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Article about Hank Garland
For many of us guitarists, especially if you started in the 60s Hank Garland was a huge influence on me especially. I recently found an article that was written just prior to his death and the hazards of working in the music industry.
If yall haven't already I would suggest a viewing of the movie Crazy about the life of Hank.
From: Hank Garland
To: AMY Garland ; Amy Garland ; Danny Wiggins
Sent: Sunday, November 27, 2005 1:38 PM
Subject: Emailing: Story/Hank's Jingle Bell Crock
Category: Music: Profiles & Interviews
Originally Published: 12/21/2004 in Folio Weekly
'Jingle Bell Rock' Creator Gets Scrooged by Nashville
By Susan Cooper Eastman (Staff)
Christmas is a season of potent signifiers, when a pine tree hung
with colored baubles, or just the fragrance of pine, evokes a winter coziness.
In that dreamy period between Thanksgiving and Christmas morning, the landscape
grows ever more crammed with holiday iconography — candy canes, nutcrackers,
twinkling lights, Santa. In the background of this annual vista, a shared
holiday soundtrack washes over us, piped into department stores and government
buildings, broadcast continuously over AM radio.
In the canon of Christmas songs, the beloved and familiar lineup
includes evergreens like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Silent Night” and
“White Christmas.” Right up there with them is the swinging, soft-pedaling
“Jingle Bell Rock.” Every holiday season since 1957 — the year Decca Records
released the hit with crooner Bobby Helms singing the bouncy lyrics and Hank
Garland on the happy guitar — “Jingle Bell Rock” has been a Christmas chestnut.
Considering the song’s success, one might assume its authors
celebrate the holiday season with years of fat royalties. Nothing could be
further from the truth.
Instead, songwriter Hank “Sugarfoot” Garland, now an Orange Park,
Fla., resident, claims that Decca Records stole “Jingle Bell Rock” and the
profits it generated from him and Bobby Helms. To this day, Garland hasn’t
received a penny of ownership royalties.
If Garland had received his due, his brother Billy claims he’d have
made millions. This belief prompted a 2003 lawsuit against the company that now
owns the copyright for “Jingle Bell Rock” and is backed by some convincing
evidence. The Garland family home is filled with decades’ worth of music
industry paraphernalia, including an original copy of the sheet music for
“Jingle Bell Rock,” pencilled in Garland’s meticulous hand, and a sworn
statement by one of the studio musicians on “Jingle Bell Rock” that Helms and
Garland wrote the song. But such evidence hasn’t swayed Nashville’s powerful
record industry, which the Garland family says cheated Hank Garland and reduced
him from a pop music success story to a shell of his former self. An automobile
accident in 1961 left Garland in a coma, and subsequent shock treatments of
dubious medical value significantly reduced his mental capacity. Billy Garland,
who holds his brother’s power of attorney and has cared for him since the 1960s,
blames both pieces of misfortune on record industry thugs, whom he believes
tried to kill Garland because he was a powerful creative force and demanded his
fair share of artistic profits. It’s a claim industry insiders dispute, but one
that Billy Garland insists is true.
“They set him up on the road and tried to kill him,” he says. “And
he didn’t die, so they took him out and shocked his brains where he wouldn’t
On a nondescript suburban street lined with the kind of ranch homes
that seem to come with lawn and shrubbery attached, the man that many musicians
regard as one of the greatest guitarists to ever pick up the instrument lies in
a hospital bed in a small bedroom. Hank Garland is friendly, his disposition
charming, but his body is weak, and his speech somewhat garbled. A 74-year-old
diabetic who was recently hospitalized with stomach problems, he is inexorably
moving closer to death.
Before Garland’s musical career ended with the auto accident, he was
at the top of his game. The consummate session musician, Garland played with
Elvis on “Little Sister,” with Patsy Cline on “I Fall to Pieces” and with the
Everly Brothers on “Wake Up, Little Susie.” His guitar hooks became legend (he
wrote the seven notes that cut in right after Elvis opens with the call, “Little
Sister,” which guitar expert Wolf Marshall called “one of the greatest riffs in
rock-and-roll”). Garland was in demand. He played with Roy Orbison, Hank
Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis, and he cut his own original instrumental
recordings, effortlessly moving from country to rockabilly to jazz. Determined
to squeeze everything possible from his considerable gifts, Garland even
recorded “Jazz Winds From a New Direction” in 1960, an influential jazz album
that George Benson calls the work of “a guitar master.”
