Sunday, November 16, 2008

Michael Hedges: Transcendental Guitar

Michael Hedges, (1953-1997) was a pioneer of acoustic guitar. You know that cliché "think outside of the box"? Michael Hedges was never anywhere near the box. His approach to tuning the guitar was revolutionary. His percussive technique of playing was unseen before his time. His savage creativity is unrivaled to this day. Only rarely has the world seen artists (of any medium) with this kind of passionate creative spirit.

"I play the guitar because it let’s me dream out loud." -MH

Michael hedges was born in Sacramento and grew up in Oklahoma. He studied music at Phillips University in Oklahoma and at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Like many truly creative people he found it difficult to make it through the drudgery of music school core course requirements. Eventually he quit to focus on his music and began to study privately with his mentor, Dr. Eugene J. Ulrich.

Michael was given his big break by William Ackerman, the founder of new age record label Windham Hill, who saw Michael's performance at a Palo Alto cafe and immediately signed him to the label. Hedges put out his first album Breakfast in the Fields in 1981.

Hedges' early work is mellow, ethereal and technically impressive. He maintains multiple melody and counter melodies along with bass lines and various percussive and harmonic ornamentations. The result sounds like a well rehearsed ensemble. At first listen, it is hard to believe that the music is created by one musician in real time with no overdubs.

Here is a newer version of the title track from Hedges' second album Aerial Boundries. The song starts around 3:00.

His later work gets increasingly "savage". He used his tuning methods and a new pick-style technique to write new music and do cover songs.


This video is a good example of how Michael was able to deconstruct classic tunes such as All Along the Watchtower and make them his own.


Michael died tragically in 1997 in a car crash just North of San Fransisco. There is a fund to help support his children at as he did not have life insurance or a significant estate.

Michael's last album Oracle was released posthumously. His unreleased recordings were compiled by his producer and friends David Crosby and Graham Nash, and released as the album Torched named after his song of the same name.

"Heaven is all around... Translate it to sound" -MH

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