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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A recent Grammy Award-winner returns to the Fox with new material

The highlight for Tommy Emmanuel at the Grammy Awards earlier in the month wasn’t winning hardware for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella for his version of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

The guitar virtuoso’s favorite Grammy experience was Tracy Chapman’s surprising performance of “Fast Car,” along with country star Luke Combs, who has enjoyed massive success covering the flawless tune.

“As great as Billy (Joel) and Stevie (Wonder) were, Tracy Chapman was just extraordinary,” Emmanuel said, while calling from his Nashville, Tennessee, home. “No song moved the audience the way she did that night, I was sitting back and watching the audience and everyone was totally unified for the duration of ‘Fast Car.’ ”

Emmanuel, 68, is well aware how powerful a song as well written but unadorned like “Fast Car” can have on music fans.

“Songs take you to another place,” Emmanuel said. “Music helps you get away.”

Emmanuel transports his fans elsewhere through his original songs and inventive covers. Emmanuel has yet to deliver his version of “Fast Car,” but the terrific album 2019’s “Heart Songs” features a collection of finely crafted songs, many of which were written by legends. Emmanuel excels revamping the aforementioned Joel’s “Lullabye (Goodnight, my Angel),” the Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love” and Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.”

Emmanuel turns those songs into his own. An example of Emmanuel rearranging songs to maximum effect is his versions of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Dixie.” His rendition blew away a legendary rocker, who gave Emmanuel effusive praise.

“I saw a figure in a blue suit and bright yellow hair come up to me and say to me after I played those songs, ‘You’re the two best guitar players I’ve ever seen,’ and that was Todd Rundgren,” Emmanuel said . “He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.”

Emmanuel, who will play Wednesday at the Fox, is a guitar hero who has been a trailblazer since he was a teen emerging on the Sydney scene. Emmanuel developed a unique sound, which combines blues, country, rock, classical and Spanish music. The four-time winner of Australia’s Beat Guitarist Award respects those who paved the way and is a musical historian. Every time he returns to Spokane, Emmanuel acknowledges the brilliance of Bing Crosby.

“There was no one like Bing,” Emmanuel said. “Frank Sinatra couldn’t say enough about his influence. When you hear them sing together, there’s just nothing better. When you listen to the quality of Bing’s voice, it’s just so beautiful.

“And then there are his films with Bob Hope. His dry humor and timing were just exceptional. I always thought about that when I played the Bing Crosby Theater. I know I won’t be there this time. I’ll be at the Fox, but Bing will be on my mind.”

Emmanuel will play some new songs he recently wrote and recorded Wednesday at the Fox. Emmanuel hopes to complete the album later this year. The member of the Australian Roll of the Renown, is about to release a live album from a show last spring at the Sydney Opera House.

“I just finished the final edit,” Emmanuel said. “I recorded and filmed the show. Performing live is so important to me. Every night I walk onstage it’s all or nothing.”

A generation has passed since Emmanuel became a solo artist.

“I enjoy the autonomy,” Emmanuel said. “It just fits me better than being in a group.”

Emmanuel was part of the band, Dragon, which was akin to being the Aerosmith of Australia back in the 1980s.

“We had great success,” Emmanuel said. “We headlined big venues and I remember going on a (European) tour with Tina Turner, but I made the right decision going out on my own. I get to make my own decisions.”

The decision to attend the Grammys was a wise choice by Emmanuel since he walked away with the coveted gilded gramophone.

“I was really surprised when our song was called,” Emmanuel said. “I enjoyed the whole experience in L.A. I’d been nominated twice before, so it was lovely to take home an award, at last. … I always tell people awards don’t feed my family, hard work does. But it was exciting to get acknowledged.”