Memorabilia from Garland’s too-short 15-year career fills the modest
but comfortable home he shares with his brother Billy and Billy’s wife, Amy.
Photographs line the walls: Hank playing with Elvis, backing up Patsy Cline,
posing with Johnny Cash. Hank’s presence in the musical pantheon was strong
enough at the time of his accident that he still commands the respect and
reverence of musicians. On a Thursday morning in early December, a string of
local guitarists files into the house. Garland’s home health aide motors his bed
into an upright position and helps Garland dress before wheeling him into the
living room to visit with his guests.
The musicians — veterans of the local country and bluegrass scene —
settle into easy chairs, among them bluegrass guitarist Jack Piccalo, western
swing and jazz guitarist the Rev. Jerry Carris, and country and jazz guitarist
Danny Taylor. At Billy Garland’s request, the group lights into “Low-Down
Billy,” a fast-paced bluegrass standard that Garland wrote in 1950 for his
younger brother. Garland keeps time by tapping one finger on the arm of the
wheelchair. His doughy face glows with pleasure.
Although the gathering seems an extraordinary tribute, the sessions
are actually quite common. Musicians stop by frequently to play for Garland.
“It’s therapy,” explains brother Billy.
Today, though, a special guest drops by. Nashville fiddle-playing
legend Vassar Clements and his brother Carroll, who lives in Jacksonville, stand
toe-to-toe in the middle of the circle of guitarists. Carroll strums rhythm
guitar while Vassar takes flight on the fiddle. Dubbed “the Miles Davis of
Bluegrass,” Clements has performed with bluegrass greats Bill Monroe and Earl
Scruggs, as well as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Grateful Dead and Dickey
Betts. In Garland’s living room, his music sounds like water trickling over
stones, like honey poured from a spoon, like a lover murmuring next to you in
bed — warm, close, real.
Garland and Clements know each other from the early days in
Nashville when, barely out of childhood, both wowed elder statesmen of the
industry. Clements left his Kissimmee home at 16 and took a bus to Nashville in
1949 to play with Bill Monroe. Garland left South Carolina at 15 in 1946 to play
with country-western bandleader Paul Howard. Child labor laws forced Garland
back to South Carolina, but he returned to Nashville for good at 16.
Taking a break from the music, Clements, a taut, rail-thin man
wearing straight-leg Levis with a 32-inch waist, walks outside to a couple of
white plastic lawn chairs set up in the Garlands’ driveway. He fills a pipe with
tobacco and lights it. His hair is snow-white and falls over a face covered by a
web of wrinkles.
Clements recalls listening to Garland’s guitar work in live radio
broadcasts from the Grand Ole Opry shortly after Hank began playing
professionally. Clements says he could feel Garland’s desire to push his
“They would play these fast tunes, and Hank would jump right in,”
Clements says of the Opry shows. “He would do like myself, he’d go out on a
limb.” Clements says sometimes Garland would drop a note or trip up, but he
predicted that wouldn’t last. “I said, you just wait, I know he’s gonna get it,”
Clements says. “And it wasn’t long before he just didn’t miss nothing, and he
was right on the money.”
Clements is joined by Billy Garland, and the two commiserate about
the corrupt music industry. They talk about how record companies and managers
have historically sucked money out of talent, offering perks like touring vans
and record deals while stealing them blind. The books are always locked away in
the record company’s office, Clements says, and in order to check them you’d
practically have to hire a lawyer.
Clements, who hasn’t seen Garland since his 1961 accident, is
clearly shocked by his condition. “Hank was top of his heap,” he says. “He was
on top of it, yeah.”
