I come from a musical family. Most everybody either plays an instrument or sings, or both, so it was a very natural thing to do. My Dad plays guitar, flatpick style, and he taught me my first chords. We still play together, old country and gospel songs, things like that.
Later on, Chet Atkins was the big inspiration. If you played guitar, folks would say, "Keep pickin' that thing, son, and someday you'll be as good as Chet Atkins." Of course, that never happened!
My uncle had two Chet Atkins albums, "Chet Atkins' Workshop" and "Caribbean Guitar." He also had a Louvin Brothers album with Paul Yandell on guitar. I didn't know who Paul was, but I recognized it was the same style of playing. I loved it! I would listen to those records every time we visited, and he would let me borrow them now and again. Eventually, he gave them to me.
I really don't remember a time when I didn't play guitar, so it must have been pretty early. It is better to start young, if for no other reason than you have more time to play. An 8 year old doesn't have as many responsibilities, you know.
I really don't have any formal training on the guitar. When I was in high school, I played trombone in the school band, so I learned to read bass clef. I actually learned to read treble clef by staying a page or two ahead of my students when I taught guitar at a local music store! Later on, I took two years of college level music theory. As far as formal training, that's it.
The only lessons I ever had were with a man named Bob Jones. He ran a little music store and gave lessons in the back room. He had a program that he'd put you through, lasted just a few weeks. We started out learning some chords, and we worked our way up to simple versions of "Freight Train" and "Windy and Warm." By ear, of course.
Then when I was a teenager, I discovered Jerry Reed. A neighbor had the album "Me and Jerry" by Chet and Jerry. It was another revelation! Jerry is another guitar hero of mine, and his albums with Chet were so great. He also wrote all those great instrumentals that Chet recorded. What a talent.
I didn't get into Merle Travis until later. I got that yellow album, "The Merle Travis Guitar." I never really learned much off of Merle's records, but I sure listened to them alot.
I also loved the acoustic rock of the early 1970's. Jim Croce is a particular influence. Another biggie is "Dance With Me" by Orleans.
I play a little on most stringed instruments, except fiddle. I learned how to play mandolin by playing along with Louvin Brothers albums. (Chet and Paul Yandell played guitar on their records, you know.) I went through a flirtation with the banjo, and that helped my guitar playing, actually. I was able to transfer a lot of licks and rolls back to guitar. In the 1980's I met Allen Shelton, who played banjo for Jim and Jesse McReynolds. He told me that his major influence, apart from Earl Scruggs, was Chet. He said, "I try to play banjo like Chet Atkins plays guitar" and demonstrated by playing "Last Date", the Floyd Cramer tune, complete with some patented Chet licks. So, I guess it really does come full circle.
Well, Tommy Emmanuel has agreed to play with me on an upcoming recording. I'm not dumb, though- I'm gonna make him stick to brushes. He usually plays a couple of tunes with me onstage at the CAAS conventions. Once I told the audience, "As you know, Tommy is one of the greatest guitar players in the world. That's why I've asked him to play brushes with me."
I'll just keep exploring the world of fingerpicking. As far as instructional materials, I'd like to do another book on Jerry Reed, to sort of complete my "Reed trilogy."
I've always loved music and wanted to be involved in some way. So, I'm blessed to be doing what I love. Also, the desire to pay the bills and keep some groceries on the table keeps me motivated!
Not really- not that I'm that creative to begin with! I enjoy having a guitar close by. As far as writing, I write when I'm inspired, and when I'm not, I don't worry about it.
Well, I only have a couple! There's "Fingerpickin' Guitar Solos", "Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs", and my new CD, "Christmastime." If you can bear to wait a few months, we plan to release a collection of originals after the first of the year. Lots of fingerpickin'.
I'd have to say the high point has been meeting and getting to spend time with my heroes, like Chet and Jerry Reed. Paul Yandell wrote in the introduction to one of my books, "Craig Dobbins is a good friend of mine . . ." When I read that, I thought, "Wow!"
I remember my folks always asking me, "Why do you need another guitar? You can only play one at a time!" Seriously, my family has always been very supportive. My parents instilled in me from an early age a love for music, especially hymns and gospel songs.
Julie, my wife, is a great supporter and advisor. From what I gather, there aren't too many wives out there who come in at the end of the tax year and say, "You need to buy another guitar."
I love history. It was my major in college, and I am prone to give long, rambling dissertations at the drop of a hat. As Ranger Doug of Riders in the Sky says, "The most needlessly over-educated act in show business."
We also enjoy family pursuits, and are active in our church.
Yes, I've taught for about 28 years. At one time, I had maybe 65-70 students a week. That'll do you in! I just teach a very few now, mostly students who are interested in the style I play. Now my "students" are my Acoustic Guitar Workshop subscribers, and all the folks who buy my books.
