Skip to Content

Guitar hero on ‘beautiful’ life after overcoming drug addiction

Legendary guitarist Tommy Emmanuel says he has “started to see the sun shine again” in recent years after overcoming a decades-long addiction to alcohol and cocaine.

Considered one of the world’s premier acoustic guitar players, the former member of New Zealand-Australian band Dragon has admitted the casual culture of drug use in the industry fuelled his addiction across many decades as a touring musician.

Tommy Emmanuel is considered one of the world’s premier acoustic guitar players.

But ahead of a slew of gigs in Aotearoa next month, Emmanuel revealed to Newstalk ZB’s Real Life with John Cowan that discovering sobriety and a belief in a “higher power” has since provided him with a “beautiful way to live”.

“I used to be a hopeless alcoholic and drug addict,” the 68-year-old said, “and when I went to treatment, I discovered the way of life of Alcoholics Anonymous and I liked the programme.

“I liked the principles with which to live by, and I liked the fact that I had to apologise for the way I’d been, that I had to make amends with a lot of people and be honest and ask for help.

“When I did that, when I got real and I got sober, I began to change – I’m still changing. It’s a beautiful way to live… I’m relaxed and calm and comfortable in my own skin.”

Emmanuel has now been sober for four years, and says life is characterised by “rigorous honesty” and “putting the needs of others first” – all underpinned by a newfound belief in God.

“I’ve had to find a way of humbling myself, of saying, ‘I don’t really know how to live’,” he told Cowan. “I’m trusting that a higher power in our world knows better than me, and I’m going to do what I think is the right thing and follow that.”

“I think God is love. God is just a word that a white man has made up and it’s really a power greater than ourselves that will restore us to the life we’re supposed to be living. It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

Emmanuel, who is heading to our shores for the first time in six years next month to play shows in Hamilton, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, is one of the world’s most revered guitarists.

Now in his late 60s, one of the recent joys of his career is the opportunity to give back to up-and-coming artists.

“I definitely put as much effort as I can into mentoring young people to make sure that if I get an opportunity, that I say something that will help them. I always ask my higher power to guide my thinking and my ethics.”

His main piece of advice? Don’t follow “a blueprint of someone else’s way of writing”.

“Don’t think ‘I’ve got to write a song that’s just like Beyonce’s’ or whatever. I always tell them, write from what you really think, what you’re really going through and say it like it is – and that’s it.”