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Tommy Emmanuel is already well-known around the world; now he's just busy spreading his enthusiasm to the U.S. 

Speedy Strumming

After hearing Tommy Emmanuel play live, it's hard to believe that he's not already on everyone's list of great guitar players. As he slashes the strings of his acoustic guitar with a speed and dexterity that's almost exhausting to watch, it's clear that the Australian guitarist ranks with the best.

"It just takes time," Emmanuel, 46, says over the phone from Colorado Springs where he's waiting to perform. "I want to take my music to the world. I know what I do has a good effect on people. I know it makes a difference in people's lives."

Those who have seen Emmanuel play his instrumental mix of jazz, world music, country and blues on a six-string wooden box would agree. He attacks his instrument with an aggression and love that is matched by few. As he prowls the stage, facial expressions passionate, Emmanuel's style is both percussive and melodic, and it's surprising to learn he gets his sounds without using the usual array of effects boxes. Whether he's hammering out his take on a Beatles' tune or one of his own compositions, his music grabs listeners with a vengeance.

"I can't sit there and play music that is full of life and not be full of life myself," Emmanuel explains. "I don't give a damn what anybody says."

Emmanuel comes to Richmond Thursday as part of a two-month, cross-country tour during which he's playing many venues for the first time. Later this year, he'll also make his first visits to London and Ireland.

But if he's new to many, he's also well-known to many. Emmanuel is so popular in Australia that he was asked to close the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney before a worldwide audience estimated at 2.75 billion viewers. He's also played for 40 adults and children in a Kenyan village where he sponsors a child.

"[Performing] is the same everywhere," he says simply.

Emmanuel began guitar at 4 and early-on he knew he'd found his answer.

"Obviously, something was going on…there was a gift there. I attacked it like my life depended on it."

Emmanuel played throughout his teens in his family's band and later joined a series of touring groups. A string of Australian shows with John Denver in 1988 put him in front of large crowds for the first time, and he recorded a successful album that same year. He's gone on to release a dozen albums since then, one of them in 1998 with his mentor and idol the late Chet Atkins. That recording earned a Grammy nomination.

Emmanuel takes a long-range view and expresses no impatience with his career or whether his music is riding the charts or not. He's rightly confident the future will bring more success.

"A radio hit would be OK, but unless that's sustained, it doesn't last very long. There are so many festivals, so many opportunities…I just want to make sure [listeners] have a good time. Then next time they'll bring two or 10 of their
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