To listen: Click image, then choose Track 30 on page that results.

June 21

Why today? Catching up on an event I missed over the weekend: Sunday would have been the 86th birthday of Mr. Guitar, Chet Atkins. In his honor, here’s one of the scores of songs he played on as a Nashville session musician — a real hillbilly wailer from Don Gibson’s pre-Nashville Sound days.

About the record: RCA Victor 47-6880 (B-side), recorded Feb. 25, 1957, at the label’s Nashville studio in the Methodist Church’s Television, Radio and Film Commission building on McGavock Street. Released in March 1957. First LP appearance was on Rockin’ Rollin’ 1, Bear Family BFX-15089, released in 1982.

Chet also produced this session, the first for Gibson in his second stint with RCA. The double-duty was common for Atkins on artists he produced (including Jim Reeves and The Browns) in those first years for him in the control room. Gibson re-recorded “I Can’t Leave” the following year — a version I’ve not heard but, given its presence on the Oh, Lonesome Me album, I’m guessing has the Nashville Sound groove that made Gibson a star. That’s certainly not the case here. This doesn’t even sound like Don Gibson, who seems uncomfortable shouting into the mic. It’s easy to see why he bounced around from label to label until Chet Atkins the producer pointed him in the right stylistic direction.

As for Chet the sideman, it wasn’t just Victor artists his guitar work supported. You can catch his distinctive style on records by the Louvin Brothers, the Carlisles, Webb Pierce, George & Earl, Marty Robbins and more. I always perk up my ears when listening to ’50s country records to see if I can catch Atkins in action. That’s just what we’ve got here, the day after his birthday and just over a week before the ninth anniversary of his death. In my opinion, you can never get too much Chet.

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