Clements isn’t the only musical luminary who admires Garland. In a
telephone interview from his New York home, eight-time Grammy Award winner
George Benson says there was no one like Hank Garland. Benson first heard
Garland’s guitar when he was 17 and learning to play in Pittsburgh. It affected
him profoundly. Benson and a friend used to meet every week to listen to guitar
albums, and one Saturday in 1960 they picked up “Jazz Winds from a New
Direction.” The pair regarded the record suspiciously: The cover featured a
picture of Garland in a Cadillac with four or five guitars beside him on the
passenger seat. “It looked too country,” Benson says. But they gave it a try.
“We put that record on, and we could not take it off,” says Benson. “It
captivated us from bar one.”
Benson wanted to break new ground, and Garland gave him inspiration.
Even today, as an internationally recognized musician, Benson says he always
credits Hank Garland as one of his influences. In 1992, when Benson was
scheduled to perform in Jacksonville, he received a letter saying Garland liked
his work and wanted to see his show. “To me, that was like receiving a Grammy,”
At the show, the Garlands say they received star treatment. Before
he performed, Benson introduced Hank to the audience as one of the greatest
guitarists ever. A spotlight shone on him, and the audience gave a standing
ovation. “It was just wonderful,” says Amy.
Garland’s accomplishments have been recognized by the music
industry, too. He was inducted into the North American Country Music Hall of
Fame in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. in 1998. His name appears on the Hollywood Rock Walk
of Fame. But Billy Garland says the family won’t give the Country Music Hall of
Fame in Nashville any piece of the man they believe the town destroyed. A few
weeks ago, Billy says, Hall officials telephoned and asked if the Garlands had
memorabilia for an exhibit on Hank. The family has every guitar Garland ever
played, log books from his music sessions, his original notations for “Jingle
Bell Rock” as well as master recordings from studio sessions with Elvis Presley
and other artists.
Billy Garland says the Hall of Fame will get none of it. “Yeah, I’ll
donate something,” he says angrily. “I’ll give you his hospital bed and his
Hank Garland’s wife, Evelyn, was a movie-star beautiful blonde with
creamy skin and a shapely figure. She drove a green convertible Cadillac Coupe
de Ville and favored fashionable clothes. Garland adored her. His brother says
she was poison. She played around a lot, Billy claims, and the couple had
Billy Garland knows how it went because he saw it up close. After
finishing a stint with the U.S. Navy in 1957, Hank Garland urged his younger
brother to come to Nashville. He wanted Billy to use his G.I. benefits to earn a
law degree. Eventually, Hank hoped to start his own music publishing company and
record studio, and he wanted Billy to help. “You be the eyes, and I’ll be the
fingers,” Billy says his brother told him.
Garland wanted his own label because he wanted artistic control. As
late guitarist Chet Atkins told Guitar Player magazine in 1981, Garland was
frustrated with Nashville producers. “Hank was very outspoken and he had a lot
of ideas,” Atkins said. “If [producers] said something smart to him, his face
would get real red and he’d say something back. But he was such a good musician
that everyone had a terrible amount of respect for him, so nobody stepped on his
Hank Garland also believed Nashville’s music publishing houses had
ripped him off — and he wasn’t shy about saying so. When he was 19, he wrote and
recorded the popular “Sugarfoot Rag” for Decca. Although he copyrighted the tune
in his name, Billy says that two other names were later added to the copyright.
And someone else absconded with two-thirds of the royalties that should have
According to Harold B. Bradley, president of the Nashville
Association of Musicians and brother of former Decca Record executive Owen
Bradley, such disputes were legion at the time. In fact, he says, the flip side
of “Sugarfoot Rag” prompted a similar ownership lawsuit.
But Garland, who believed record company executives ripped him off,
refused to sign long-term contracts with any of the Nashville labels. Instead,
he decided to start his own record company and produce his own music. Just
before the accident, Garland started a music publishing company with country
crooner Eddy Arnold, founded Sigma Music publishing company with some other
partners and located a spot for a music studio in Miami. Billy believes it was
this drive that first put his brother in the crosshairs of the Nashville
machine. He notes that musicians loved working with his brother and says record
company executives feared Garland’s company would lure away the best in the
Certainly, Garland’s track record pointed to success. He was a
licensed pilot and a scrupulous recordkeeper. He even designed an instrument for
the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1955 with guitarist Billy Byrd. The hollow-body
Byrdland guitar (named after both men), features a short neck and closer frets
so it can be played quickly.
