- The Hank Garland Story
Garland may have been a brilliant country music session guitarist who
shocked Nashville in the early 1960s by releasing two strong jazz LPs, only
to at least temporarily lose most of his ability to play due to a suspicious car crash and later
electroshock therapy. However, he’d hardly seem to be on the front line of
musicians who were worthy of a biopic.
Amongst other things, he’s now a rather obscure name, despite an impressive
career as a sideman who played with the likes of Elvis, Patsy Cline, Roy
Orbison and Conway Twitty.
a music geek and even to me his name was only very vaguely familiar. He had
very few hits of his own and he didn’t sing, so he was rarely the voice of
his own music. He was usually shuttled off to the side helping to create
someone else’s musical vision.
the iconic song that this film has used as its title. Yes, Garland may have
played on that classic country tune, but when people hear the song, Hank
Garland is not the artist who comes to mind. “Crazy” is undoubtedly thought
of as the property of its singer Patsy Cline or its songwriter Willie
Nelson, not of the guitarist. In fact, from the evidence of the music used
in this film, Garland’s work on the song seems to be one of his more
languid, laid back performances.
fact, despite the fact that Garland says in the movie that he wants to have
control over his music, as far as you can tell here he only wrote
two songs, his single big solo hit, the instrumental “Sugarfoot Rag” and
co-writing the Christmas standard “Jingle Bell Rock” with its singer Bobby
Helms (despite the fact that song was actually credited to two totally
different writers, the movie claims it was all due to a bad contract with
which Garland and Helms could not receive both writing and performance credits.)
the filmmakers seem to recognize their central character’s limited name
recognition, using the catch phrase “Discover a legend” for the movie.
film plays rather fast and loose with Garland’s career – portraying him
often as the front man when he was playing for Cowboy Copas’ band and
ignoring important career crossroads. For example, the accusation at the
time that his first solo hit single was plagiarized from a song that was
released two years earlier is not even mentioned.
Also, this film is coming hot on the heels of another, better film about a
scrabbling, semi-obscure country vet with the word Crazy in its
title. Crazy Heart is a fictional story, but much of the character
was based on Nashville sideman Stephen Bruton, who was about a decade
younger, but still was a similarly respected player for
hire (as well as a well-known producer) in country circles. (In
fairness, Crazy was filmed back in 2007 and had a
limited theatrical run the next year, but is just now receiving
wide release on video.)
However, for an admittedly very different musical character, according to
Crazy, Garland lived a pretty standard music bio-film life.
Showing musical talent from a very young age (he first played the Grand Ole’
Opry at 15), he finds himself adrift in a world of honkytonks and one night
stands. Eventually he meets his one true love, but their marriage is
fraught with conflict. Garland refuses to compromise his music and plays
with black musicians back in the Jim Crow south, but music biz execs
conspire to steal from him. Eventually an accident threatens to take away
his natural talent.
you hear echoes of Ray, Walk the Line and any number of other music
films, you won’t be the only one. Though it appears for a change that
Garland didn’t take drugs (and drinking appeared to be a bigger problem for
his bandmates than him), most of the other standard biopic touchstones are
worked on by Garland’s brother (and manager) Billy, as well as other family
members, meaning that a few apparently unproven accusations are shared –
like the suggestion that Garland’s accident was a murder attempt, not an
accident and that the electroshock therapy contributed to Garland’s
temporary loss of musical talent. The attempted
murder is particularly murky because the character who supposedly tried to
kill him seems to be a fictional composite of record biz types, including
legendary Sun Studios head honcho Sam Phillips.
not even going to suggest that I know that these assertions are incorrect –
I certainly don’t and I assume the family members would have a better
insight on what happened than I ever could. I’m just saying that I have
seen in other sources the suggestion that these claims have never been
substantiated. Take that as you choose.
Whether it was a true story or an interesting myth about the guy, though, it
gives this film a different twist from most of the other similar films.
said, the acting by Waylon Payne as Garland and Ali Larter as his wife
Evelyn is spot on – though honestly Evelyn acts awfully modern (read:
promiscuous) for a woman in the 1960s. And the period music, covers of some
songs which Garland played on and other hits of the day, is pretty
movie, Crazy more than occasionally takes the wrong step and several
characters seem to fundamentally change on a screenwriter’s whim, however
all things considered, it is an interesting look at a mostly forgotten
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: June 28, 2010.