Al Chernet

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Such is the lot of studio musicians that the type of versatility they are routinely expected to demonstrate in their daily existence would be considered a sign of genius if it was something a performing…
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Such is the lot of studio musicians that the type of versatility they are routinely expected to demonstrate in their daily existence would be considered a sign of genius if it was something a performing artist got up and did on-stage. If one was limited to the names of the world's most famous guitarists, it would be impossible to pick one who could handle classical lute, Dixieland banjo, and guitar from easy listening to soul to country. The name Al Chernet would not even be lodged on the tip of the general public's tongue, because like most studio musicians, he remained pretty much anonymous throughout his long career. Chernet was mostly based out of New York City, where for one the RCA label made almost exclusive use of him for country & western recording projects. He was a disciple of that label's guitar whiz and A&R man, Chet Atkins, performing in a second-string capacity on several of Atkins' instrumental discs, as well as performing the country guitar chores on recordings by the likes of Hank Snow and Eddy Arnold. He was one of the country session men who got the axe from RCA, however, when outlaw country man Waylon Jennings finally convinced the label's heads that Atkins was living in the past and that modern country artists needed to record with their own road bands -- up until then almost an impossibility in country music. Luckily, Chernet had other fretboards in the fire, so to speak. He played on a variety of early rock and rockabilly efforts, including one of Buddy Holly's first ventures outside the sound of his own combo. He recorded several Latin albums with bandleader PĂ©rez Prado. Fans of vintage soul music may think that Chernet is one of their own, since he made important contributions to Sam Cooke's discography as well as playing on one of the always interesting album efforts of the witty Oscar Brown Jr. When versatile soul singer Esther Phillips decided to try a country project, Chernet was an obvious choice for one of the session players since he had a foot in both camps anyway. The guitarist also took up banjo, but much in the way many studio players do, which means they simply got the six-string banjo mutation known as either a "git-jo" or a "banjo-tar" and began plunking away on it. He claims to have hauled this instrument out "from under his bed" in response to the overseas success of the musical The Boy Friend in 1954. Knowing that this show was headed for Broadway and utilized the ticky tacky, rinky tinky sound of '20s banjo playing, Chernet woodshedded a little and easily landed the job of banjo player for the Broadway production of this show. This led to further banjo work, some of which borders on the excruciating. He is one of the only musicians credited on the ghastly Banjo Party by the Banjo Barons, one of several efforts by a group of studio players who cranked out albums of singalong medleys to suit what was thankfully a short-lived fad for such material. And although presenting silent films with gimmicky banjo and honky tonk piano soundtracks may have gone the way of the hula hoop, anyone unfortunate to suffer such a presentation can be safe in assuming that the banjo they hear on the soundtrack is Chernet. Much better musically is his banjo playing on the 1964 Bobby Hackett Hello Louis! project, which is also where Chernet's discography merges with that of virtuoso soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy; the Hackett album is one of Lacy's occasional projects involving more traditional jazz. Chernet's forays into the world of Muzak include being part of the stable of studio guitarists involved with the king of them all, Tony Motolla, on various hi-fi projects for Enoch Light. Chernet was also part of an exclusive group of New York session guitarists organized by Motolla who made sure there were amplifiers ready for them in every studio so that none of them would ever have to carry one around again. Aside from some of the pop and R&B hits he has played on, Chernet's maximum radio airplay exposure certainly comes from his recordings as a lutist with the Robert Shaw Chorale. It is difficult to pass a Christmas season without hearing some of these performances broadcast on the radio, unless one seals one's ears with super glue.