DOWN MEMORY LANE: Cotton brought Atkins to town in ‘56

Published 1:45 am Friday, April 5, 2019

Before Meagan Taylor took the stage at LBW Community College Thursday night, she spent some time reminiscing with Donald Cotton and treated him to a private concert.

Taylor is the niece of the late Chet Atkins, who helped create the Nashville sound and developed a signature guitar-picking style. She is currently on tour with Jason Coleman, grandson of Floyd Cramer. The two perform a show called “Nashville Legacy,” and were presented in Andalusia by the Covington Arts Council.

Cotton and Taylor look through memorabilia with his son, Don Cotton, and her husband.

In the 1950s, Donald Cotton became a fan of young Chet Atkins, based on his radio performances for The Grand Ole Opry. In July of 1954, he brought Atkins to Andalusia to perform a concert for his customers at what was then known as Cotton Ford Tractor. Cotton still has the original contract, in which Atkins agreed to bring a bass player and perform in Andalusia for $300, half of which was due in advance. That would be about $2,800 today.

Atkins drove from Nashville and instead brought two musicians – Lightning Chance to play bass and Ray Edenton to play rhythm guitar. When the group rolled into town, the bass guitar was strapped to the top of the car, and a new amplifier designed and engineered by Ray Butts of Nashville was in the trunk. It was the first amplifier with reverb, and only the second one built. One of Elvis Presley’s musicians used the other one, the Cotton family told The Star-News in a 2001 interview.

A copy of that story, photographs if the 1954 Andalusia concert, photographs of Cotton and his late wife, JoAnn, with Atkins and other musicians were among the memorabilia he shared with Taylor. After meeting Atkins, the couple followed his career and began attending the annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society meeting in Nashville.

In addition to recording, Atkins was a design consultant for Gretsh, which manufactured a popular Chet Atkins line of guitars from 1955-1980.

When he met Taylor Thursday afternoon, Cotton brought his 1956 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins guitar, as well as a custom-built Haile guitar he purchased in 1975.

Taylor played both of them for him, and Coleman accompanied her on piano.