Hank Garland, Move! The Guitar Artistry Of Hank Garland
One of the greatest Nashville guitarists to ever walk the Earth
Hank Garland's mastery of the guitar stands tall at the nexus of country, jazz and rock and roll in the 1950s, when all these streams of music were in full intermingle. As a session player in Nashville, he practically invented the feline concept of an all-around musician, enhancing whatever he played upon. Even today, his legend is regarded as the gold standard of technique and taste. Though his career was cut short by a tragic auto accident in 1961, leaving him impaired and unable to reach the instrumental heights that were once his, the scope of his legacy is represented in this double album of virtuosity in the service of a song.
Born in Cowpens, South Carolina, on November 11, 1930, Hank came to Nashville at the age of 15, unable to even qualify for a musician's union card. His prodigious skill, honed by equal doses of Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith and Django Reinhardt (not to mention Charlie Christian, who was elemental for anyone interested in the guitar's electric possibilities), was recognized early on, and by the end of the 1940s was beginning to get first-called for sessions. He even scored a surprise instrumental hit in 1950 with "Sugarfoot Rag" (see Roots of Rockabilly Vol. 1). Fleet-fingered, with an excellent ear, he almost had too much speed at his command, and guitarist Billy Byrd took him under his wing, teaching him to slow down and use his pinky. (Together, the two would help Gibson design the "Byrd(Gar)land" guitar in 1955).
In his Nashville decade, he played with everybody, perhaps only matched by Chet Atkins: Marty Robbins, Red Foley, Webb Pierce, Charlie Rich, even inventing the guitar riff that highlights Bobby Helm's "Jingle Bell Rock." He backed up Elvis Presley on "Little Sister" and "A Big Hunk of Love," and it was leaving a session for an Elvis soundtrack in September of 1961 that his '59 Chevy Impala station wagon had its near-fatal collision with ill fate.
Move! collects from a trio of Garland albums made in 1959 and 1960, finding him a variety of settings. Both the Unforgettable Guitar of… and the milestone Jazz Winds From A New Direction let him loose on standards like "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" and "Pop Goes The Weasel" (!), pairing him with Gary Burton on the vibes for a stunning display of fleet-finger jazz ("Riot-chous"), hardly hillbilly, with cascades and sprays of 16th and 32nd notes from one of the best right hands in guitar lore. But my favorites on this comprehensive anthology, nigh-solo in their quietude and grace, are from Velvet Guitar, (subtitled "Soft, Pretty Sounds For Intimate Listening") the expressionals and meditative versions of "Tammy" and "Greensleeves" that are one man, one guitar, and the melody swaying in between.