Hank Garland


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photograph of Hank Garland

Walter Louis "Hank" Garland (November 11, 1930 – December 27, 2004) was a Nashville studio musician who performed with Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison and many others.

Born in Cowpens, South Carolina, Garland began playing the guitar at the age of 6. He appeared on local radio shows at 12 and was discovered at 14 at a South Carolina record store. He moved to Nashville at age 16, staying in Ma Upchurch's boarding house, where he roomed with upright bassist Bob Moore and fiddler Dale Potter.
At age 19, Garland recorded his million-selling hit "Sugarfoot Rag", although some attribute the song to Bernie B. Smith, Jr., published two years earlier by M.M. Cole/BMI as "Bernie's Reel". An instrumental version was the opening theme for ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee from 1955–1960. Garland appeared on the Jubilee with Grady Martin's band, and on Eddy Arnold's network and syndicated television shows.
He is best known for his work on Elvis Presley's recordings from 1957 to 1961 which produced such rock hits as: "Little Sister", "I Got Stung", "Stuck on You", "It's Now or Never", "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", "His Latest Flame", "Follow That Dream", "A Big Hunk O' Love".
However, Garland also worked with many country music as well as rock 'n roll stars of the late 1950s and early 1960s including: Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Mel Tillis, Marty Robbins, The Everly Brothers, Boots Randolph, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty.
And played on a number of hits and rockabilly classics. These include: "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (Brenda Lee) "Only the Lonely" (Roy Orbison) "Wake Up Little Susie" (Everly Brothers) "Sea of Heartbreak" (Don Gibson) "I Got A Hole In MY Pocket" (Little Jimmy Dickens) "You Ruined My Blue Suede Shoes" {Roy Hall) "I Found A Million Dollar Baby" (Bobby Darin) "I'm Hurtin'" (Roy Orbison) "Watchdog" (AL Terry) "I've Got the Blues" (Vernon Taylor) "This Must Be the Place" (Ronnie Self) "Keep A Knockin" (Everly Brothers) "Leave My Woman Alone" (Everly Brothers) "Step Aside Shallow Water" (Let the Deep Sea Roll)(Jimmy Newman) "I Hear You Talkin'" (Faron Young) "The Shape I'm In" (Kenny Lee Martin) "Greenback Dollar" (Boots Randolph) "Radio, Jukebox, and TV" (Jimmy Donley) "I Can't Love You Like You Want Me To" (Jimmy Donley) "Mama Don't Cry At My Wedding" (Anita Carter) "Fireball Mail" (Collins Kids) "Ain't It Fine" (Melvin Endsley) "Tell Me So (You Told Me So)" (Marty Robbins) "Fraulein" (Bobby Helms) "Got a Lot of Rhythm in My Soul" (Patsy Cline) "She's Mine" (Johnny Strickland) "You're Gone Baby" (Jimmy Lloyd) "Jambalaya" (Ronnie Hawkins) "Bang Bang" (Janis Martin) "Alone With You" (Faron Young) "There He Goes" (Patsy Cline) "Shig-A-Shag" (Jimmy Craine) "Don't Bug Me Baby" (Milton Allen) "TV Hop" (Morgan Twins) "Let's Get Goin'" (Morgan Twins) "I've Seen This Movie Before" (Johnnie and Jack) "Camel Walk Stroll" (Johnnie and Jack) "Three Months to Kill" (Huelyn Duvall) "Bo Bo Ska Diddle Daddle" (Wayne Walker) "Lonesome Blues" (Patsy Cline) "I'm Comin' Home" (Elvis Presley) "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby" (Alternate take 11) (Elvis Presley) "Corinna, Corinna" (Floyd Cramer) "Walkin' in the Dark" (Dottie West) "When Will I Be Loved" (Everly Brothers) "Blue Avenue" (Roy Orbison) "Lana" (Roy Orbison) "Oh Yeah" (Joe Melson) "Hey Sheriff" (Rusty and Doug Kershaw) "Diggy Liggy Lo" (Rusty and Doug Kershaw) "Kawliga" (Rusty and Doug Kershaw) "I Never Had the Blues" (Rusty and Doug Kershaw) "Hey Mae" (Rusty and Doug Kershaw) "Betty Bounce" (Glenn Reeves) "Don't You Know?" (Conway Twitty) "Please Baby Please" (Curtis Gordon) "Ring a My Phone" (Brenda Lee) "I'm Sorry" (Brenda Lee) "I Want to Be Wanted" (Brenda Lee) "Sweet Nothins" (Brenda Lee) "Weep No More My Baby" (Brenda Lee) "Swanee River Rock" (Brenda Lee) "I'm Ready If You're Willing" (Johnny Horton) "Lonesome Road' (Collins Kids) "I Got a Rocket in My Pocket" (Jimmy Lloyd) "Start All Over Again" (Bob Gallion) "Let the Teardrops Fall" (Patsy Cline) "Crazy Little Guitar Man" (Red Foley) "At the Flop" (Homer and Jethro) "Cradle of Love" (Johnny Preston) "Hey Ma" (Little Jimmy Dickens) "I Fall to Pieces" (Patsy Cline)
He also played with jazz artists such as George Shearing and Charlie Parker in New York and went on to record Jazz Winds From a New Direction, showcasing his evolving talent, along with Gary Burton on vibraphone, Joe Benjamin on acoustic bass and Joe Morello on drums. It is believed that Garland was the first to explore the use of the power chord in popular music.
At the request of Gibson Guitar company president, Ted McCarty, Garland and fellow guitarist Billy Byrd strongly influenced the design of the Byrdland guitar, which derived from the Gibson L-5 guitar Garland is seen holding in the photograph.
In September 1961, he was playing for the soundtrack of Presley's movie, Follow That Dream when a car accident left Garland in a coma that lasted for a week. With the help of his wife, he re-learned how to walk, talk, and play the guitar though he never recovered sufficiently to return to the studios. It was believed electroconvulsive therapy, prescribed by his doctors, may have caused more damage to his brain, but little evidence exists to support this theory. Garland's brother, Billy, claimed the crash was actually an attempted murder by someone in the Nashville music scene, but there is no evidence of that. Garland was widely respected by his peers and Nashville producers such as Chet Atkins, Don Law and Owen Bradley.
When noted Nashville journalist Peter Cooper asked Chet Atkins a number of years ago who he thought the best guitar player to ever come to Nashville was, Atkins stated without hesitation, "Hank Garland." "Chet wasn't wrong," said Harold Bradley, an A-Teamer who, after the accident, took over for Garland as the most recorded guitarist in Nashville. "I am very humble about my playing because Hank Garland is the standard."
"I can't even imagine what he would have become had he not been in that accident, said Brad Paisley, a guitarist and contemporary country hit-maker who received a Grammy nomination for his own version of "Sugarfoot Rag." "You're talking about 40 years of lost innovation that could have come only from him."
Garland died on December 27, 2004 of a staph infection in Orange Park, Florida, where he lived with his brother, Robert Garland, and sister-in-law, Amy Garland. Upon his passing, The New York Times described Hank as "a studio artist known for musical riffs that could take a recording from humdrum to dazzling."
Hank was survived by two daughters, Cheryl Gruendemann and Debra Garland along with four grandsons and great grandchildren. 'The epitaph on Hank's gravestone reads, "THE GREATEST GUITAR PLAYER THAT EVER WALKED PLANET EARTH."
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