The History of Rock and Roll, Part 34

If Chet Atkins never met Herbie, there'd be no Dire Straits

"I remember it very well," Atkins says. "He kept telling me something about this thing that I could get some good sounds with. I told him to order me one and I'd try it." Atkins tells the story in his book this way: "After I had been working with the Dixieland Swingsters for a couple of months, the drummer Herbie Cooper suggested I buy a Vib-Rola. When I told him that I didn't know what it was, he explained that it was a special tail piece for guitars that would give a vibrato effect. ...It arrived from someplace in New York. After installing it I wanted to go kiss Herbie. Merle Travis was about the only person in the world using one at that time. I heard him use it, but I thought he was bending the neck of the guitar or something like that."

The device allowed for a slurring sound on notes and a resonant vibrato, something anyone who grew up in the rock and roll generation has heard a million times on a million records. "I loved the sound," Atkins says. "I'm in debt to Herbie. I never would have known."

Plenty of us remain in debt to Herbie Cooper, although he would take the credit, being a card, and make a corny joke out of it. A funny joke. A humor learned in the deep South decades ago, honed on the live-radio circuit, and never abandoned. I love it. I love Herbie Cooper, too. After all, he's my grandfather. Rock and roll.

CHET ATKINS performs at 8:00 p.m. Saturday at the Kravis Performing Arts Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd, West Palm Beach, 832-7469. Tickets range from $15 to $35.

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