Concert Review- Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor
The intrepid Mr. Phledge enters a House of God and Jazz on the same night !
While staking out a prime spot in the ” festival ” standing room at PVCH to see Tab Benoit last month, I ran into my guitar playing pal The Real JP and after exchanging the usual ” who have you seen and who’s coming up ” greetings, he queried, ” Are you going to see Tommy Emmanuel ? “. The name rang, but I knew nothing of the artist, much less his catalog, or even genre. But I knew JP, who had grown up in Loosiana and was schooled in the musical gumbo of the Crescent City, and had years ago burnished his musical cred with a Jazz Fest preview for me and Joe Bomb, turning us on to artists like Sonny Landreth, so his enthusiasm for Tommy gave me pause. Such that when he called this week and offered his tix due to a double calendar booking, I jumped on them in faith. Though not so much faith that I didn’t skip quickly across the threshold of the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, a converted Baptist church in the palms, hoping to avoid any residual lightning that might still strike heathens!
Tommy is a Chet Atkins protege/devotee from Australia who first heard the Columbus, GA, native while ” serving as the antennae “, holding a coat hanger wire while hanging out of his Dad’s car window Down Under at age seven. Tommy knew immediately that the five-finger picking guitar sound, one that Atkins wondered ” why eveyrbody didn’t play that way “, was exactly what Tommy wanted to do. And has he ever!
Perhaps in tribute to his ” buddy ” Martin, Tommy opened the show himself with a blizzard of acoustic shredding and his trademark showmanship, often mugging and hamming it up for the crowd as he effortlessly picked and strummed the Merle Travis-penned Tennessee Ford hit ” 16 Tons ” , the Doris Day chestnut ” Secret Love ” , and his own ” Lewis and Clark “. The highlight of Tommy’s opening set was the Beatles medley, with ” Here Comes The Sun “, ” Please Please Me “, ” Lady Madonna “, and ” Day Tripper ” worked into a seamless web ending in Mason Williams’ ” Classical Gas “, all played uptempo and flawlessly by the endearing Emmanuel, whose joy in his art and the moment were evident.
Throughout the show, Tommy played a Wilbur Harrison-style One-Man Band, less the drum kit, by percussive effects on his amplified Aussie-made Maton guitars. Striking the top, sides, and machine head of his axe with fingers, hands, and drummer’s brush, Tommy often mimicked a rhythm section of his own, at times venturing into a Dreaded Drum Solo on the miked Maton before heading back to the strings. His finger playing technique resembles that of a classical guitarist, but his stage presence and showmanship are that of a street busker. His animated gestures and facial expressions punctuated many breaks and chord changes, and his joyful, self-effacing demeanor was quite contagious.
Bringing on his longtime buddy, Martin Taylor, at the middle of the show instead of the ” opening act ” was quite effective, as the crowd got a full dose of the headliner, followed in turn by the duo doing several tunes from their recent collaboration CD, ” The Colonel and the Governor “, then by Taylor’s fine solo set. His clean picking on jazz standards evoked his days as a sideman for Stephane Grappelli, where he claimed to ” keep Django Rhinehardt’s seat warm “. He took pains to credit songs and writers, noting that ” I’m a jazz guitarist, and people don’t know the songs. I sometimes get a request and say, ‘ I just played that’ ! ” The subsequent interplay and trading licks with Tommy gave another taste of their shared musical turf, before Tommy closed the show with several solo tunes and favorites from the Atkins catalog. Notably, Emmanuel took pains to credit another finger style player, Jerry Reed, who wrote several songs for Atkins and was one of only four people, including Emmanuel, to be named a Certified Guitar Player by Atkins.
The lucky souls who witnessed this great show were grinning like Cheshire cats as they poured out of the former chapel into the warm Florida night. Tommy stayed at the merch table greeting and charming fans to the very last: ” It’s only 262 miles to Sarasota… if you’re not busy come on down and see us tomorrow night! ”
Mr. Phledge will gladly accept front-row seats to future shows! – Ed.