The Influences of Grady Martin and Hank Garland: Part 1 – Fiddle Music

Grady Martin and Hank Garland are at the top of my list of guitar heroes. Their genius graces the records of many classic hits.  The songs of Red Foley, Johnny Horton, the Johnny Burnette Trio, Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison all bear the mark of these studio heavyweights. Though their style is generally regarded as a mash up of jazz, bebop, country and blues I’ve often wondered who specifically influenced them. What artists did they listen to and where did they turn for inspiration? As a musician and historian I could not leave these questions alone. My search for an answer turned up an interview with Merle Haggard in which he said that fiddle legend Bob Wills was a major influence on Grady. “He influenced Grady Martin who influenced me on guitar, and then when I came back to fiddling he influenced me again. It’s just his touch on the fiddle, lifted by Grady and put on the guitar. Grady was my favorite guitar player so it kind of goes back to Wills.”

Grady Martin intially entered the music scene as a fiddle player. He played for Big Jeff Bess, the Bailes Brothers and possibly others. (In this picture with western swing artist, Paul Howard, Grady is seen holding a fiddle.) In light of this, it makes sense that fiddle playing would have informed Grady’s guitar style. I decided to dive deeper into what Merle Haggard had mentioned and try to hear Bob Wills’ influence in Grady’s playing for myself. A quick comparison of the Tiffany Transcriptions with Grady’s recordings with the Slewfoot Five yielded material for comparison, listen to these three examples and decide for yourself:

1) San Antonio Rose – Bob Wills

2) My Window Faces the South – Bob Wills (fiddle solo begins at 1.09)

3) Sioux City Sue – Bob Wills (fiddle solo begins at 0.59)

Hank Garland’s guitar work also was influenced by fiddle music, in fact his instrumental hit, Sugarfoot Rag, sounds like a fiddling standard. Doc Watson credited Garland and Martin for inspiring him to play fiddle tunes on the guitar. Drawing again from the work of Bob Wills we find material for comparison:

1) Billy in the Lowground – Bob Wills