Interview: Tommy Emmanuel talks new album tour and much more
© Tommy Emmanuel, used with permission

Guitar virtuoso. Tommy Emmanuel, and the king of the dobro guitar, Jerry Douglas, bring their current tour to Tucson’s Fox Theatre on December 16. Emmanuel was born in Australia originally and moved to the US. He has built a reputation for his sizzling live performances. Emmanuel guitar emulates an orchestra with his guitar alone.

Douglas is best known as a performer with Alison Krauss and Union Station. But that is only part of Douglas’ history as a performer. He has played with anyone from Garth Brooks to Ray Charles to Eric Clapton to Elvis Costello. Douglas most likely can play anything with strings but is known best for his lap steel and dobro expertise. See AXS' interview here.

AXS was able to catch up with Emmanuel as he was traveling to his next gig. Here is what we learned.


AXS: We are thrilled to have this opportunity to chat with you. We are also thrilled that you are coming back to Tucson.

Tommy Emmanuel: Yes, we are happy to return. It has been two years since we have performed in Tucson. The tour has been an amazing tour so far. We are just heading to Portland, Oregon from Nashville. We’ve got two shows in Portland. Before we come to Tucson we’ll be in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and then Las Vegas. Tucson is next, followed by Albuquerque and we finish in Dallas.

AXS: It seems like you are constantly on the road. You are playing with Jerry Douglas on this tour.

TE: The two of us are a good combination for a tour.

AXS: Can we talk about the new album, Heart Songs, you are releasing after the first of the year?

TE: Yes, it is an album of all love songs. John Knowles is performing with me on the album. He is a Nashville guitar player who I met through Chet Adkins years ago. We’ve enjoyed working out arrangements and playing together. We decided to cut an album. That happened last year and we finally got the whole project finished and ready to go. We will embark on a tour in January.

The album features songs like “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”, Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” The Bee Gee’s “How Deep Is Your Love.” Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”  Also, we did Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” and Billy Joel’s “Lullaby.” There’s a bit of everything on this album.

AXS: There is a video out for “Walking My Baby Back Home.” Is this the first single off the album?

TE: It’s one of the songs on the album to give people an idea of what is on the album. We were in a room in our office with a couple of microphones and we sat down and played the tune. I wanted to let people know the kind of style we play together.

AXS: You are from Australia. How often do you get back to Australia?

TE: I get back every year. Even if I don’t play there, I’ve got to visit friends and family and do some television and stuff like that. I played in Australia last year and I’m bringing Jerry next year. He has never been there so it’s going to be exciting for him and the audience because he’s got a lot of fans out there.

AXS: Where do you call home now?

TE: I’ve been living in Nashville, Tennessee for 15 years. I’m getting ready to move to California. My daughter is going to school there. My wife is working for Apple now. If I want to be with them, I have to move.

AXS: You got your first guitar at the age of four years old. Is it true you were playing professionally at the age of six?

TE: I was the world’s youngest professional guitar player. We (the Family) traveled all over Australia. We had dreams and aspirations of going overseas, going to America. My father died when I was ten and I never got to see that come to fruition until I was in my late 20s. I made the pilgrimage over here and came to Nashville to meet Chet Adkins. I started to get to know people here and get to know how things were done here. I wanted to see if I was good enough to make a stand here. It took a long time and I just kept at it. I kept coming back trying to grow as an artist. Eventually, Chet rang me in the early 90s and he said, ‘We could work together. It would be really great if you came over to stay at my house and let’s do some work together.’

We were both with Sony and we were both on the Columbia label. I had had some fairly successful albums, four in a row actually with Sony. So they were very aware of me. Chet was established. I came to Nashville for a country music showcase. Chet came down with the record company because they had never seen me play live. That was what did it. I got a call a week later saying we had to work together and record. That’s how all that came about.

AXS: At one point in time, you toured with Tina Turner. What was that like?

TE: It was incredible. She’s amazing. I was in the band, Dragon, and did the whole tour. Dragon was a very successful rock band out of Australia and we were a good opening act for her. We did about 36 shows with her all around Europe. I watched her every night and got to know her and her band. It was a great tour. She was lovely.

AXS: So you went solo after that?

TE: Yes, I had been doing stuff on my own since the mid-seventies. I started to write the songs and really focus on being a solo performer around that time. In the mid-nineties, I recorded my first solo acoustic album called Only. It got me into all the guitar magazines. It opened a lot of doors for me because I had a lot of songs and I was free to travel around the world.

AXS: It seems like you are constantly on the road. How do you keep from getting road weary?

TE: I have breaks from time to time. I’m very much used to it. It doesn’t drive me insane. I woke up this morning and my first thought was ‘Oh good, I have a show tonight. I’m excited about that.’ The fact that I know its sold out is an extra buzz.

AXS: We have talked about Chet being a major mentor as a musician. Who else is a guitar hero for you?

TE: There are so many. There is everybody from Django Reinhardt, George Benson, to Stevie Ray Vaughan. There is George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon. I listen to the Beatles more than anyone else. I want to learn about songwriting and those guys put a pretty high bar up.

There are so many really good guys around the world, creative people not just in America, but in all countries. It makes traveling all around the world so exciting. You never know whom you are going to meet. The level of creativity out there is pretty amazing.

AXS: Have all of your dreams come true as far as what you wanted to do?

TE: Everything that has happened has been far more than I ever expected. I’m one of these people that I’m already on the next thing. The next thing for me is the Heart Songs album and the tour that goes along with it.

AXS: If you had to live the next year with only three albums of your choice to listen, what would those three albums be?

TE: Donald Fagan, The Nightfly, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Texas Flood, and Stevie Wonder, In a Square Circle.

AXS: What inspires your music?

TE: I get inspiration from different things. I’m inspired by something as simple as watching a movie and getting inspired by the film itself or being transported by it. When you get yourself out of your normal existence to another level of inspiration, that’s when music can flow from you. Sometimes listening to something is when an idea can pop into your head. For instance, I wrote the song “Lewis and Clark” when I read the “Journals of Lewis and Clark.” I was so amazed by their story that I just felt that I had to write something. I thought ‘how can I describe the great unknown traveling on the rivers, the mountains, the prairies, the Native people and the American West? How can I describe that in music?’ That was the challenge.

AXS: You’ve been able to travel all over the world. Do you get to see things like a tourist during your travels?

TE: Sometimes, I do. When I travel as I am right now in a bus, I get to see every day where we are going and I get to experience those beautiful drives especially stuff like coming down the Columbia River and going across through Oregon and into Idaho. That is a beautiful drive. When you get into Arizona, you have a completely different landscape. I love it.

AXS: Before wrapping this up, there is one more question. If you were interviewing yourself, what would you ask Tommy Emmanuel?

TE: Peanut butter, crunchy or smooth?