Michael Hedges

Michael Alden Hedges was an American composer and acoustic guitar player. He died December 31, 1953. Hedges’ musical journey began in Enid in Oklahoma. He experimented with many instruments before settling on guitar and flute. He enrolled at Phillips University, Enid, to learn classical guitar and, more importantly, to learn from his composer mentor, E. J. Ulrich. Hedges became a Peabody Conservatory composition major in Baltimore, Maryland. He combined his classically-trained musical background with some unusual techniques to play the steel-string acoustic. Hedges was a versatile performer and covered many musical styles. During his time at Peabody, Hedges was able to make ends meet singing and playing in bars and restaurants throughout the Baltimore Metro. He played the electric guitar and flute in a jazzy folk band called Lotus Band from 1976 to 1977. He then left that group to perform solo acoustic. He made plans to go to Stanford University to study music in 1980. William Ackerman, who saw Hedges perform at The Varsity Theater of Palo Alto in February 1981, signed Hedges to a recording deal on the Windham Hill label. Mindy Rosenfeld, a flautist, was his wife. Hedges divorced her in the late 1980s. Hedges’s first recordings for Windham Hill, Breakfast in the Field and Aerial Boundaries, were landmarks in the history of the acoustic guitarist. He almost exclusively wrote in alternate tunings. The Ken DuBourg guitar was used for his early recordings. Most of the songs on ‘Breakfast in the Field” were recorded using the Martin D-28 “Barbara”. He used slap harmonics (created when the strings are slapped over a harmonic node), right hand hammering-ons (especially on bass notes), and left hand hammering-ons and pull-offs. He was also a big fan of string damping, which is used in classical guitar. He was also known for insisting on the exact duration of sounds and silences within his pieces. He also enjoyed guitar-variants such as the TransTrem Guitar and the Harp Guitar (an instrument that has additional bass strings). He was a multi-instrumentalist, playing piano, percussion, tin whistle, harmonica, and flute, among others on his albums. Nearly all of Hedges’ records were recorded by Michael Manring, the bassist. Hedges was frustrated that his published work only reflected his artistic output. Hedges convinced Windham Hill in 1985 to release Watching My Life Go By. This 1985 studio recording features Hedges’ vocal originals, which were recorded over five years. These songs were often performed at Hedges concerts prior to the release of the album. The fourth album, called Live on the Double Planet, is a compilation of 40 recordings from his live concerts from 1986 to 1987. Hedges was able to release his albums with both vocal and instrumental tracks, which is something he would not have done if it weren’t for record label initiatives. Hedges was influenced by many different genres and had many influences. Hedges’ musical education was based largely on 20th-century composition. Martin Carthy, John Martyn and the Beatles were his musical influences, but his compositional approach was influenced by Igor Stravinsky and Edgard Varese as well as experimental composers like Morton Feldman and Anton Webern. He viewed himself as a composer who plays guitar rather than a musician who composes music. Because of his association to the Windham Hill recording label, he was often called a “new-age musician”. In response to this, he described his music as “Heavy Mental”, “New Edge”, “Acoustic Thrash”, or “Deep Tissue Gladiator Guitar”, among other terms. Hedges briefly toured as a co-bill performer with Leo Kottke. These shows featured solo performances by Kottke, Hedges, and as a finale, a few duets, including Kottke’s “Doodles” with Hedges playing a high strung parlor guitar. Hedges, 43, died in a car accident on State Route 128 in Mendocino County near Boonville in late 1997. This is about 100 miles (160km) northwest San Francisco. Hilleary Burgess his manager, said that he was returning from a Thanksgiving visit to Long Island to drive home to San Francisco International Airport. His car was seen skidding down a precipitous S-curve, and then down a 120-foot (37m) cliff. Hedges was thrown out of his car and died almost instantly. Hedges’ body was discovered a few days later. His 1998 Grammy Award for Best New Age Record was won by his record Oracle. With the help of Hilleary Burgess, his ex-manager and the friends Graham Nash, Hedges’ last recordings were completed in Torched. Wikipedia

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