Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce the acoustic guitar.
January 28, 2010 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Michael Hedges was something of a revolutionary.

With a Compostion degree from the Peabody Conservatory , it is rumored he wrote most of his music out on staff paper, then went back to his guitar to figure out how to tune it so he a actually could play what he wrote.

Though he was oftened lumped into the stable of Windham Hill "New Age" guitarists, his work is often credited with a renewed interest in acoustic guitar.

He did some truly ground breaking things, yet sometimes, he just needed to cut loose

His custom tunings..
posted by timsteil (51 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
He died way too young!
posted by ericb at 1:19 PM on January 28, 2010

"I feel I can always hear his heart when he plays. He respected my playing too, and that simply thrills me." – Pete Townshend

"Michael was unique. His music transcends genre and trend. It's truly musical, fun and enlightening.” – Steve Vai

"His playing has a feel and timbre all its own - technically brilliant, but always organic and true." – Joe Satriani

"One of the most brilliant musicians in America." – David Crosby

"I considered him to be a genius and when he died I lost a great friend." – Graham Nash

"There was simply no one like him." – Bonnie Raitt

"He was a real musician who remained humble even through stardom. A rare breed indeed." - Alvin Lee *
posted by ericb at 1:22 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks youtube and the Internet such jewels are being kept alive.

Didnt knew him before. Great musician. Thanks.
posted by diwolf at 1:22 PM on January 28, 2010

I spent many, many nights trying to learn "layover" from "Breakfast In The Field" when I was probably too young to be able to play it. He was one of the first guitar virtuosos to drop my jaw when I was learning how to play the instrument. I lost track of him and actually had no idea he'd passed on.
posted by ORthey at 1:23 PM on January 28, 2010

Still one of my favorite guitarists of all time.
posted by gallois at 1:27 PM on January 28, 2010

I needed to read all the way through the post to figure out he had a composItion degree, not a degree in composting. I was confused for a bit there, but thanks for the pointer... never heard of him before.
posted by yiftach at 1:29 PM on January 28, 2010

Saw him in Atlanta when he was touring the Oracle album, on the advice of a friend who knew I played.

I'd never heard of the guy. So we go into the Variety Playhouse, sit down, and here comes this guy onstage by himself and he proceeds to BLOW MY MIND COMPLETELY. I'd never heard or seen anything like it, before or since (the closest, actually, was catching the end of Stanley Jordan playing "Stairway to Heaven"on...PBS, I want to say. I was mesmerized).

Bought Oracle in the lobby, then bought a bunch of his older stuff (Taproot, Live on the Double Planet, etc). Not too long after that, I got curious and started poking around the web trying to find out when he'd be back, only to find the obit.

There's a great moment on the Live album where he's tuning his guitar and just sort of whanging around...someone in the crowd yells "COME TOGETHER!" and boom! He goes right into it.
posted by jquinby at 1:33 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I saw him live a half-dozen times -- I was in the audience the night he recorded the version of "Come Together" that appears on Live on the Double Planet -- and he was phenomenal to watch. (jquinby: the most amazing bit was when he had so many people singing the McCartney and Harrison parts from the original that he stopped playing for a few seconds and the song continued as a communal piece...)

His passing was not well-publicized at the time. Despite being a fan, I didn't know until weeks later, reading a year-end retrospective of celebrity deaths for the year, and the tiny paragraph headed "Guitarist Influenced a Generation" I almost skipped because I thought it would be another mention of John Denver.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:39 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

He was a superlative guitarist with a distinct compositional sense that caused him to develop all sorts of idiosyncratic techniques for playing guitar. Great stage presence too. I usually steer clear of so-called New Age music, especially stuff with generically naturey titles. For Hedges, I have always been willing to make an exception.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:40 PM on January 28, 2010

Stanley Jordan playing "Stairway to Heaven"

Stanley Jordan plays "Stairway to Heaven".
posted by ericb at 1:42 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

I saw him play with Michael Manring when I was in college. It was an astounding performance over three sets, one solo with Hedges, one solo with Manring and one with both. He was scheduled to do a master class the next day, for which I had a work conflict which I was able to use as an excuse to get into the green room after the show so he could autograph my guitar.

