Most of the talented guitarists who have populated country music through the years have been perfectly happy to stay within their comfort zone. But the best of them have occasionally stretched themselves musically, and that would be the case with Hank Garland, the legendary composer of “Sugarfoot Rag”, who surprised many fans with his detour into jazz.
Walter Louis ‘Hank’ Garland was a South Carolina native who grew up listening to Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith and other radio stars, and decided to pursue a country music career of his own. Beginning with banjo and later switching to guitar, he was so talented that he began to appear on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville when he was just 15.
As he grew to adulthood in the post-war years his career kept pace, with countless studio sessions as a sideman eventually leading to a solo recording contract, and over the next decade Garland built his reputation as one of the best instrumentalists around. He hit the top of the charts with his “Sugarfoot Rag” and also became well-known for backing Elvis Presley on a number of hit records, including “Big Hunk O’ Love” and “Little Sister.”
Well established as a country music performer, Garland threw his fans a curve in 1961. He’d been playing jazz off and on for several years, working with pros like George Shearing and Charlie Parker, but the country music world was a little startled when he released a couple of jazz albums; Jazz Winds From a New Direction and Velvet Guitar.
Unfortunately Garland was severely injured in a car wreck later that year, and had to suffer through a long and slow rehabilitation, relearning how to walk and talk. He eventually was again able to play some guitar, but his career was pretty much over by then. He died in 2004 at the age of 74.