"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.