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Forgotten Heroes: Hank Garland

Forgotten Heroes: Hank Garland

An Undeniable Legacy

In this 1950s press photo, Garland is shown playing a session with an Gibson L-7 outfitted with a Charlie Christian single-coil.
Today, Garland family members duke it out on various websites and forums, arguing about who cared for Garland the most, who has the most accurate version of the story, and so forth. It’s a sad situation for any family. So perhaps the best way to gauge the reality of Garland’s impact is through the perspectives of the musicians he influenced.

“He’s one of the most talented musicians I have encountered in my career,” says Burton. “His obvious enthusiasm for whatever music he was playing was inspiring to everyone around him. I’ve always thought that was one of the reasons he was so popular in Nashville and why everyone wanted Hank to be on their sessions. His very presence seemed to create a buzz among the musicians, whether it was country, rock, or jazz.”

Bradley recalls that it wasn’t just Garland’s skill that put him in such high demand—it was also his personal warmth. “He was an exceptional guitar player. We have people who play fast now, but we don’t have anyone who plays the lines he played. They’re very schooled, but they don’t have the swing and the tone and the feel that Hank had. He was one of a kind. He was miles ahead of us, and we’ll never catch him. But all the guitar stuff aside, he was just a great, great friend.”

Ultimately, the varying recollections and legends regarding Hank Garland dissipate like mist in the morning sun. Because the reality of his musical legacy is indisputable: It’s on records, on tape. It’s in yellowing session pages decaying in Nashville office buildings. Ignore the controversy, the allegations, and just lose track of time while listening to songs like “Sugar Foot Rag” or “Move.” In those melodies, the speedy licks, the warm tone, you’ll find the true measure of Hank Garland.

Special thanks to Bear Family Records for their assistance with this story.

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