Well, I mentioned Acoustic Guitar Workshop, which is an instructional quarterly that I write and publish. My books include "The Guitar Style of Jerry Reed" (Hal Leonard, out of print), "Hymns for Fingerstyle Guitar" (Warner Brothers), "Down Home Picking" (Mel Bay), "Fingerpicking Gospel Solos" (Mel Bay), "The Jerry Reed Collection" (distributed by Mel Bay), and "The Chet Atkins Collection" (distributed by Mel Bay). My newest book/CD set is "Craig Dobbins' Acoustic Christmas" (Warner Brothers). I'm working on a couple more now, and there may be a video down the road, as well. I also contribute to Acoustic Guitar magazine, Fingerstyle Guitar magazine, and Mister Guitar (journal of the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society. I stay pretty busy.
I just tell folks to have a guitar in hand several times a day, if possible. I don't really have a practice routine. This morning, I woke up early, went back to the studio, and just played for an hour or so. In the course of a day's work, I'll have a guitar in hand for several hours, anyway. Then, believe it or not, I'll relax by playing the guitar!
No. I've always just played for the love of it. When I was a kid, my parents would have to make me go out and play!
I like to use a combination of the two, with chord diagrams and performance notes. But I prefer to learn for myself by ear.
I play things that I enjoy playing. As far as performing, I try to play things that I can still play in front of an audience! Also, I try to have fun onstage.
Well, I play fingerstyle, using a thumbpick and three fingers. I try to play cleanly and get a good tone.
I don't dabble much in tunings. I will drop the 6th string to D once in a while, and I keep one guitar in open G all the time. A lot of those great Jerry Reed tunes are in open G. I've written a few in that tuning myself, such as "That's My Boy" (from Down Home Picking) .
I use a thumbpick most of the time. I always trim them a little, then reshape and sand them smooth. I favor Herco blue nylon picks most of the time. Sometimes, I use a Herco flatpick/thumbpick, especially on electric. I keep my right hand nails just a little longer than the tips of my fingers.
I use several different guitars, depending on the sound I want. My main guitar is a custom Kirk Sand electric classical that I've had for several years. It's the guitar you hear on most of my recordings. I use D'Addario ProArte Extra Hard strings on the Sand. I also have an old Takamine classical that's been heavily customized. It has a Baggs LBC pickup and a Fishman preamp built in. I use LaBella Red Flamenco strings on it, sometimes LaBella 900B black nylon. My acoustic is a Taylor 514-C, with a Fishman Matrix pickup. On it, I use custom gauged D'Addario phosphor bronze strings, basically light gauge. I use D'Addario strings on my electrics, too.
I usually record direct. I go into a Demeter Stereo Tube Direct, then into a Lexicon PCM 60 reverb, and on to the tape machine. I use short lengths of Monster Cable to connect everything.
I don't have anything special in the way of mics. Lately I've been using a Shure SM81 through a tube mic preamp. I like the warm sound of tubes.
What, are you kidding? Aren't six strings enough trouble?
Oh, there's not much to manage. I do have a couple of people, mentors, that I go to for advice. My wife helps me with the business end of things.
I joined the RCA Record Club once, does that count?
I'll be playing for the Georgia Fingerstyle Guitar Association in October, and a couple of holiday concerts later on. I occasionally play for churches in the area, things like that. I perform and teach workshops at the annual CAAS convention in Nashville every July. Most of the time, I stay pretty close to home. I'm usually working on new projects, or trying to finish old ones!
I'm not that qualified to answer, but I do have a great piece of advice for nerves. Immediately upon taking the stage, do something stupid. Really. Everyone gets a laugh, and it takes the pressure off.
I didn't know Chet well. I was only around him a few times, but I'll always treasure those times. He was and is my guitar hero. It was such a thrill just to know that he knew who I was! He was very kind to me, and gave me permission to use many of his tunes in Acoustic Guitar Workshop through the years. He also wrote an introduction to my first book, The Guitar Style of Jerry Reed. A couple of years ago, he gave me an endorsement to use on my books and recordings: "Craig Dobbins does great work- it's a cut above." That meant the world to me.
Well, I don't have anything that humorous! Anyway, the first time Chet ever called me was about 7:45 one morning. Being a musician of course, I was still in bed. I stumbled to the phone, picked it up, and the voice on the line said, "Hello Craig. This is Chet Atkins in Nashville." Of course, I thought it was a prank call. My first inclination was to say "Yeah, right, who is this really?" Fortunately, I didn't, because it really was Chet! I held my composure until after the call, and then my knees went weak. My wife asked who was on the phone, and I told her Chet Atkins. She replied, "Yeah, right, who was it really?"
John Knowles, one of the greatest transcribers around, and a mentor of mine, once told me, "The people who learn the most from these guitar books are the people who write these guitar books," and I think that's true. When you spend that much time with a tune, you're bound to learn something.
Not really. I just listen over and over until I get it. Years ago, when I was trying to learn "Jerry's Breakdown" by Jerry Reed, I tried to play the album on 16 rpm, but that didn't work too well. Now, I did use an Akai machine to slow a lick down at the very end of the "Waltzing Matilda" medley (from The Chet Atkins Collection). If I hadn't, I'd still be trying to figure it out!
I used to write things out in tab and then transfer it over, but now I transcribe straight to computer. I write the notation first, and then drop in the tab. I use a Finale program on a Mac.
My only advice would be to start with easy tunes and work your way up. That goes for playing, too.
(This interview first appeared in Mel Bay's Guitar Sessions® webzine in October 2001.)