21. Chet Atkins
As a record executive and producer in the Sixties, Chet Atkins invented the popwise "Nashville sound" that rescued country music from a commercial slump. As a guitarist, he was even more inventive, mastering country, jazz and classical styles and perfecting the ability to play chords and melody simultaneously, thanks to his distinctive thumb-and-three-finger picking style. "A lot of it was trial and error," Atkins told Rolling Stone in 1976. "I just had a damn guitar in my hands 16 hours a day, and I experimented all the time." Atkins could be laid-back and restrained (as heard on iconic recordings like Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart," Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" and several of the Everly Brothers' early hits). But his own instrumental-heavy solo albums are an endless bag of guitar tricks, mixing harmonics, arpeggios and pure notes with a brilliantly clear tone. "I think he influenced everybody who picked up a guitar," said Duane Eddy.
Key Tracks: "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Wake Up Little Susie"
• Chet Atkins Dies