Michael Hedges Eulogy
With the brisk winds of late fall came the passing of Michael Hedges, recording artist, acoustic guitar visionary, and father of two. A single car accident, reported on Dec. 2, 1997 claimed his life.
Born in Enid, Oklahoma on December 31, 1953, Hedges studied music at the University of Oklahoma and the Peabody Conservatory before embarking on a commercial career with the Windham Hill record label in 1981. He developed a unique acoustic guitar style, full of right-hand tapping, unconventional full chord hammer-ons and contrapunctal playing that attracted listeners from the rock and pop world to new age Windham Hill music. Though he was pegged as a New Age player, his background included a wide variety of music, from Celtic to hard rock. His favorite singer/songwriter was Joni Mitchell, and because of her influence, Hedges rarely played in standard guitar tuning.
For Hedges, the music was the primary experience. Though he could have played easier pieces and carried the same (or greater) popularity using standard equipment and tuning, he knew that would not meet his own requirements. Tapping and alternate tunings were a method he used to generate a kind of sonic landscape unique to each of his pieces. The melodic and percussive sounds he brought from his instrument were inimitable. When he began experimenting with harp guitar (an acoustic guitar with an extended soundbox and several bass harp strings attached to the extension) he sounded like a full acoustic band, complete with bass, percussion, rhythm and melody.
Hedges’ talent for acoustic guitar was indisputable, but he did not want to be limited to that instrument. He also played flute and enjoyed synthesizers, and once said that the only reason he became known as an acoustic guitar player was because he played for Will Ackerman’s Windham Hill label. Many of his compositional directions lay elsewhere.
I was lucky enough to see Michael Hedges at Purgatory Ski resort one summer, along with fellow Windham Hill artists Andy Narell and Liz Story. The resonant guitar sounds set against a background of high mountain summer scenery created a sensory experience that will never leave me. Hedges moved to his music constantly when he played, directed in a sort of impromptu dance by the notes flowing up the mountainside.