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Tommy was born in the Upper Hunter in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia. He began to play guitar in 1962 at the age of 7, inspired after hearing Chet Atkins play the John D. Loudermilk composition "Windy and Warm" on the car radio.
By the age of 9, in 1964, he was a working professional musician. Recognizing the musical talents of Tommy and his brother Phil, their father created a family band, sold the family home and took his family on the road. With the family living in two station wagons, much of Emmanuel’s childhood was spent touring Australia with his family, playing rhythm guitar, and rarely going to school. The family found it difficult living on the road; they were poor and were often hungry, never settling in one place. His father would often drive ahead, organize interviews, advertising and finding the local music shop where they'd have an impromptu concert the next day. Eventually the New South Wales Department of Education insisted that the Emmanuel children needed to go to school regularly.<ref name="musicfrisk">MusicFrisk interview. Accessed on March 13, 2008.</ref>
After his father died in 1966, the family settled in Parkes. Tommy eventually moved to Sydney where he came to be noticed nationally when he won a string of talent contests in his teen years. By the late 1970s, he was playing drums with his brother Phil in the group Goldrush as well doing session work on countless albums and jingles. During the early 1980s, he joined the reformed lineup of leading '70s rock group Dragon, touring widely with them, including a 1987 tour with Tina Turner. He left the group to embark on a solo career.
Tommy and his brother Phil performed live in Sydney at the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics in 2000. The event was televised worldwide.<ref name="musicfrisk" /> When performing together the pair will sometimes share and play just one guitar with each having one hand free.
Tommy tours the world, playing in both large and small venues. His concerts are extremely popular with his dedicated fans, much due to his powerful and energetic stage presence.
He is engaged to fellow singer/songwriter Lizzie Watkins, with whom he tours. The couple make their home in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Late in 2007 he was diagnosed with heart issues<ref>"Oz music legend Tommy Emmanuel falls ill", posting on 'Break Hollywood', December 2007. Accessed on April 04, 2008.</ref> and was forced to take a break from his hectic touring schedule due to exhaustion.
Tommy has said that even at a young age he was fascinated by Atkins’ musical style – sometimes referred to as Travis picking – of playing bass with the thumb and melody parts with the first two or three fingers at the same time. This technique became the basis of Tommy's guitar style.
While Tommy has never had formal music training, his playing ability has won him fans from all over the world. He is known to play percussion parts on the body of his guitar. As a solo performer he never plays to a set list and uses a minimum of effects.<ref name="musicfrisk" /> He usually completes recordings in one take.
He frequently uses his left thumb to fret bass notes on the 5th and 6th strings as well as playing chords such as Am and E with just two fingers. He uses a thumb pick mostly, a flat pick or just fingers.
His main guitar is a small-bodied custom Maton EBG808, that is fitted with a pickup and an internal condenser microphone, to which he has given the nickname "Mouse" due to its quieter volume unplugged but massive sound when plugged into an amp. Two of his three main stage guitars, notably his signature TE1 Maton dreadnought, are battered and worn on the necks and soundboards from his excessive playing and percussive techniques on them. He recently stated at a workshop during his annual festival, Tommyfest UK (2008), that all three of his stage guitars have been broken and repaired numerous times over the years.
Association with Chet Atkins
As a young man in Australia, Tommy wrote to his hero Chet Atkins in Nashville. Eventually Atkins replied with words of encouragement and a long standing invitation to drop by to visit.<ref>Just Jazz Guitar interview. Accessed on March 13, 2008.</ref>
In July 1999, at the 15th Annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention, Chet presented Tommy with a Certified Guitar Player award, an honor Atkins has bestowed on other guitarists. This award gains it’s notoriety from being bestowed by Atkins himself, a widely recognized leader in guitar music. The award states: "In Recognition Of His Contributions To The Art Of Fingerpicking". Tommy performs at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) in June each year in Nashville.<ref>Modern Guitars Magazine interview. Accessed on March 13, 2008.</ref>
In 1997, Emmanuel and Atkins recorded as a duo and released ‘’The Day Finger Pickers Took Over The World’’.
- 2006 The Mystery
- 2005 Live One
- 2004 Endless Road
- 2001 Greatest Hits
- 2000 Only
- 1998 Collaboration
- 1997 The Day Finger Pickers Took Over The World (With Chet Atkins)
- 1997 Midnight Drive
- 1996 Can't Get Enough
- 1995 Classical Gas
- 1995 Initiation
- 1994 Back On Azubazi
- 1993 The Journey Continues
- 1993 The Journey
- 1992 Determination
- 1990 Dare To Be Different
- 1987 Up From Down Under
- 1979 From Out Of Nowhere
His song "Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag" won "Instrumental of the Year" at the 35th Tamworth Country Music Festival on Saturday, 27 January 2007,<ref>Tamworth Country Music Festival website. Accessed on March 13, 2008.</ref> and also was nominated that year for a Grammy for "Best Country Instrumental Performance". <ref>Countrymusic. About website. Accessed on March 13, 2008.</ref>
- 2007 interview on Modern Guitars magazine
- Tommyfest - Tommy Emmanuel/Jake Shimabukurocs:Tommy Emmanuel