Sunday, May 08, 2022

Crazy, the Hank Garland Movie

Hank Garland had some success in the music business, in both the country and jazz genres. Unfortunately, his lived some of the worst aspects of the country and jazz lives. He could play like Chet Atkins, until he tragically couldn’t. Garland’s life gets the bio-picture-treatment in Rick Bieber’s Crazy, which airs on This TV.

Wisely, Bieber skips over Garland’s short pants years, starting with his talent show debut, witnessed by Hank Williams himself (played by producer-musician Steve Vai), who provides his blessing. Before long, Garland is recording around the clock in Nashville studios. He is also building a bit of a reputation of his own, recording a few instrumental hits. Of course, the women are attracted to him, especially Evelyn, who will soon be Evelyn Garland.

Unfortunately, both Garlands have some rather pronounced jealousy issues and perversely, inclinations towards infidelity. However, despite them both being Southerners, they have very different attitudes about racial relations. His are not explicitly thought-out, but after getting an earful of Wes Montgomery in a Chicago club, Garland catches the jazz bug. Of course, that means playing with black musicians, which he has no problem with. His wife, on the other hand, worries about what people will think.

originally released a just a few years after Walk the Line, so it was positioned as a country music film, but it has a whole lot of jazz. It is totally cool to see legends like Montgomery (played by Tony MacAlpine), Paul Desmond (played by Johnny “Vegas” Burton, whose name probably would have amused the droll alto player) and Joe Benjamin, who played on Garland’s Jazz Winds from a New Direction album and has a small but important dramatic role in the film (nicely handled by Ryan Cross).

Larry Klein’s soundtrack also leans more towards jazz than twang, featuring guitar work from Larry Koonse and Dean Parks. Even when the film does its country thing, it keeps a jazz element, like Madeleine Peyroux’s renditions of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” (Garland backed her on her iconic recording) and “Lonesome Road.”

In the lead, Waylon Payne is just okay as Garland. He is sufficiently moody, but that is about as far as his performance goes. However, Ali Larter is terrific as the messily complicated Evelyn. She is definitely credible precipitating all kinds of trouble, while humanizer her, during her lowest moments.

Without question, the best thing about
Crazy is the way it addresses and presents the music. Bieber and co-screenwriter Jason Ehlers and Brent Boyd imply the Nashville musician union might have conspired with a record label boss to cause Garland’s accident. That is probably fiction, but it sure is easy to believe. Sadly, like many bio-pictures, Crazy is consequently stuck with a downer third act, because that is how it was—but the soundtrack is always good. Crazy’s second strongest attribute is the fine details of the period production, recreating Nashville of the 1950s and 1960s.

It is a shame Garland never had the chance to truly develop a jazz career, but he sounded great on records like
After the Riot at Newport. Who knows what could have been had he jammed and recorded with Lenny Breau, as Chet Atkins did. To its credit, Crazy offers an opportunity to discover and/or reappraise his life and music. Recommended equally for jazz and country fans, Crazy airs this Tuesday (5/10) and Thursday (5/19) on This TV (and it streams on Prime).