I own more than 100 Chet Atkins LPs, so it’s difficult to say which one is the “best”—especially as all of Chet’s records have something special to offer. My personal favorite has always been A Session with Chet Atkins, and my enthusiasm for this record inspired me to try to replicate its cover for my Loose album in 1997.
A Session with Chet Atkins was released in 1954, and it features the great Bud Issacs on steel guitars and Homer and Jethro in the rhythm section. The group’s talents and energy seemed to push Chet beyond playing somewhat safely—as a consummate craftsman—and, instead, he gets his fingers dirty while retaining his compositional soloing aesthetic. High points for me are Chet’s ripping solo over “South,” the breathtaking harmonic solo over “Birth of the Blues,” the exotic “Caravan” solo, and the lovely intro to “Honeysuckle Rose” that is unlike any version I’ve ever heard.
A Session with Chet Atkins is where I broke the “Chet-Barrier” learning “Frankie and Johnny” note for note. If you want to learn some Chet style, this record is a great place to start your adventure. At first, it may feel like you are splitting your brain in two, so my tip is to play slowly and clearly, while concentrating on getting the bass notes steady on the downbeats. The invaluable thing I’ve taken from Chet is that any tune can be approached without any musical snobbery. In Chet’s hands, a “corny” song is transformed into something melodic, clever, and charming. I’ve also learned a ton from Chet’s crafty uses of double- stops and triple-stops, and I’ve shamelessly applied them on all of my records.
Amazingly, many of Chet Atkins’ LPs are very affordable on eBay, and I would recommend 99 percent of them. Vinyl forever!