The late 1950s was a heady time to be in Nashville. According to
Billy, Hank Garland knew everyone. Everywhere they went, he was welcomed like a
star. The clubs were rocking and the combination of so much money, music and
talent concentrated in one place brought drugs and prostitution.
John Rumble, senior historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame and
Museum, agrees. The music industry in Nashville after World War II boomed along
with the rest of the country, and it fostered a wildcat mentality. “You could
arrive broke, have a hit record, buy a Cadillac, get cold, and wind up owing
everyone in town,” he said.
Ultimately, Nashville spooked Billy. Paranoia permeated the place,
he says, and unsavory characters were all around. Everyone carried a gun. Then
Evelyn made a pass at Billy, and he told Hank. The brothers fought, and Billy
took off, moving his family to Los Angeles.
In a large bound book filled with tan ledger paper, Hank Garland’s
studio session logs from 1961 show a musician at the height of his powers. In
meticulous script, Garland lists gigs with Mel Tillis, Elvis Presley, Hank Snow,
Brenda Lee, Hank Williams and George Jones. He performed with Elvis in the
Hawaii farewell concert, and he laid down the tracks for the Elvis movie “Follow
That Dream.” But Garland was also increasingly concerned for his own safety.
After Billy left, he asked his father to stay with him, saying he was afraid
someone might try to kill him. He didn’t offer specifics, but his dad didn’t
need any. He came to Nashville for a week. He returned to Spartanburg, S.C.
feeling that his son was safe, but a week later, on Sept. 8, Garland nearly
Earlier that day, Garland had words with a studio executive. He
quarreled with record execs frequently, disagreeing about the way a song should
be done or complaining about his royalties. That day, the exchange may have been
complicated by a rumor that Evelyn had begun an affair with the executive’s son,
and an earlier fight between Evelyn and Hank. Later, when Garland was at the
studio, a telephone call interrupted his work. Evelyn had taken the children and
When Garland heard the news, he jumped into his 1959 Chevy Nomad
station wagon and headed north, hoping to catch up to her. Garland was speeding
near Springfield, Tenn. when the front tire of the station wagon blew out. The
car careened out of control, rolling end over end. The force of the crash threw
Hank through the windshield. He suffered a dislocated shoulder, head injuries
and lacerations on his face.
An ambulance rushed an unconscious Garland to Vanderbilt University
Hospital. He lay in a coma for three weeks. Doctors told the family he would
Garland didn’t die, but while he was in the coma, the family began
to suspect foul play. According to Billy Garland, a truck driver who claimed to
witness the accident showed up at the hospital. He said that he’d seen a man
carrying a rifle running along a ditch next to the highway after Garland’s tire
blew. The trucker suggested they check the car for bullet holes. Billy visited
the yard where police towed the car, but he couldn’t get a good look at the
vehicle. When he tried to see it again later, he says, the car had been
Garland emerged from the coma after three weeks, but he never
completely recovered. When Vanderbilt Hospital released him on Nov. 18, his
doctor noted he didn’t have brain damage but seemed to suffer from “organic
post-traumatic psychosis.” Although the condition sounded grim, the doctor
predicted that Garland’s mental state would gradually improve.
Whether it eventually would have will never be known. Twelve days
after his release, Evelyn dropped Garland off at Madison Sanitarium, a mental
institution in Nashville, saying he was agitated, disoriented and hostile.
The hospital’s assessment of Garland upon admittance was less
damning. Doctors merely noted, “This 31-year-old, well-developed, well-nourished
white male is a very successful world-known guitar player.” Doctors also
observed that Garland and his wife fought, that she had become infatuated with
another man, and that Garland had been in a bad accident.
Over the next six weeks, doctors administered 12 shock treatments
and drugged the 31-year-old with Thorazine. On Jan. 14, 1962, a notation in his
chart describes him as “quite retarded.” The next day, Garland was released.
Doctors opined he had improved during his stay at the institution. The final
diagnosis describes him as “more manageable and sociable.”
