Hank Garland is a legendary Nashville session guitarist whose career extended to many different areas of music, most notably pop, rock, country, and jazz. His story is an interesting one.
He was born Walter Louis Garland in Cowpens, South Carolina in 1930 and learned to play a guitar at age six. He performed on some radio shows as a teenager and by the late 1940's Garland had made his way to Nashville. At age 19 he played on a hit country record Sugarfoot Rag, which was a million seller.
He came to know the Nashville music scene and was in demand as a session guitar player. A very talented musician who could add a great deal to a recording by nearly any artist, Garland worked with many of the music stars of the 50's and early 60's. Among the country stars on this list were Hank Williams, Sr., Cowboy Copas, Marty Robbins, Mel Tillis, Patsy Cline, the Everly Brothers, Conway Twitty, and Brenda Lee, and from pop/rock he performed with Bobby Helms, Bobby Darin, Roy Orbison, and Elvis Presley. By the late 50's he had developed a strong interest in jazz, and worked with such notables as Barry Galbraith, George Benson, George Shearing, and Charlie Parker, mostly in New York City. Hank Garland recorded some albums under his own name, mostly jazz albums, in the late 50's and early 60's.
Garland spent a great deal of time with Elvis Presley beginning in 1957, and does guitar work on some of Presley's hits such as A Big Hunk 'O Love and Little Sister. Other well known records on which his work can be heard include Bye Bye Love, Jingle Bell Rock and I Fall To Pieces. While working on the soundtrack of Presley's movie Follow That Dream in September 1961, Garland was involved in a serious automobile accident in Tennessee. He was in a coma for months and had significant memory loss. Hank Garland underwent a series of shock treatments. He had to learn to walk and talk again, and how to play the guitar again. He recovered to an extent but was in poor health and lost a lot of his aggressiveness, and spent some time in Nashville area hospitals. He was not able to perform again professionally.
From the time he was a teenager until his automobile accident at age 30, Garland built a reputation for himself as a legendary guitarist. He spent his later years battling record companies over royalties, dealing with his health issues, and working on a biographical movie about his career. The movie, titled Crazy, was released in 2007 with actor Waylon Payne portraying Garland in the lead role.
Hank Garland suffered from a staph infection and died at a medical center in Orange Park, Florida on December 27, 2004 at age 74. He is admired by some in the world of music for his outstanding ability as a guitarist.
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