Paul Yandell: The Last “Certified Guitar Player”

Throughout the history of the music industry, there have been artists who’ve gained tremendous acclaim and recognition for their accomplishments. Such an artist was guitar legend Chet Atkins, whose multiple claims to fame are well known and undisputed.

But there are also artists whose talents, accomplishments, and contributions to the industry somehow don’t garner them the recognition that they genuinely deserve. Such an artist is Paul Yandell, the long-time bandleader for, and confidant of, Chet Atkins—and a stellar guitarist in his own right.

At one point in his career Chet Atkins coined the term “Certified Guitar Player” to describe an artist who personified the ultimate in performance skill and musical quality. Chet personally bestowed the C.G.P. title on only four guitarists:  Tommy Emmanuel, John Knowles, the late Jerry Reed, and Steve Wariner. But there was one more name that needed to be added to the list.

From left: Merle Atkins Russell, Certified Guitar Player award recipient Paul Yandell, and Steve Wariner at the presentation ceremony on August 13. (photo: Caryn Wariner)

So it was that at a program held this past August 13 to mark the opening of the new Chet Atkins exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame® & Museum in Nashville, Chet’s daughter Merle Atkins Russell asked Steve Wariner to help her continue her father’s tradition and read a proclamation that officially conferred the final C.G.P. title on Paul Yandell.

The proclamation read, in part: Whereas, long a fixture as Chet’s band leader and confidant, Paul Yandell was truly invaluable. Whereas, he is no stranger to accolades for his many contributions to country music, the Nashville recording community, and the guitar world in his own rights. Whereas, observing that Paul Yandell was involved in the distribution of all the C.G.P. honors as Chet’s assistant, and being extremely humble and modest, recused himself of that very honor.

Be it resolved by the Atkins family that throughout the land Paul Yandell, thumbpicker supreme, be known as the last and final C.G.P., certified guitar player.  Paul, you are truly the C.G.P.’s C.G.P.!

From left: Steve Wariner and Merle Atkins Russell presented the final Certified Guitar Player award proclamation to Paul Yandell on August 13. (photo: Caryn Wariner)

“I was thrilled to be invited to help honor Paul like this,” said Wariner. “Paul Yandell is my hero, and he deserves this more than anyone.  He’s an incredible player and a dear friend to me, as he was to Chet. What a cool, classy thing for Merle and the Atkins family to do. So completely right!”

An accomplished player by the time he left high school, Paul Yandell moved from western Kentucky to Nashville in 1955. He began his career with The Louvin Brothers, working with them until 1959. After serving in the Army, Paul played for Kitty Wells from 1961-1970. He joined Jerry Reed in 1970, where, as he puts it, he “went to college” learning from Jerry. Paul joined Chet Atkins in 1975 and spent the next twenty-five years supporting Chet in his career.

As a top Nashville session player, Paul played on hit records with Atkins, Reed, Dolly Parton, Steve Wariner, Hank Thompson, Perry Como, Roger Whitaker, Kitty Wells, The Louvin Brothers, Les Paul, Woody Herman, The Everly Brothers, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. He also appeared on TV shows such as The Dinah Shore Show, The Tonight Show, Today, The Pat Sajak Show, The Merv Griffin Show and Nashville Now.

Following Chet Atkins’ passing in 2001, Paul released a solo CD entitled Forever Chet, which featured songs that Chet had performed throughout his career. Paul’s 2004 Dream Train release featured many of his own tunes—and was largely performed on the Gretsch “Nashville Classic” guitar that he co-designed. Paul released In the Groove in 2005 and Drive On in 2006. In 2009, he performed at the ceremony at which Chet Atkins was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville.

From left: Fred Gretsch, Paul Yandell, and Dinah Gretsch together at the August 10th reception celebrating the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum’s new tribute exhibit Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player. (Donn Jones Photography)

Fred and Dinah Gretsch (president and CFO of The Gretsch Company, respectively) were on hand for the festivities surrounding the opening of the Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame® & Museum. They had the opportunity to meet with Paul Yandell, personally and on behalf of Gretsch Guitars, after Paul had received his C.G.P. award. “We spoke with Paul on Saturday and Sunday,” said Fred Gretsch, “and we know how happy he was. We were equally happy for him. Paul is a tremendous artist, and we’re honored by his long association with Gretsch Guitars. Dinah and I offer our sincerest congratulations to Paul, as well as our kudos to the Atkins family for their thoughtfulness in presenting Paul with his much-deserved C.G.P. title.”

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One Response to “Paul Yandell: The Last “Certified Guitar Player””

  1. As Steve Wariner said, goes for me too, “Paul Yandell is my hero.” Paul is a hero and friend to so many of us that are eager to learn from him. I am extremely happy to know that Merle and the Atkins family has had the foresight to bestow this, the last C.G.P. award on a most deserving individual. A great honor for a great man. Congratulations Paul.