As its title suggests, guitarist Tommy Emmanuel's "Tall Fiddler" was written with an entirely different stringed instrument in mind. Originally recorded for the 2004 album Endless Road, the instrumental number was inspired by Emmanuel's encounters with fiddle great Byron Berline.
"I just found Byron to be a really inspiring person to be around and I wanted to write something as a tribute to him," says Australia-born Emmanuel, one of five guitarists Chet Atkins bestowed with the title of Certified Guitar Player. "I had been doing a lot of bluegrass festivals and so I was really fired up and I had ideas, so I wanted to write this tune that could be a typical fiddle type tune."
In the video above, Emmanuel gives a typically dazzling performance of "Tall Fiddler," the opening track from his new album Live! At the Ryman, recorded live in February 2016 and out Friday, May 19th. What begins as an impressive display of his picking mastery – neatly articulated arpeggios with some funky, percussive strums and that quickly loping melody – transforms into something mind-boggling as Emmanuel speeds up the tune by double and does it all again.
"That's the exciting part, there," he says. "My audiences who know that song, they're watching and then you see them get on the edge of their seat waiting for the part where I double the tempo. And going, 'Is he gonna make it?'"
Live! At the Ryman includes many of Emmanuel's classic interpretations, from a medley of Beatles songs and "Classical Gas," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and the instrumental classic "Guitar Boogie." Later in the show, the remaining living Certified Guitar Players Steve Wariner and John Knowles join him on stage to perform "San Antonio Stroll." Though Emmanuel has stood on the Ryman stage numerous times, the February show captured on his new album was actually his first headlining performance at the iconic venue.
"I've played there several times as a guest, with Ricky Skaggs and with Marty Stuart and people like that," he says. "That was for me, one of the greatest moments of my life."
Live! At the Ryman arrives May 19th, and Emmanuel will be on tour through the summer, with extended jaunts through Canada and California.