Next Best Thing: An Interview about Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins

For me, my cousin Sharon DeVault Roach was the next best thing for an interview on Chester Atkins. Her father, who was also my great uncle Buster DeVault, was Chester Atkins’ best friend. They grew up together as neighbors in a Luttrell holler and stayed best friends the rest of their lives. Sharon said they talked every Tuesday on their ham radios. No cellphones or emails in those days.

Growing up, I heard my family talk about Chet and Buster’s relationship. Being a kid at the time, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what the big deal was until my mom said, “Chet has a picture of him and Buster together on one of his albums.” That’s when my young ears perked up. I replied, “Album? Chet has an album?”

Chet didn’t have just “an album.” His name is on the cover of over a hundred albums. Most are studio and live albums. Some of the others are compilations with other recording artists. Let me tell you, that list is impressive. To name a few: Floyd Cramer, Les Paul, Merle Travis, the Boston Pops Orchestra, Jerry Reed, and Hank Snow. And some of these recordings were nominated for a Grammy award.

And did you know Chet was also a manager and producer for RCA? The list of musicians he produced is just as impressive. Again, here are a few: Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Perry Como, Waylon Jennings, and Don Gibson. He also produced Charlie Pride and helped to get his career started.

Let’s say it together: “Wow!” Talk about a local boy doing good!!

Before we go any further, I want to clarify why I use both the names Chet and Chester. Sharon said he only wanted to be called Chester by family and close friends. Chet was his professional name. I will respect his tradition.

I asked Sharon if she had ever spoken to Chester, and if so, what was her impression of him. She said he was very down to earth, quiet and unassuming. Chester’s success didn’t go to his head. It was very obvious to me that Sharon still admires him.

She also said every time Chester came to visit his momma, he would also spend time with Buster. Her mother Lorena always fixed Chester biscuits and gravy. Guess he couldn’t get biscuits and gravy like Lorena’s in Nashville.

When I first contacted Sharon about doing an interview on Chester, she suggested I read his book first: “Country Gentleman.” She lent me the paperback version, but she has a signed copy. I have to say, it was not at all what I expected.

I had no idea how hard Chet’s life was a young boy. His father walked off and left the family destitute. At times he developed sores which he blamed on malnutrition. And he suffered from bouts of asthma.

Eventually, he was able to get a radio. In those days, most homes had them. You listened to them in the evening instead of watching TV as we do today. Chet listened to the musicians and tried to copy their “licks.” He wanted to learn from them so he could create his own unique sound, which he accomplished.

Sharon said when a young Chester heard the guitars being played on the radio, he thought it was one person playing to sound like two people playing guitars. In actuality, it really was two people playing two different guitars. That is another reason for some of his unique sound.

I was surprised at how Chet lived from paycheck to paycheck early in his career. He went on several tours with other musicians. He even toured with Archie Campbell who performed comedy skits. And he also worked at several radio stations. Radio stations used to have bands that played for their various live programs.

One time he wanted to try out for a job at WNOX in Knoxville, but he didn’t have decent clothes to wear to the audition. Sharon said Buster gave him some of his clothes to wear, but Chester was taller than him. So, Lorena let out the cuffs in the pants for Chester. And yes, he was hired.

One thing that struck me was the lack of confidence Chet had in himself. He lost several jobs at various radio stations, including a stint at the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 where he first met Minnie Pearl. Obviously, the problem wasn’t his skill as much as it was it was the type of music he played. The stations wanted country and hillbilly music. Chet likes to incorporate some pop and jazz into his playing.

At one point, Chet decided to give up on his career. He thought he would try his luck at piano-tuning since his father had done that for a living. His father also gave music lessons. Chet bought the instruments to tune pianos, but he just couldn’t do it.

Chet’s fate changed when the Carter Family came to Knoxville to play on WNOX. They noticed his talent and asked him to join their group. As Sharon said, that put him on the map. After successful tours with the Carters, the Grand Ole Opry took notice. As the old saying goes, “The rest is history.” Better yet; “The rest is country music history.”

There was so much that I learned about Chet (professional) and Chester (personal), that I could not do it justice in one article. If you really want to learn more about him, I would recommend reading his book co-written by Bill Neely, “County Gentleman.” There is also a website:

Or you could join the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society. They hold a convention mid-July at the Music City Sheraton Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville. Sharon and her husband Wayne go as guests every year. Like me, Chet’s fans feel that Sharon is the next best thing to Chester Atkins.

