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Crazy – The Hank Garland Story (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 29

Crazy - The Hank Garland Story

Crazy – The Hank Garland Story


Starring Waylon Payne, Ali Larter, Lane Garrison, Scott Michael Campbell, David Conrad, John Fleck, Timothy Omundson, Brent Briscoe, Beau Baxter, Raymond O’Connor, Steve Vai, Katharine McPhee and Nicole Steinwedell.

Screenplay by Rick Bieber, Jason Ehlers and Brent Boyd.

Directed by Rick Bieber.

Distributed by Favored Nations.  104 minutes.  Rated R.

Hank 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.

I’m 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.

Take 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.

In 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.)

Even the filmmakers seem to recognize their central character’s limited name recognition, using the catch phrase “Discover a legend” for the movie.

This 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.

If 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 hit upon.

Crazy was 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.

I’m 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.

That 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 flawless.

As a 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 talent.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: June 28, 2010.

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