On March 27, 1962, Evelyn again contacted the doctors at Madison
Sanitarium. She complained that Garland acted “on guard all the time, watching
the stairs as if he were afraid someone was after him.” She said he tried to hit
her and burn her with a cigarette. He was taking two Thorazine tablets three
times a day, but Evelyn said they seemed to make things worse. Billy believes
Garland acted paranoid because he knew someone was after him. Doctors again
admitted Garland to Madison. This time, he received 100 milligrams of Thorazine
four times a day, and — inexplicably — chemotherapy.
Billy now believes the car crash was attempted murder, and that the
subsequent shock treatments were an effort to fry his brother’s brain. “He was
getting well, and I think he would have remembered too much,” Billy says, “so
they rushed him out to the sanitarium to give him shock treatments.” Billy is
vague when asked about who “they” might be, and he admittedly didn’t do much to
alert authorities. He never called police to report the trucker’s claim that his
brother’s car had been fired upon, and he told no one then about his brother’s
fear for his life. But he points out that the continued interference with his
brother’s mental state effectively ended his career. Hank Garland’s doctor
thought he would improve if left alone. But after the shock treatments, Billy
says, Garland didn’t have the dexterity to play the guitar and had the mental
capacity of a 2-year-old. He has recovered somewhat, but he hasn’t been able to
Although Garland was released back into his wife’s care on April 11,
1962, he stayed with her for only two years before the couple split. After
Evelyn returned to her hometown, she put her husband on an airplane back to
Spartanburg. According to Billy, Garland was found on an airplane in New Orleans
with a $20 bill in his pocket. At the time, Billy was a construction contractor
at Cape Canaveral. In 1965, he moved his parents and Hank to Titusville. He’s
been Garland’s caregiver ever since.
The same year she split with Garland, Evelyn met her own tragic end.
On Christmas in 1964, she was driving her Cadillac convertible in Milwaukee when
a stoplight fell and decapitated her.
Billy believes Evelyn was in on the plot to destroy Hank, and that
she’d outlived her usefulness. “Evelyn would have received a $2 million
insurance settlement if Hank died,” he says. “She was in on it. I believe she
For the past 10 years, Billy Garland has kept 10 copies of Psalm 91
tucked inside the right heel of his shoe, 10 copies in the left, and five more
in his wallet. Psalm 91 talks about near misses — how 1,000 may fall at your
side and 10,000 at your right hand, but you will be spared. Billy interprets
this to mean that God has designated 11,000 angels as protectors, but he’s not
sure 11,000 is enough. So he multiplied his chances.
“If somebody tries to get to me they are going to have to bust
through 275,000 angels,” he says. He admits the 25-Psalms-in-the-shoe thing may
seem a bit “nutty,” but he believes it works.
He also believes the menace out there is real. Over the years, Billy
says he’s received numerous telephone death threats. The first came in the late
1960s. Billy picked up the phone in Titusville and a man said, “If you mess in
Hank’s business, you’ll never see your kids grow up.” The calls continued in the
1980s, when Billy says he received a series of messages where the caller’s voice
was altered by reverb, as though from a recording studio. The message was always
the same: Back off Hank Garland’s business. The callers didn’t specifically
mention “Jingle Bell Rock.” They just said things like, “Lay off.”
At the time, Billy says he’d begun asking questions about his
brother’s missing royalties. Hank Garland does receive occasional checks for his
work as a studio musician on “Jingle Bell Rock.” He received around $250 when
the song opened “Lethal Weapon.” He also received payment when the song was used
in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, “Jingle All the Way.” But ownership royalties
are the big payout, and Billy Garland believes his brother is owed plenty.
According to Bobby Helms’ biographer and Fort Myers author David
Ward Davis, it was a common practice for studios to claim copyright for work
created by artists under contract. Helms complained that he and Garland had been
cheated out of royalties on “Jingle Bell Rock,” says Davis, but he just accepted
that was the way of the industry.
Garland, who wasn’t under contract with Decca when the song was
written, chafed at the studio’s usurpation. Before the accident, Garland met
with an attorney to discuss recovering his due for the Decca hit song,
“Sugarfoot Rag.” Billy says the lawyer dissuaded him from pursuing the claims.
