Hank Garland's Bid for Solo Stardom Reissued by Speakers Corner

This minor musical and major sonic gem features the great vibraphonist Gary Burton, Dave Brubeck Quartet drummer Joe Morello (reference only in case you just arrived from outer space) and veteran bassist Joe Benjamin on a jazz session headed by the great Nashville guitarist Hank Garland.

The album was an attempt by Columbia and Garland to establish the Nashville session man as a solo star in his own right. The original came with a round silver sticker proclaiming inside a five point star "A new star on Columbia Records).

All of this came about after Garland led a Nashville contingent to the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival—but you can read all about that in John Hammond’s annotation.

The point is, this is an album of great players working with a guitarist more familiar to Grand Ol’ Opry fans (live and on record) than to the jazz crowd from 1960. Garland played with Cash, Presley, Orbison, Cline, etc.

That Garland has the jazz chops to play with the others is obvious since the others chose to play and record with him. Skeptical fans got over it a few bars into the breezy, fast-paced opener “All the Things You Are”. You think you’re listening to a well-oiled performing combo rather than to a single studio encounter. Burton on the left and Garland on the right trade licks back and forth, setting up how the two interact on much of the record.

On “Three-Four, the Blues” those two trade lines with drummer Joe Morello instead of with each other.”Move” is another speed merchant, but here Garland gets center stage with Morello getting a solo.

The closer, Irving Berlin’s “Always”, comes the closest to sounding like something that could have come out of a Chet Atkins “countrypolitan” session (a swingin’ one).

Things get more serious on side two with “Riot-Chous”, in which Garland uses the “jazz-riot” at that Newport Festival as a launching point for a hard-driving piece that sounds like something Charles Mingus could have written.

Burton’s extended solos threaten to turn violent and Garland’s solo notes express a harder edge. The track is marred only by some really stupid drum kit panning, with Morello’s snare work moving between the channels “ping-pong stereo”-like. The Denouement “Relaxing” is luxury you can afford.

Though the album subtitle says "Introducing the Modern Guitar of..." Garland's presence on the record is often overshadowed by Burton's, though no doubt that wasn't his intention. So while the record shone a bright spotlight on Garland and he comes off just fine on it, it didn't turn him into a star, though he's had for a long time a well-deserved consistently large following. I encountered a “6-eye” demo copy at a yard sale of the son of a major Columbia Records executive along with a heavy stack of other great and esoteric Columbias, but one of the best records I found there was an unplayed original copy of the Verve “Porgy and Bess” with Armstrong and Fitzgerald.

This record’s packaging, the talent, even the jacket art made this look like it would be musically interesting and sound ridiculously good. I knew ridiculous is a ridiculous word to use when fantasizing about how good a record might sound, but this record seemed to have it all without being played.

Both the sound and the music are ridiculously good. The sound is even great. So the original pressing was a great find. I never saw another vinyl copy until Sundazed issued it a few years ago along with a 2 CD version containing outtakes. Unfortunately Sundazed’s reissue wasn’t well-pressed and it sounded like a drab and noisy version of the original.

This Speakers Corner reissue cut by Willem Makkee and pressed at Pallas is a big improvement over the Sundazed but falls short of the original. The original’s generosity of textures and space are somewhat diminished but especially noticeable was the stingy decay. Burton’s vibraphone sound somewhat muted on the attack, less than purely expressed in the sustain and stingy in the decay. Instead of each hit having a “doinggggg” to it, it has a “ping” if you know what I mean. Dynamics sound slightly squashed.

However, without comparison to an original, the reissue sounds very good. Good enough to recommend.

ramseurrecords's picture

I sure hope they re-issue the Velvet Guitar album as well. Even with his career ending car accident in 1961... Garland is one of the most heard guitarist to ever live.

Grant M's picture

Did speakers corner use six eye labels? sometimes they seem to use later versions on their reissues

Michael Fremer's picture
They used the "6 eye" label
Superfuzz's picture

I had no idea Sundazed reissued this on vinyl... I have their 2Cd set of Hank Garland, which includes this album.
I also didn't know Willem Makkee was still cutting. Glad to hear it.
I've been on the hunt for a mint 6-eye stereo original for a while...

Auric G's picture

Is it safe to assume, since it's sony/columbia and didn't come from sterling, that the source was not the master tape?

ksalno's picture

It appears there was a mono LP version released by Columbia in 1961. Is this accurate? That would avoid the stereo panning issue for Morello's drums.

Rudy's picture

It's true I've only purchased one Speakers Corner LP in my life, but the one I bought sounds like trash. The mastering was terrible, and the tape used apparently sounded like it was dug up from the bottom of a swamp. Why should I even trust a label that can't get a simple reissue correct?