Country legend Chet Atkins, one of the most influential and widely recorded instrumentalists ever, died Saturday at his home in Nashville of cancer. He was 77.

Country legend Chet Atkins, one of the most influential and widely recorded instrumentalists ever, died Saturday at his home in Nashville of cancer. He was 77.

As the head of RCA Victor's Nashville operations between 1957 and 1981, Atkins was a chief architect of the smooth, mellow "Nashville sound" that kept country music solvent after the rise of rock'n'roll rendered fiddles and steel guitars passe for a time.

As a guitarist, arranger, producer, A&R director, and talent scout, Atkins was involved in the careers of dozens of country, rock, and pop stars, including the Carter Family, Red Foley, Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Don Gibson, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, and the Everly Brothers. He played on hundreds of sessions, including those which produced Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart," and the Everlys' "Wake Up Little Susie."

Atkins signed to RCA in 1947; he later had an exclusive contract to play guitar on all RCA Victor sessions in Nashville. He built the storied RCA Studio B and office building in 1957, where an entire generation of artists ushered in country's modern era. At one point, he was producing a stable of some 25 RCA acts.

Billboard's 1997 Century Award honoree, Atkins recorded more than 75 guitar instrumental albums and sold approximately 75 million records, influencing countless guitar luminaries, including Duane Eddy, Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, and Eddie Cochran. He won 14 Grammy awards and, at age 49, became the youngest living person to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973.

Atkins is survived by his wife, one sister, and two grandchildren, all of Nashville. Funeral services are set for 11 a.m. tomorrow (July 3) at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.