Legendary country, rock and jazz guitarist Hank Garland, who performed with Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, Charlie Parker and many others, died yesterday (Dec. 27) of a staph infection in Orange Park, Fla. He was 74.
Born Walter Garland, he started playing guitar at age 6 and appeared on radio shows at age 12. He was discovered at the age of 14 at a South Carolina music store where he had gone to buy a guitar string. He had his first million-selling hit at 19 with “Sugar Foot Rag,” a famous country tune.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Walter “Hank” Garland was the talk of Nashville, known for musical riffs that could take a recording from humdrum to dazzling, as he did on Elvis hits like “Little Sister” and “Big Hunk of Love.”
“He is heralded as a quintessential Nashville studio guitarist,” musician Wolf Marshall said earlier this year. “He was born with talent,” his brother Billy Garland said. “A God-given talent.”
In addition to performing with Elvis and other stars in Nashville, he was at the forefront of the rock’n’roll movement, enjoyed a prestigious career as a country virtuoso, pioneered the electric guitar at the Grand Ole Opry and inspired jazz instrumentalists such as George Benson. He jammed in New York with George Shearing and jazz great Charlie Parker.
His detailed session logbook reads like a “Who’s Who” of the stars of country music, including Brenda Lee, Mel Tillis, Marty Robbins, Boots Randolph, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams Sr.
Garland worked with Elvis from 1957 to 1961, and was playing on the soundtrack for his movie “Follow That Dream” in 1961 when a car crash put him in a coma for months. Billy Garland claims the crash was no accident, but an attempted killing by someone in the Nashville record scene.
The crash injuries and a series of 100 shock treatments administered at a Nashville hospital left him a shadow of his former self. He had to relearn everything from walking and talking to playing the guitar.
Garland spent the final years of his life fighting ill health, trying to pry royalties out of record companies and talking with Hollywood about a movie based on his life.
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