Legendary guitarist Hank Garland dies

Legendary guitarist and musician Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland, who performed with Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins and Patsy Cline and many others, has died. He was 74. Garland died Monday evening, 27 December 2004 at Orange Park Medical Center from a staph infection, his brother, Billy Garland, said. Family members said Garland's memorial service will be private.

In the 50s and 60s, Walter "Hank" Garland was the talk of Nashville, known for musical riffs that could take a recording from humdrum to dazzling, as he did on Elvis hits like "Little Sister" and "Big Hunk of Love." He also pioneered playing jazz in the country music capital. Four decades after an auto accident almost killed him and ended his music career, Garland spent the final years of his life fighting ill health, trying to pry royalties out of record companies and talking with Hollywood about a movie based on his life. "He is heralded as a quintessential Nashville studio guitarist," noted musician Wolf Marshall in an e-mail interview earlier this year.

In addition to performing with Elvis and other stars in Nashville, Garland was at the forefront of the rock 'n' roll movement; enjoyed a prestigious career as a country virtuoso, pioneering the electric guitar at the Grand Ole Opry and inspired jazz instrumentalists such as George Benson. His detailed session logbook reads like a "Who's Who" of the stars of country music - Brenda Lee, Web Pierce, Bobby Helms, Kitty Wells, Johnny Horton, Mel Tilis, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Hank Snow, Porter Wagner, Boots Randolph, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams.

Garland worked with Elvis from 1957 to 1961, and was playing on the soundtrack for the movie "Follow That Dream" when in September 1961 his 1959 Chevy Nomad station wagon crashed near Springfield, Tenn., throwing Garland from the car and leaving him in a coma for months. That, along with a series of 100 shock treatments administered at a Nashville hospital, left him a shadow of his former self. Billy Garland claims the crash was no accident, but an attempted hit by someone in the Nashville record scene. Hank Garland had to relearn everything from walking to talking to playing the guitar.

A native of Cowpens, S.C., Garland began playing guitar at age 6 and radio shows at age 12. He was discovered at a Spartanburg, S.C., music store at 14, where he went to buy a guitar string. Paul Howard, leader of the Arkansas Cotton Pickers, heard Hank's playing and was impressed. He took Garland with him to Nashville, but child labor laws soon put his professional playing days on hold until he was 16. When he returned, he set the country music capital on fire. He had his first million-selling hit at 19 with "Sugar Foot Rag," a legendary country tune.

In 1954, along with his close friend, Billy Byrd, Garland invented a short scale neck guitar for Gibson Guitars. In honor of the two, the guitar was known as the "Byrdland." In 1960, Garland recorded what he claims was the first jazz album ever done in Nashville, "Jazz Winds from a New Direction." "He was born with talent," said Garland's brother Billy. "A God-given talent."

Associated Press Writer