What stood out about that experience was that he held my guitar, a home made Strat clone, like it was a Faberge egg and took a little time to look it over since it had already been signed by John Lee Hooker.
posted by plinth at 1:48 PM on January 28, 2010

Stanley Jordan plays "Stairway to Heaven" .

posted by jquinby at 1:48 PM on January 28, 2010

ricochet biscuit, my jealousy is boundless over that. Double Planet was on heavy rotation in college. Saw him at the Coach House here in CA. I couldn't believe it when he came out with his head shaved doing all kinds of yoga during his set. He was a shaman.
posted by podwarrior at 1:53 PM on January 28, 2010

I was lucky enough to see him on his last jaunt through Portland. I went on the advice of a friend who assured me even though he was on Windham Hill it was "not New Age muzak". Holy smokes it was awesome! The audience spanned quite a demographic - from ponytailed dudes in Birkenstocks to the shredders from the local guitar store. I only learned of his passing reading Michael Manring's column months later in Bass Player magazine. Such a loss.
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 1:58 PM on January 28, 2010

Oh my christ did I love this guy back in college. I saw him twice or three times and he blew my mind - and I'm not even into guitar music or jazz or any of that stuff. I've just never seen someone do what he did - a true pioneer and genius.
posted by tristeza at 2:00 PM on January 28, 2010

Was that Wolftrap show where he did "A Love Bazzar" on PBS or something? I've seen it before.

Damn, that guy was awesome.
posted by vibrotronica at 2:03 PM on January 28, 2010

Live on the Double Planet was my first exposure. The man was simply amazing.
posted by Sailormom at 2:06 PM on January 28, 2010

I love Michael Hedges! Incredible, incredible musician. Great post. It's been too long since I listened to some Hedges.

and he went to my high school! but before me.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:11 PM on January 28, 2010

I saw MH live when I was in college, and was totally blown away. Still have never seen anything like it since. And it pissed me off to no end that the Border's where I worked classified him as "New Age."
posted by coolguymichael at 2:15 PM on January 28, 2010

ah, beautiful, I was researching and considering posting about Mr. Hedges, possibly on the connection to the semi-recent movie August Rush, where they pass off Mr. Hedges music as August's..

Also, can anyone confirm if my curiosity is correct in thinking there are some riffs by Mr. Hedges on the Ken Burns doc about National Parks (there is an amazing riff that is a motif throughout the series, and I was close to sure that it was in fact a riff created by Mr. Hedges... but I could find no verification of this. Though he was definitely involved in the National Parks.)

From the July 1986 at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia.

Guitar gear remembers a master of the Accoustic

This tribute page goes into where some of his work appeared
The Harp Guitar... because it's there.
posted by infinite intimation at 2:19 PM on January 28, 2010

I don't even remember where I saw him-- that was a very weird summer-- but it was in 1996 somewhere near Pittsburgh in an open-air venue. Absolutely fantastic.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:27 PM on January 28, 2010

I'm amazed this hasn't been discussed before. Awesome guitarist.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:30 PM on January 28, 2010

I hadn't heard of him until he was already dead, and only by a few months. I turns out he was local too so with a little different timing I could have seen him live. He was a stunning virtuoso.
posted by chairface at 2:33 PM on January 28, 2010

Sungha Jung is an amazing kid who seems to gain a lot of inspiration from Mr. Hedges... he plays Ritual Dance here, but he does a whole lot of other songs also, using a similar style to Mr. Hedges. The precision is incredible!
There are many artists who can be considered Hedges'ian, this is just one (young) example... I really love the panache they have.. and I agree with the comments decrying the phrase "new age"... new age is a BOX... Mr. Hedges and people who have followed his style are so much more than the confining qualities that make a box as small and phrasually loaded and historically burdened as "new age" just not fit with Mr. Hedges.
posted by infinite intimation at 2:36 PM on January 28, 2010

I remember discovering "Live on the Double Planet" at 18 or 19, during a period where I struggling to redefine my musical tastes (I listened to a lot of Rush, a lot of classical, and a lot of jazz) and was struggling to get laid. The album really resonated with me at that time, and reminds me of a girl I was pursuing at the time, somewhat ditzy and hippyish, with big boobs, who eventually dropped out of the Creative Writing program we were enrolled in, in favour of primary ed. She eventually wound up with a late-30-something PhD student (computer science) who was in the process of divorcing his wife and playing the undergraduate field. He held great contempt for me, and now I know why. I eventually discovered pot, grunge, shoegazing and the college radio station, and left Michael Hedges behind. And then got laid.

So that's what Michael Hedges means to me. I still pull out the CD from time to time and play it, but have to stop before the awkward memories start flooding in.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:40 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: stop before the awkward memories start flooding in.
posted by jquinby at 3:37 PM on January 28, 2010

He came through Tallahassee in the early-mid 80's, after "Breakfast in the Fields" and again promoting "Aerial Boundaries". Like others, my mind was completely blown. I spent many a road trip in the following years cruising along to those albums playing over and over on the stereo.