Chet really was, is, and always will be a treasure from Union County.




The Balanced Budget

The Balanced Budget

Historians will record 2018 as the second year in a row of a balanced budget for Union County; likely the most significant legislative accomplishment of the County Commission in a generation. Union County’s budget is one of the most important pieces of public policy the Commission enacts every year.

A New Family Addition

Leyton Taylor Campbell

“God’s most beautiful gifts bloom into children.”

Jordan and Allison Campbell recently received a new blessing to their family. Their son, Leyton Taylor Campbell, was welcomed into the world on Saturday, July 7, 2018 at 12:42 pm at UT Medical Center.

Keepin' the Old Ways

Macedonia Methodist Church at Andersonville

In order to appreciate how it is or how it might be, our youth need a lesson in the “Old Ways.” Understanding what our ancestors endured will instill a greater respect for their survival and how they prospered.

Pounding Down the Well

Pounding Down the Well

My husband's widowed mother married her former brother-in-law in our living room. Uncle Charlie had hurt his leg putting down our well on the property of what was to be our new home, closer to my husband's work. The minister said it wasn't written anywhere that you had to stand to be married. We were all seated.

Back to the well. The water table was high at the new place. We didn't need to drill a well, Uncle Charlie said. He would help us pound down a well. It was cheaper to do than drilling a well. The three of us could do it.

Fearless Running

Fearless Running

Some spices I am privileged to experience from the side line.

That spring evening, my daughter Sara’s softball team was playing the number one, undefeated team in their league. The other team were all 12 years old whereas Sara’s teammates were barely 10. We went in with no illusions of victory. If we were lucky, we may get one run.

At the top of the third inning, Sara went up to bat. At this point, none of ours girls had made it to first base, which was no surprise. At least they looked cute in their red, white, and blue outfits.

The pitcher threw. Sara swung.

Chicken Biscuit Stew

Chicken Biscuit Stew

I remember when I worked full time in a sewing factory. My mind would wander while sewing. After you do the same stitching over and over, it doesn't take all your attention to do the job. My mind would wander to wondering what I would fix for supper that evening. My kids were in the lower grades in school and came home about the same time I did. They had a long bus ride.

Snake Bit


When you run across a snake, their normal reaction is to get away. But if they feel threatened enough all snakes will bite defensibly. If you are bitten, here are some recommended first aide treatments.

Try to determine if it’s venomous or not. If you’re confident it’s not you can treat the bite like you would a puncture wound. Check with your doctor to see if you might need a tetanus shot booster.



Music Jam

Music Jam ~Featuring Dixie Nicely & Wendal Sturgill Saturday, July 21, 6:30 -10:00 p.m.

Narrow Ridge invites our friends and neighbors to join us for our open music jam on Saturday, July 21 at our outdoor stage just up the road from our Mac Smith Resource Center at 1936 Liberty Hill Rd. We are happy to announce that local artists, Dixie Nicely and Wendal Sturgill, will kick off the festivities from 6:30 to 7:00 pm. 7:00 will begin the open mic/jam portion of the evening when we invite guests to share their talents in a forum that provides equal time to all who wish to participate.

Area Worship Leaders, Pastors, and Faith community leaders

Area Worship Leaders, Pastors, and Faith community leaders

"We invite all area Worship Leaders, Pastors, and Faith community leaders to come together on the last Thursday of each month at Hardee's at 7:30 am. This is to be a time of fellowship, prayer, and discussion about how we as a community of Faith can work together to have a positive impact on our county. All are welcome!" Margaret Chesney

Union County Board Of Education


The next regular workshop and meeting of the Union County Board of Education will be held on Thursday, July 26, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. at Union County High School. The workshop will begin at 6:00 p.m. with the meeting immediately to follow.



1. Discuss School Trips

· None at Time of Publication

2. Budget Amendments and Transfers/Director’s Monthly Report—Ann Dyer

Community Worship & Revival

On February 22, 2018, A Call To Prayer was made in the Luttrell Community. Several community pastor agreed to go back to their respective churches and call on their members to pray for the Lord to guide in an effort to unite our churches with a common goal of a Community Worship & Revival leading folks to Jesus the only begotten son of God.


Benjamin "Benny" Reece King

Benny went to sit on the lap of his LORD and SAVIOR Saturday July 14, 2018 at children's hospital.

