Music

Hank Garland: Country Music's Unsung Guitar Hero

You may not have heard of guitarist Hank Garland, but the biggest stars in the history of country music sure have. Walter Louis Garland was born in Cowpens, South Carolina on November 11, 1930. He played with legends and in the process became one himself. Garland has performed with the likes of Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and a litany of other Nashville icons.

Of course, Hank Garland is far from just a guitarist for others. At the age of 16, Garland moved to Nashville, Tennessee to follow that dream of being a country music star. Only two years later, at 18, Garland recorded his hit "Sugarfoot Rag," which sold over a million records. Though Garland was a hitmaker in his own right, he is perhaps best known for his work with Elvis Presley in the late '50s and early '60s. The Nashville studio pairing with Elvis produced a ton of hits including, "A Fool Such As I," "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame," "I Need Your Love Tonight," "I'm Coming Home," "I Got Stung," "A Big Hunk o' Love," "Stuck on You," "Little Sister," and "I Feel So Bad."

But Garland didn't become a legend working with Elvis alone. He was a part of some of the most iconic songs in American history. The twanging, festive guitar on the Christmas classics "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"? That's Hank Garland. His music is timeless.

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Hank Garland wasn't entirely a country musician either. Like all the best guitar players, Hank could do just about anything. Aside from his Christmas song classics, Garland was also a jazz musician. In 1961 he released the jazz album Jazz Winds from a New Direction after playing with the likes of Charlie Parker and George Shearing in New York.

Garland's influence on music and guitar players goes far beyond country music and jazz, however. Along with Billy Byrd, and at the request of then Gibson Guitar president, Ted McCarty, Garland and Byrd designed the Byrdland guitar. It was a version of the Gibson L-5 guitar, but with a slimmer body and shorter scale to make playing easier.

Unfortunately, Hank Garland's career was cut tragically short by a car accident in 1961. Though Garland survived the crash, it put him in a coma for a while and took away his mental ability to play guitar professionally forever. Hank's wife Evelyn cared for him until her death in 1965, and after that Garland's parents cared for him until their own deaths. Garland did live a long life, though, dying in 2004 in Orange Park, Florida at the age of 74.

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Hank Garland: Country Music's Unsung Guitar Hero