Tommy Emmanuel knows his career isn’t the mostly saintly of work. He is just a musician after all — even if he’s received Grammy nominations.
“I’m not a doctor or a fireman,” says Emmanuel, the Australian-born guitarist who made a name for himself in the ’70s as a session player and sideman. “But what I do seems important to many people’s lives.”
Emmanuel, who plays Friday, Feb. 6, at the Tower Theatre, recorded with the likes of Air Supply and Men at Work and played with the Australian rock band Dragon. He later played on tour with his mentor and idol Chet Atkins.
Friday’s show in Fresno is one of 300 Emmanuel will play this year, the same number he played each of the last three years. Emmanuel is known for his work ethic, even if he downplays it.
“I’m just trying to get good at playing guitar and writing songs,” he says, without mention of his catalog of solo work, which spans 20 albums, including the three-CD set “The Guitar Mastery of Tommy Emmanuel” released in October. There are also a dozen live and instructional DVDs. He doesn’t mention the fact that readers of Guitar Player magazine named him the best acoustic guitarist of the year — twice. Then there’s the two Grammy nominations (for best Country Instrumental Performance in 1998 and 2007).
There’s also the fact that Emmanuel has been a working musician since he was 6 years old. He started playing with his family in The Emmanuel Quartet, The Midget Surfaries and The Trailblazers, and by age 10 he had toured most of Australia.
When his father died in the late 1960s, Emmanuel and his brothers became the breadwinners for the family. Playing music paid the rent and put food on the table.
It wasn’t a most typical childhood, but that was just life in the country at the time: “Everybody had to work hard to get by,” he says.
The experiences taught Emmanuel how to be a musician.
“I was concentrated on my playing and was inspired and challenged by everything I heard,” he says.
He still is. After all these years, there is still plenty he doesn’t know, and every performance, every trip to a new city, is a learning opportunity, he says: “How boring would it be if I knew everything?”