s really never developed other hobbies or interests outside of music.

But being home with his family, he admits, makes him hunger to get back in front of audiences and hone his craft.

“I always want to get technically better. I’m always comparing myself to other players,” says Emmanuel. “I’m not happy unless I have sore hands.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]


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