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Guitar great Tommy Emmanuel plays with his heroes

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Veteran guitarist Tommy Emmanuel’s new collaborative album is called “Accomplice One.” (Courtesy Alysse Gafkjen)

Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel — who started playing at age 4 and two years later was touring the country with his father in a surf-rocking family band — follows a key philosophy: If you respect a certain recording artist, let them know — because you never know where it might lead. In 1967, he penned a glowing fan letter to his idol Chet Atkins in Tennessee.

“Chet was the busiest guy in Nashville in those days, but about two months later, I actually got a reply and a black-and-white photograph,” says Emmanuel, who plays the Great American Music Hall today. That initial contact resulted in the two working together on a 1997 album, and Atkins presenting him with a personal Certified Guitar Player Award in 1999, one of only four in existence.

Emmanuel, 62, who now resides in Nashville, still follows his credo.

Last year, he visited his old friend, bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman, for what was ostensibly a fun, relaxing weekend. “But when I got there, he already had mikes set up, and he said, ‘Why don’t we record something and see how it goes?’” he says. “So we did. We recorded a whole album called “Pickin’,” David mastered it at his home studio, a couple months later it comes out, and we head out on an 18-date tour together.”

Emmanuel’s upcoming disc — “Accomplice One,” out next week – pushes the collaborative concept even further.

Its remarkable guest list of stars he has seriously admired includes Mark Knopfler, Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Suzy Bogguss and Jason Isbell, whose wife Amanda Shires sings on an inventive cover of Madonna’s “Borderline.” Grisman also pops back up on “Watson Blues.”

“I had some people that I really wanted to work with, so I started to just ring them up,” he says. So many consented, he’s planning second and third “Accomplice” volumes.

While Emmanuel appreciates modern file-sharing studio technology — he once played on an Los Angeles-recorded Diana Ross cut from Manchester, England, and from London on a posthumous Michael Jackson release — he didn’t use it on his new release.

“I didn’t want any of that stuff on my album. I wanted everybody all in one room,” he says. He’s accompanied on tour by Music Row singer-guitarist J.D. Simo, reprising a stirring duet of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”

Emmanuel’s fanaticism has its limits. Producers of the animated Fox series “American Dad!” employed his version of “Classical Gas” for an episode when Roger the Space Alien – easily the most toilet-humored character on TV — picks up flamenco guitar. “But I’ve never watched that show, nor do I have any desire to,” he says. “Those kinds of programs don’t interest me at all.”

Tommy Emmanuel
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 11-12
Tickets: $46 to $51
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.eventbrite.com

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