Sunday Music – Sugarfoot Rag

Posted on Sun 05/10/2009 by

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Today’s music video is ‘Sugarfoot Rag’ from Hank Garland.

I’m willing to bet that not one reader will have heard of Hank Garland, but every one of you will have heard his playing.

Hank was a session guitarist throughout the 50’s and up until his near fatal car crash in 1961.

He started playing guitar when he was 6 and made his first appearance at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville when he was only 16 in the late 40’s, and was an immediate sensation. From that point he was in demand as a session guitarist for all the top acts of the time.

He started out in the Country field playing in nearly all the big names recording sessions in the 50’s, Marty Robbins, Patsy Cline, Conway Twitty, Brenda Lee, Eddy Arnold, and many others. He was in on the ground floor of the early days as rock and roll started to fire up. He backed smooth artists like Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, and Elvis Presley, in the early stages of his career, specifically asked that Hank be the guitarist for all his recording sessions.

He was renowned as an absolute perfectionist, and that got him into difficulties with the record production companies in Nashville, who wanted to pump out as much record product that they could in as short a time as possible, and Hank’s calls for perfection did not go down well with what became known in a friendly manner as ‘The Nashville Mafia’. He was also instrumental in composers and arrangers being given extra credit, instead of just being credited as musicians who played on the actual recording, and also being paid the extra as well.

He was also enamoured with the new form of Jazz that started to come out of the Northeast, and his friendship with some of the black musicians was also not very well received. His forays into jazz left us with one of the best Jazz recordings of all time, Hank’s ‘Jazz Winds From A New Direction’ recorded just before his auto accident. That accident left him in a coma, close to death, for a week, and after months of recovery, therapy and convalescence, he never did recover his previous brilliance.

A special request from one of the World’s leading guitar manufacturers Gibson, led to a special guitar being manufactured. They asked Hank Garland and his friend and fellow guitarist Billy Byrd to design the guitar. It had a slimline and fuller body than most electric guitars, and in their honour Gibson named it the ‘ByrdLand’ guitar and it was first manufactured in 1955, becoming a popular guitar at the time, and still in production into the mid 90’s. A good 1955 Byrdland will fetch around $12,000 today.

As a session guitarist, and not being a singer, there was little chance for him to make a name as a solo artist. However, the song featured today is his biggest hit, and the signature tune we remember from Hank. The tune you hear him playing here started out life as his own way of ‘warming up’ prior to a session, an exercise to get his left hand fretboard fingers going. What you see here is a series of very difficult progressions up and down the fretboard, and in the middle of the tune, he inserts a progression of harmonics, giving the guitar that different sound as from the purer notes being played. The speed with which he moves is amazing, and Garland is often pointed at as being the forerunner of today’s great guitarists, and the challenge they have is to actually be able to play this piece of music.

So, even though Hank Garland may not be a well known name, his legacy lives on every time you hear one of those great modern guitarists, and a vast majority of those monster hits from the 50’s.

Sadly, Hank is no longer with us, passing away in 2004 at the age of 74.

This video posted to You Tube by Jeroemi