Fred and Dinah Gretsch recently joined guitar aficionados from across the country and around the world in attending the 26th Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention. Held annually in Nashville, this year’s Convention drew record crowds to the Sheraton Music City Hotel from July 7 through July 10.
Attendees came to honor and celebrate the legacy of Chet Atkins, whose unique fingerpicking style fused many genres and techniques—and in so doing influenced generations of guitarists to follow. The Convention offered concert performances, small-group seminars, and guitar exhibits both large and small. Dealers and collectors were on hand to display new and vintage guitars of all descriptions—including a bevy of beautiful Gretsch classics of yesteryear.
Gretsch guitars of the present were also on display, in an impressive booth created and hosted by Gretsch Guitars Marketing Manager Joe Carducci. In addition to banners with Chet’s name and racks of signature model guitars, the display offered a personal touch: a floral and photographic tribute to Chet’s memory. This included a bittersweet photo of Chet stitting in a Gretsch booth at a trade show in the 1960s, graphically linking the artist of the past with his importance in the present.
Fred and Dinah Gretsch were major attractions at the Gretsch booth, where they visited with Gretsch Guitar fans, signed photos, and gave away bolo ties and other memorabilia. This was entirely appropriate, since the legacies of the Gretsch Company and Chet Atkins are inextricably linked. From the time that Chet signed with Gretsch in the early 1950s he had a major influence on the company’s design process. In fact, it can accurately be said that the partnership between Chet and the skilled craftsmen at Gretsch was the basis for much of the company’s legendary guitar innovations.
Also on hand to represent Gretsch Guitars at CAAS was Nashville Artist Relations manager Jason Herndon, with his wife Jamie.
Entertainment during the Convention was provided by an impressive roster of guitarists led by Gretsch artist and country music star Steve Wariner, who used a classic 5120 model as well as a Country Gentleman to play selections from his Grammy-winning Chet Atkins tribute album. Aside from his technically brilliant yet highly musical performance, Steve impressed the crowd with his down-home friendliness, visiting with fans and signing autographs for well over an hour after his show.
Gretsch guitars could also be seen and heard in the hands of other great players, including Paul Yandell, Guy Van Duser, Jim Nichols, Mark Pritcher, Elaine Frizell, and Bobby Cochran (nephew of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer and Gretsch signature artist Eddie Cochran).
Many of the guitarists performing at the Convention knew Chet Atkins personally, so they had great stories to share. Several, including Steve Wariner, expressed their gratitude to Chet for his help in getting their own careers started.
Fred Gretsch also had a story to relate, through the courtesy of long-time Gretsch plant manager Bill Hagner. Said Fred, “Bill told me of an occasion when Chet was visiting the Gretsch factory in Brooklyn, New York, a few years after he’d signed with Gretsch guitars. At that time my uncle, Fred Gretsch Jr., was running the company. He was also the president of the Lincoln Savings Bank, so he had lots of banking hours to put in. On the day that Chet came to the factory, Bill Hagner suggested that they go wait for my uncle in his office. They were sitting there talking, when the girl at the switchboard called to say that my uncle was coming up in the elevator. Chet Atkins—decked out in a full cowboy outfit—got up and sat in my uncle’s chair, put both boots up on his desk, and lit a cigar. When my uncle came in his jaw dropped about a foot. And Chet said, ‘Oh, hi Fred. About time you got here. Why don’t you sit down and we’ll talk a little bit.’”