Through his prolific work as a musician, songwriter, and producer, Chet Atkins became one of the most well-known guitarists of the pre-pop music era. Atkins was a major player in revolutionising the sound of contemporary country music, but his abilities made him a cross-genre talent, working with everyone from Elvis Presley to The Everly Brothers. His influence even reached as far as England, where a young George Harrison was taking notes.
“I have appreciated Chet Atkins as a musician since long before the tracks on this album were written; in fact, since I was the ripe young age of seventeen,” Harrison wrote in the liner notes for Atkins’ cover album Chet Atkins Picks on The Beatles. “Since then I have lost count of the number of Chet’s albums I have acquired, but I have not been disappointed with any of them. For me, the great thing about Mr. Atkins is not the fact that he is capable of playing almost every type of music but the conviction in the way he does it.”
Harrison cited Atkins as the “greatest instrumentalist” in the world in 1963, and his fandom was confirmed when Harrison acquired a Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar, one of Atkin’s signature models, that same year. It didn’t take long for Harrison to begin integrating the country styles of Atkins’ playing into the music of The Beatles.
The most prominent example of Atkins’ influence on Harrison is heard in the solo for ‘All My Loving’. Featuring the same walk-ups, multi-string harmony lines, and double-stop picking patterns that Atkins was famous for, Harrison gave Atkins an obvious nod during that particular solo. But Harrison didn’t keep his appreciation to just a single solo.
As The Beatles continued to work diligently throughout the mid-1960s, Harrison’s country and western influences were part of the band’s evolving sound. The rapid triplets during the solo of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, the melodic opening riff to ‘Every Little Thing’, and the chromatic runs on ‘I’m A Loser’ all have Atkins’ fingerprints all over them.
Even Harrison’s later solo work, including some of his iconic slide guitar work, carry the influence of Atkins’ own melodic touch. Harrison himself wasn’t really a country player, so it makes sense that one of his favourite country guitarists wasn’t just a country player either. Atkins and Harrison shared a mutual devotion to songcraft, something that caused both players to influence generations of six-string players over the following decades.
Watch Harrison’s Atkins-flavoured solo for ‘All My Loving’ down below.