Benny our sweet angel is the son of April King. Grandson to Sherri and Matt Bridges. Benny was also a brother to Kyle King and Jesse Perry. Great Grandchild of Barbara Brown along with Ronnie and Tina Bridges. Benny was the nephew of Alley King, Jacob King, Ethan Muehliesen, Leah Bridges, Isaiah Bridges, Faith Bridges and Noah Bridges.

Proceeded in death by great grandfather W.L. Carmon Our love for our sweet Benny will forever be. Always our sweet Angel!!

Donald H. Norris

Donald H. Norris-age 64 of Maynardville passed away Monday morning, July 16, 2018 at his home. He was a member of Cedar Grove Baptist Church. Preceded in death by parents, Roy and Maude E. Norris; brother, David Norris.

Barbara Kay "Momma" Burkhert

Barbara Kay “Momma” Burkhert, age 72, went to be with the Lord on July 15, 2018. She had 3 kids, John J. Viglasky, Liesa Canupp, and Greg Viglasky. She also had 3 grandkids Ashley Taylor, Stacey Canupp, Taylor Viglasky, as well as, 4 great-grandkids. Family will receive friends 5:00-7:00pm Thursday July 19, 2018 at Mynatt Funeral Home Halls Chapel with service to follow. Family and friends will meet 10:45am Friday July 20, 2018 at Fort Sumter Cemetery for and 11:00am interment. Please leave online condolences at

LaVerne McLain Cummings

LaVerne McLain Cummings, of Knoxville, suddenly went to be with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Wednesday, July 11th, 2018 at Parkwest Hospital. Preceded in death by parents Ed and Mildred McLain, grandson Chad Breeden, and sister Sandra Leach. Survived by loving husband Harlan J. Cummings, daughter Angelia (Bob) Love, son Brent Cox, grandson whom she raised Matthew (Amber) Cox, granddaughters Amanda Dykes and Brittney Russell, sisters Faye (Roger) Neff and Burlene Tolman, as well as 6 great grandkids. She was looking forward to seeing her great grandson Grantley expected in August.

Michael Ernest Smith

Michael Ernest Smith – age 53 of Maynardville, passed away suddenly Saturday, July 8, 2018.

Michael is preceded in death by his parents, Ernest and Mary Smith; and sister, Barbara Smith. He is survived by his son, Daniel; sister, Debra (Stacy) Lynn; special niece, Emily; special nephews, Derrick and Aaron Lynn; several aunts, uncles and other nieces and nephews.

Barbara Carol Spradlen

Barbara Carol Spradlen, age 68, of Powell, passed away on July 8, 2018. She was preceded in death by father, Andrew M. Vanover and mother, Betty Ann Galloway; special great aunt, Bessie L. Galloway Johnson and her husband, Harrison "Hat" Johnson Jr., and their daughter Helen Jean Johnson York.

Jackie Owen Carpenter

Jackie Owen Carpenter, age 83, passed away at home on July 9, 2018. Jack was born October 28, 1934 in Claiborne County and graduated from Claiborne County High School in 1952. He served in the U.S. Army from 1957-1960. He earned his BA from University of California, Northridge in 1972. Jack accepted Christ at an early age and was a member of Salem Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday School for many years. He retired in 1998 from Harrison-Chihowee Baptist Academy (The Kings Academy) after 22 years of working as Business Manager.

Carolyn Lee England Underwood

Carolyn Lee Underwood-age 52 of Maynardville went to be with the Lord, Monday, July 9, 2018 at her home. She was a member of Grace Full Gospel Baptist Church. Preceded in death by husband, Richard Williams; grandson, Richard Dylangaddy.

Survivors: daughters, Alicia Williams, Chassitty Williams; son, Cory Underwood; husband, Randy Underwood; sisters, Charlene Gouldie, Sandra Bryant, parents, Alice and Robert England; two granddaughters, Mackenzie Mixon and Alyssa Gaddy; many nieces, nephews and a host of friends.

Steven James See

Steven James See, age 35 of Knoxville, went to be with the Lord July 6, 2018. He was a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Steven was always a friendly, outgoing young man and always had a smile on his face. He loved going to church and enjoyed fishing with his friends. He was a great uncle to his niece and nephews, as well as, a wonderful step-dad to Courtney and Austin. Preceded in death by father Steve See; grandmother, Bobbie Franklin; uncle Jack McClain.

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