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Nov. 17: Chet Atkins had been a recording artist for eight years when he notched his first chart hit with this, an instrumental cover of The Chordettes’ smash, in 1954-55. Cut 55 years ago today in Nashville, it ended a period of growth and experimentation for Chet regarding style, sound and whether or not he would sing. In short, it pointed to what a typical “Chet Atkins record” would sound like for the next 20-plus years.

Joining Chet on the session at the now-demolished studio that RCA Victor rented from the Methodist Church on McGavock Street were Bud Isaacs on steel guitar, Ernie Newton on bass, Buddy Harman on drums and Marvin Hughes on celeste. The producer was Steve Sholes, Victor’s New York-based country A&R man who was increasingly relying on Chet to set up sessions and run the label’s Nashville operations in his absence. It was Sholes who made Chet a producer, and it was Chet the producer who would become one of the architects of the pop-tolerant Nashville Sound. That was a few years off yet. And while his version of “Mister Sandman” retained few country edges, it rose to No. 13 on Billboard‘s country chart while altogether avoiding the pop chart.

It came at a time when the years of hard work were starting to pay off, Rich Kienzle says in his essay for the Bear Family Records box set of Chet’s early output. He was becoming an influential guitarist, thanks to his prolific record output and his busy session work in country and pop music. He was gaining experience as a producer, putting his stamp on music other than his own. He was weeks away from seeing the first of the famous Gretch guitars bearing his name available in music stores. “Mister Sandman” marked that turning point in Atkins’ career.

Learn more about Chet Atkins (1924-2001) on his Allmusic.com profile, and through his discography. View the story of “Mr. Sandman” (the official title) on record here, while this essay on Chet’s version includes a link to a YouTube clip of Mr. Guitar performing the song in the mid-50s. Goodness gracious, it’s good.

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