Australian born Grammy award-winning Tommy Emmanuel has been wowing audiences and guitar players across the globe for some time now. His unique playing style, pure musicality and to quote Chet Atkins, his “fearless fingerpicking”…surely Tommy needs very little introduction. His new album “Accomplice One” is a veritable delight of 16 tracks of duets with a wide range of musician friends of Tommy’s who were all keen to lend a pair of hands or a voice…
“Accomplice One” is brimming with talent, what was the idea behind getting all of these great players together?
It’s really come about from living and working in Nashville over the last 15 years which has grown a group of artists and friends who I get to work with from time to time on various things. I got the idea that I wanted to collaborate with some really good artists, good singers, good songwriters to see what we could come up with. It was over 2 years of trying to find time between my touring and everyone else’s touring and projects for it to all come together. It was great in the way that everyone had suggestions of songs and it really came together quite beautifully. With all the schedules involved it was my recording and mixing engineer that really glued everything together what with me being in and out-of-town all the time, we’d book the studio ahead of time and he’d be ready to go as soon as I and the other artists were in and we wasted no time at all as time is precious for everyone. The tracks were cut with just the acoustic guitars and vocals and we would add bass, drums afterwards. It gives a warm and live sound for sure. Each of the artists recorded more that what’s on the album, like Amanda Shires who I duet with on Madonna’s “Borderline” did a swing track that’s not on the album, I have other tracks as well and we chose the best tracks for the first album. That’s why it’s called “Accomplice One” as there’ll be another one.
JD Simo, Amanda Shires, Ricky Skaggs are some of the artists you duet with – why did you pick these artists?
The fact that these are young people coming up in the business and really talented artists who are all really soulful. I thought that rather than trying to get Keith Urban or another well-established artist in that younger people, new and fresh could bring something else to the album and be a great opportunity in their stage of their career for us to be seen working together. Then again, Mark Knopfler, who I’ve know since 1984, certainly doesn’t need any help from me but that fact that he wrote back to me and said: “Sure, I’d love to play on your record, but can we do one of my songs?” – you know, I just couldn’t deny him that as I love everything he writes. Mark invited me over to his studio in Chiswick London, we sat down and went forth and back with who was going to sing which line and play what part. From the moment I arrived in his studio, it took an hour and a half to arrange, record and Mark’s keyboard player/assistant mixed and mastered the song and I was out of there with it that quick.
Having produced the album yourself, what were you looking for sound wise?
First of all, I didn’t want it to have anything on it that was unnecessary, more stripped back, lush, warm and earthy. The only track that has keyboards on it is “The Duke’s Message” the very last track which I cut with Suzy Bogguss and one of my original songs. I had Grammy award-winning piano player Will Barrow come in, listen to the song and just play along with what was going on already instead of embellishing parts. The rest of the album is really just guitar, bass and drums, sometimes no drums. Where there are bass parts they’re well thought out and I played some of those, I even played the drums on it – no programmed nonsense here mate! On “Saturday Night Shuffle” I purposely mic’d the drums at a distance and made them sound almost like they were in a garage. All the acoustic guitars are mic’d up just how you would playing live so I really took an approach to producing the album in the most organic way as possible.
Alongside your original tracks, there are a few covers, what’s behind the choice of those?
Trying to find the right song for a person, you know that’s the key. Mark and I could have done anything but doing an original that’s something different is always great. With Mark’s song we really approached it like Tom Waits meets Randy Newman! JD Simo is such a great guy and we have a shared love for Elvis Presley but cut Otis Redding’s “(Sitting On) The Dock of The Bay” where you can really hear the fun we had playing it. There’s a contrast in going from “Keep It Real” with it’s Celtic feel into “Rachel’s Lullaby”. Clive Carroll and I have been friends for a long time (he’s one of my favourite musicians on the planet) and we worked up that medley of “Keep It Real” together. There’s a lot to it already but it could of easily have gone on for another 10 minutes as you know how it is when you get a good thing going playing! You mentioned the “Purple Haze” cover, I hate to tell you and most people will not believe it, that was one take. Jerry Douglas, the dobro playing wizard, came in to play on another track and we got that finished so I said to him “Do you want to have a shot at Purple Haze?”. Jerry’s response could not have been more emphatic; “What a great idea! That’ll really piss off all the bluegrass purists! Let’s do it!”. I brought my guitar into the control room, showed him how I played it, Jerry’s like “Just nod at me when you want me to play…” and away we went with it in the purest moment of inspiration and improvisation.
On the note of improvisation and for the guitarists out there, what advice/approach can you pass on?
Well there’s a certain amount of not being afraid to step out and try stuff. You know, everybody worries too much about what people will think of them if they fly their kite to high, you know what I mean? I really try to get rid of that as it will only hold you back and to just play what I feel like playing in the moment and this is what my instincts are telling me to play. You’ve gotta have fun with it but at the same time have something to say musically that works, makes sense to you and let it fly. There’s a time to really jump in and a time to hold it back, listen and find the right spot to come in – you know Jerry is just like that, no boundaries, no filters and just runs at things dead ahead. Jerry and I have some shows coming up together in 2018 in addition to the shows JD Simo and I are doing together and you can bet on us improvising in the moment on those. At the base of it, it’s about being in the moment and really listening as that’s the first thing a real/good musician does.
In the Spring you’re running a guitar camp in Scotland, planning to give away your guitar secrets?
Oh definitely as that’s what teaching is all about, you have to give the student everything. That’s happening in May 2018 and it’s 4 days of lessons, masterclasses, evening concerts and there’s also time for one-on-ones with students at the camp with myself and the other instructors. It’s one of those where we want people to come along, be challenged in their playing and change the way they experience playing and learning music. It’s a whole different ball game and I really think that the people who are going to be on that camp with me are going to have the best time. It’s really about immersing yourself and seeing things in a different way.
More information and booking for Tommy’s Guitar Camp in Scotland can be found HERE
If you could go travel back in time, what would you tell the Tommy Emmanuel in his early 20’s?
Don’t be so worried about what people think, have a great time and just try to learn as much as you can.
Accomplice One is due for release January 19 on the new label Players Club via Mascot Label Group and can be ordered here MASCOT LABEL GROUP