Monday, May 16, 2005


"it's a solid beat"

Hank Garland, E String Rag.

The study of a guitar god cut short in his prime. You might be familiar with Hank Garland's session work in the 1950s, as he played lead on Elvis Presley's "Little Sister" and "(Now and Then There's) a Fool Such As I," the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love" and Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces," among a host of other hits. And with Bill Byrd, Garland co-designed the Byrdland guitar in 1955.

But Garland once had ambitions as a solo artist. Born in 1930 in Cowpens, South Carolina, Garland was playing professionally by age 15, first with Paul Howard, a Bob Wills disciple, and then Cowboy Copas. In 1949, Garland signed with Decca and had a quick hit with "Sugarfoot Rag". But due to a host of bad production decisions (i.e., downplaying Garland's hot guitar stylings in favor of rote imitations of Floyd Tillman and Hank Snow songs), most of Garland's records didn't move.

At his best, though, Garland was one of the last broad synthesists in American popular music--the greatest influences on his playing were Maybelle Carter, Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith and Django Reinhardt, and he was equally comfortable with and adept at playing pop, country, rock & roll and jazz, when the latter music in particular was severing itself from the pop mainstream. (Garland recorded with a jazz trio on 1960's Jazz Winds from a New Direction.)

"E String Rag" is from Garland's last Decca session. It features his fleet, twanging solos (especially the four-bar one around 2:00--a waggling, vaulting dance of notes), and a sort of proto-"Dance to the Music" bit in which drummer Farris Coursey, bassist Ernest Newton and pianist Owen Bradley all get a little space to introduce themselves.

Recorded on August 31, 1951, at Castle Studio in Nashville, and released as Decca 46382. w/ Jack Shook and Harold Ray Bradley on rhythm guitar and Tommy Jackson on fiddle.

In 1961, Garland was nearly killed in Tennessee when he was thrown from his station wagon when it overturned; after recovering from a coma, Garland discovered that his coordination had been so impaired that he could no longer play the guitar. After enduring a tough few decades, Hank Garland died last December.

You can find "E String Rag" on Hank Garland & His Sugar Footers, a nice compilation of his Decca sides on Bear Family Records. Please visit the Garland family's website.

More on the low 'E' string, and a primer on guitar physics.

top painting: Mark Rothko, Number 12, Untitled (Orange & Red).

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