On his first tour he was a bit tentative and shy, but still an engaging showman (in addition to being a monster player, of course) and he and the audience had a great time in a little hole-in-the-wall place that might have held 50-75 people, tops. Man, that dude had some amazing hair, too...during his second concert he was playing "Come Together" and hadn't fully developed the audience-participation part of that tune yet. But when he came to the line "hair down to his knees" he dramatically yanked off the tie that was holding his ponytail and poof, all this hair sprung out everywhere! He finished the tune surrounded by a cloud of kinky-wavy, literally waist-length hair. The crowd, as they say, went wild.

I would love to have seen him live with Manring.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:08 PM on January 28, 2010

I got to see him play live a few times at a small venue, both solo and with Manring. The energy was just amazing. He had a great cordless setup and would dance around. The dressing room was in the back of the bar, so he'd start playing back there and dance his way up to the stage. Got close enough that my friend and I were able to determine that not only was he an amazing musician, but damn, he smelled good, too. Yeah, my friend and I had pretty bad crushes on the guy.

The last time, I went with a group of friends, and a couple of us went out to the back deck to smoke during the intermission. I'd seen him play Gimme Shelter one of the previous times and commented to my friend that I hoped he'd play it again. The dressing room was right next to the deck, and the very last song he played that night was Gimme Shelter, just kind of tacked on to the end of the set, and then danced his way out the front door to his bus. That was 16 years ago. I still don't care if it was just a coincidence.
posted by lilywing13 at 4:13 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I first heard him in music school almost 20 (TWENTY??!!) years ago, when the guitarists on the floor would sit transfixed in front of the speakers for hours on end. I spose the intervening years are what's responsible for my never having thought to look for him on youtube, or to compose a post about him here. Figured it would've been covered a long time ago on the blue. Thanks for posting this.
posted by nevercalm at 4:35 PM on January 28, 2010

Sungha Jung is, if memory serves, the kid who played the Hedges music in August Rush. And man, poking around infinite intimation's link yields a treasure trove of stuff by this amazing young kid. Great stuff. Thanks, ii.
posted by nevercalm at 4:39 PM on January 28, 2010

Saw him open for Richard Thompson on RT's "Daring Adventures" tour. Two amazing guitarists for one low price.
posted by hwestiii at 4:58 PM on January 28, 2010

Fans might also have a listen Michael's student, accompanist, and friend, Don Ross.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:26 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I didn't even know he was dead.

posted by Xurando at 6:09 PM on January 28, 2010

Like Xurando, I didn't even know that Michael was dead. I saw him sometime in the early 90's - 93, maybe, at the Mud Island Amphitheatre. As I recall, he opened for for Chick Corea. Quite phenomenal. Thanks.
posted by grimjeer at 6:28 PM on January 28, 2010

The World Famous: Yer welcome. The last time I saw Hedges, he was playing a gig with Manring, and Don Ross was sitting just a few feet away from me.

By the way, I first became aware of Don Ross when he was playing in The Harbord Trio, along with the late Oliver Schroer who (to my mind) was to the violin what Hedges was to the guitar. I have no idea if you'd be able to track down any Harbord Trio music, but it is superb.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:32 PM on January 28, 2010

Couldn't get past the banter & the hair.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:38 PM on January 28, 2010

Couldn't get past the banter & the hair.

Seriously? Hedges is one of the best "popular music" guitarists ever. Okay, maybe his hair doesn't make it for you but try listening to one of the many other videos posted before snarkily knocking him.
posted by 6550 at 8:59 PM on January 28, 2010

What hath Hedges wrought?
posted by Crotalus at 10:02 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sure, I listened to a little. Not my thing but that's not his fault. He's definitely good at it. But don't you dare take my snark away! Have you no honor, sir?!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:04 PM on January 28, 2010

I bought Aerial Boundaries at some new-agey sandwich bar/gift shop perched on a cliff somewhere between LA and SF when I was 13, driving up the coast with my mom. It was part of a mix they were playing in the shop while we were waiting on lunch and was just something I had to have. A few weeks after I got home to Tennessee I put it on in the car with my dad and stepmom, and she pulled out her copy. I got to see him perform live a couple of times, once in Louisville at a bluegrass festival when I was 15 and had a full-leg cast. He pulled out the harp guitar during his set and seriously blew some minds. My dad and I bumped into him in the hotel elevator a little later, and he joked about me being forced to sit through everything with a bum leg, I told him I wasn't forced I wanted to be there, and he was cool enough to sign my cast. Of course, I didn't think about that when it got cut off a couple months later, and lost that autograph (and a few others) forever...
posted by pupdog at 10:04 PM on January 28, 2010

I once saw Michael do an outdoor show at a local winery. The stage was just a large deck built around the trunk of a huge old oak. He played and danced around that oak like it was his new best friend. None of the indoor shows I saw had that same intensity and spark.