He said, “Hank, you have a family. You’re working here. I would suggest you just
be quiet about this.” Billy, who attended the meeting, thought the comment odd
at the time, but says it was not in his brother’s nature to be quiet when he
thought he had been wronged. “He was very angry about the way the record
companies were doing people,” Billy says. “He basically grew up in it and knew
how crooked it was.”
After the 1961 accident, Billy says he became suspicious about the
official version of events. He knew Hank had asked their father to be with him
in Nashville because he feared for his life. He remembered the warning of the
truck driver. And Billy grew even more certain that his brother had been
targeted after Evelyn’s death. In a pile of Garland’s things, Billy found a
series of black-and-white 8-by-10 photographs of the Chevy Nomad. Taken at the
junkyard, the pictures show tiny, jagged holes in Garland’s car. There’s one in
the front passenger window. There’s another in the roof of the car in the back.
And there are some in the wheel well of the tire that blew. An investigator
Billy hired in the late 1960s believed the photographs showed Garland’s car had
been fired upon.
Asked the name of the investigator, Billy says he doesn’t remember.
He no longer has a copy of the investigator’s report. And he didn’t take this
information to the Nashville police. He says he didn’t believe the police would
investigate a crime that might involve music industry bigwigs.
Bradley, brother of Decca Records exec Owen Bradley, vehemently
disagrees. He notes that Hank Garland was “well loved by everyone” in Nashville,
and says if his accident had smelled of foul play “there would have been a
Whether or not Billy’s version of events is cautious or
unnecessarily paranoid, it’s widely known in Nashville circles. It’s also echoed
somewhat by Davis. In his biography of Helms, he describes a series of death
threats — to Helms and to him personally. While working on the book, Davis says
he got voice-distorted calls warning him not to write it. “We can’t stop the
movie or the book,” one caller said, “but if you’re dead, what good will it do
you?” In the book’s epilogue, Davis writes, “To the people who threatened our
lives. Well, to them I say, ‘READ this you bastards … we got the story told … WE
After reading Davis’ book and talking to the author, Billy was
prompted to prepare a lawsuit against Warner/Chappell music, the company that
now holds the copyright to “Jingle Bell Rock.” Though he has worked
intermittently with attorneys, on Aug. 8, 2003, he filed suit himself in U.S.
District Court in Florida’s Middle District, accusing Warner/Chappell of fraud
and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Several newspapers
reported the suit against the Warner Music subsidiary; all conceded his claim to
“Jingle Bell Rock.” The story was picked up by the Associated Press and CNN.
Billy, worried the lawsuit would stir up trouble, contacted the FBI.
Two months later, he says, trouble knocked on his door.
One evening in October 2003, Billy opened the door to an attractive
blonde in her 40s. The woman explained she was a lawyer, and said she thought it
was horrible what the recording industry had done to Hank Garland. Over the
course of several nights, Billy and his wife Amy say Jacksonville attorney Lisa
Lovingood camped out in front of their house, delivering speeches in the
driveway in a loud voice, reenacting previous cases and promising to
successfully litigate Hank’s claim.
If Lovingood’s actions amounted to soliciting business, it would
have been a violation of Florida Bar Association codes, according to Kathy
Bible, Bar ethics counsel. But as Lovingood talked, the family began to believe
that she might be the savior they sought. Although a colleague now says she’d
mainly handled employment discrimination cases, not intellectual property suits,
Lovingood convinced the family that she was the lawyer to battle
Lovingood did not return repeated calls for comment on this story.
But the image that emerges from her e-mail correspondence in the Garland case
and Billy Garland’s formal complaint to both the FBI and the Justice Department
In November 2003, Lovingood created a company, HBA, LLC, for which
she served as managing partner. (Billy says the letters HBA stand for “Hank and
Billy’s Angels.”) On Dec. 4, Lovingood filed a notice with the court announcing
that she was the attorney of record for Hank Garland. She also filed paperwork
amending Billy’s original complaint to include issues of copyright infringement,
unfair trade practices, unfair competition, fraud and unjust enrichment.