I don't know where that immense, pure spirit dwells now, but I'm grateful that it came to Earth for a while and picked up a guitar.
posted by shifafa at 10:49 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mrs. Wintermind and I saw Michael play a solo set at the Varsity in Baton Rouge in 2000 or 2001. His recorded music is very good, but it becomes something completely different when experienced live. It was a great show, and I'm glad that I got the chance to see him perform live.
posted by wintermind at 6:42 AM on January 29, 2010

I first heard the song "Aerial Boundaries" when I bought a Windham Hill "sampler" tape. It was truly amazing, and has always been a favorite. (Also "Because It's There" - someone bought me the original WH album that was on, a soundtrack to a film about a Japanese mountain climber.)

Over the years I would listen to Aerial Boundaries and often wondered if there wasn't some cheating - was there a second guitar overdubbed or something like that. For whatever reason it never occurred to me until literally about two weeks ago to look Hedges up on YouTube for any performance videos. And now I get it. There was no second guitar - he just plays both the neck and the body of the thing as if they were two instruments.
posted by dnash at 7:50 AM on January 29, 2010

I heard Michael a bunch when I was in high school. He played for free in the courtyard of the New Varsity. I was at his first performance for a paying audience when he opened for Doc Watson there, and totally blew the audience away. It was amazing to hear him step it up for a large theater, while keeping the banter and technique.

Saw him many times after that. Talked with him. Learned some stuff. Interviewed him.

Great musician.
posted by lothar at 10:43 AM on January 29, 2010

I love the story about the random way in which he finds and buys a beloved guitar only to have it be stolen, but eventually gets it back. I don't really like how it ends, though... that the return of the guitar fuels his creativity for an album that eventually wins an award after his untimely death.
posted by parilous at 11:37 AM on January 29, 2010

I fell in love with my wife all over again at a Michael Hedges concert in Knoxville lo these many years ago. I miss him sorely. I'm glad to see him here on the Blue. Thank you.
posted by ZakDaddy at 12:44 PM on January 29, 2010

ORthey, did you learn layover from a tab in an acoustic guitar magazine? I did too. I was in high school and way over my head. It took forever, and I don't think I ever got it up to speed. Then, I fiddled and fiddled and tried to approximate the first section of aerial boundaries. My dad is a leo kottke fan, and my mom had an old gibson lying around, so I had fingerstyle guitar on the brain pretty early. For a few months around then, I took some songwriting lessons from Preston Reed.

It's hard for me to watch those videos, and only in part because of the banter and the hair, as josephgurl mentioned. At a certain point, I couldn't get myself to get as excited about playing it, or listening to it anymore. Every instrument/playing technique comes with baggage, but the technique for technique's sake thing started to leave me cold. Michael Hedges' compositions are interesting enough that he can hold your attention longer (it's not just flash, even though there is a lot of flashiness in it), but so many other players are just cringeworthy. Beyond just the 'all chops' downside, so often, at least back then, playing this stuff you were boxed into either into a bucolic americana kind of thing, or new age/windham hill, in the way people heard your stuff. The tunings can open up possibilities, but they can also get you in a rut fast.

Twenty years later, I started listening again to John Fahey's drony, simple stuff like sunflower river blues, Jim O'Rourke's acoustic recordings like Eureka, and then Califone, and it made me think that I gave up on it too soon--that there was a way to play this way without trapping yourself.
posted by umbú at 1:33 PM on January 29, 2010

umbú, you might want to give a listen to Rod Poole, if you haven't already.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:06 PM on January 29, 2010

Thanks, Joseph Gurl. I'm listening to the Rod Poole, and its really interesting stuff. Very worthwhile.
posted by umbú at 8:41 PM on January 29, 2010

Wintermind, I think you're misremembering. He died in 97.
posted by geekhorde at 3:44 PM on January 31, 2010

I remember hearing Michael Hedges, and really liking his stuff, before ever hearing the term "new age." So when I heard Michael Hedges was a "new age" artist, I decided to pick up a few other titles from "new age" composers.

Turned out I didn't really like "new age" much at all. But Michael Hedges remains one of my favorite guitarists ever. Wish I'd have seen him play.
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