To finance the case, Lovingood involved another attorney, Ricky
Lamkin, who practices law in Murray, Ky. Lamkin served as the chief investor in
the case, giving Lovingood $50,000 between November 2003 and March 2004,
including nearly $5,000 a month for her work on the case, according to invoices
provided by Lamkin. In return, Lovingood promised Lamkin a 10 percent slice of
This arrangement does not appear to be illegal, but it does raise
questions, as does the fact that neither Lovingood nor Lamkin had a written
agreement with the Garlands.
Lamkin acknowledges financing the suit with hopes of getting a
return on his investment. “I was approached to aid in the prosecution of a case
that, if successfully prosecuted, then I would share in the recovery,” Lamkin
says. He adds, “I probably made a mistake [funding the litigation].”
Lovingood also fired off a letter to Gibson Guitar Corporation
regarding the guitar that Garland helped design but for which Billy says his
brother was never paid. Lovingood demanded $8 million from Gibson to settle
Garland’s claim. To pursue the suit, Lovingood estimated she’d need $100,000,
and she again approached Lamkin via e-mail to put up the money in exchange for
10 percent of the settlement.
“I need to know if you can financially commit to the costs ... for a
10 percent fee in this case,” she wrote in a Jan. 22 e-mail.
The payout would have been big — $800,000 on an $8 million claim —
but the Kentucky attorney balked. Responding to her e-mail, he challenged fees
that Lovingood itemized on an invoice, including money for her swimming pool
service, her housekeepers and for ice cream. Lovingood responded she’d been
unable to clean her pool or do housework since taking on the Garland’s case,
which she referred to in a March 25 e-mail as “the biggest copyright
infringement case in U.S. history.”
“Before I took the case .... I had the time to clean,” she
explained. “I no longer have the time.”
She also told Lamkin that she was on disability and had received
permission from her insurance carrier to work on the case only if she was
co-counsel. If the company requested her paperwork, she told Lamkin in a March
20 e-mail, “I can’t have it appear as if I am the only lawyer on the file.”
Lovingood’s legal salvos didn’t intimidate Warner/Chappell
attorneys, who asked for the case to be dismissed on technical issues. On Sept.
15, 2004, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Corrigan dismissed all of the counts
except one. Even if that claim is successful, because of the way Lovingood
restructured Billy’s claim, it now appears that Garland would be able to claim
only three years’ worth of royalties rather than the 47 his family says he’s
By the time Lovingood withdrew as counsel on the case on Oct. 7, the
Garlands had soured on her legal representation. Billy even asks if she was
another manifestation of the Nashville machine, sent to mess up his brother’s
claim. “Who sent this woman over to my house to put on this show?” he wonders.
Billy, whose allegations against Lovingood go well beyond legal malpractice,
contacted the FBI and the Justice Department and reported the incident.
Investigators from both agencies declined comment.
Lamkin has since sent the Garlands a bill for $50,000. And last
week, the family received a letter from Warner/Chappell saying the company
intends to recoup its legal expenses.
After his accident, Hank Garland struggled to relearn the guitar. He
would never make the instrument sing the way he once had, but he was able to
play several of his own songs. In 1975, he performed his “Sugarfoot Rag” at the
Grand Ole Opry.
For some folks in Nashville, Garland’s story remains a tragedy. But
by learning that song and others, he reclaimed a part of himself. He started
playing guitar at 6, and people in Cowpen, S.C. would come from miles around to
hear him play. “He was just a natural-born talent,” Billy says.
In his heyday, Garland did finger exercises to improve his reach and
his ability to fly over the frets. Now, musicians who drop by his Orange Park
home give Garland a taste of that pleasure as they play for him for more than an
hour. Between songs, Garland and Vassar Clements talk about mutual friends.
Clements tells Garland how he ran into a drummer they both knew, but says the
man isn’t working anymore. “He never did,” Garland cuts in, showing a little of
his old ego. Clements agrees. “Yeah,” he says, “He’s the only drummer I’ve ever
seen read comic books while he’s playing.”
Just a few miles away, the song that should have made Hank Garland
rich plays in stores throughout the Orange Park Mall. For his family and
friends, righting this seasonal wrong remains their annual Christmas wish.
Six days after this story appeared, Hank Garland died at Orange Park
Medical Center near Jacksonville, Fla. of a staph infection.
" The Love you take, is equal to the love you make"