Michael Hedges

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Michael Hedges
Michael Hedges
Michael Hedges
Background information
Birth nameMichael Alden Hedges
Born(1953-12-31)December 31, 1953
Sacramento, California, U.S.
DiedDecember 2, 1997(1997-12-02) (aged 43)
Mendocino County, California
GenresNew Acoustic, world, new-age
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, Singer-songwriter
InstrumentsGuitar, harp guitar, flute, harmonica, tin whistle, percussion, piano
Years active1974–1997
LabelsWindham Hill
Associated actsMichael Manring
WebsiteNomad Land

Michael Alden Hedges (December 31, 1953 – December 2, 1997) was an American composer, acoustic guitarist and singer-songwriter.

Early years[edit]

Michael Hedges was born in Sacramento, California, the son of Dr. Thayne Alden Hedges and Ruth Evelyn Hedges Ipsen. Hedges' life in music began in Enid, Oklahoma, as he flirted with various instruments before focusing on flute and guitar.[1] He eventually enrolled at Phillips University in Enid to study classical guitar and composition under E. J. Ulrich. Subsequently, Hedges studied as a composition major at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland,[1] where he applied his classically trained musical background in combination with various unusual techniques to the steel-string acoustic guitar.

Hedges covered a wide range of musical styles and was considered an extremely dynamic performer in concert. Hedges made ends meet playing and singing in pubs and restaurants in the Baltimore metro area during his tenure at Peabody. From 1976 to 1977 he played electric guitar and flute for a local jazzy folk rock group called Lotus Band, which he left to start performing solo acoustic. In 1980, he made plans to move to California to study music at Stanford University.[1]

Hedges was contacted in February 1981 by William Ackerman who heard Hedges performing at The Varsity Theater in Palo Alto and immediately (using a napkin from The New Varsity) signed Hedges to a recording contract on the Windham Hill label.[1]


Hedges' first two recordings for Windham HillBreakfast in the Field and Aerial Boundaries—were milestones for the acoustic guitar.[1] He wrote nearly exclusively in alternate tunings. His early recordings and most of the Breakfast in the Field album were recorded on the Ken DuBourg guitar and his Martin D-28 "Barbara". Some of the techniques he used include slap harmonics (created by slapping the strings over a harmonic node), use of right hand hammer-ons (particularly on bass notes), use of the left hand for melodic or rhythmic hammer-ons and pull offs, percussive slapping on the guitar body, as well as unusual strummings. He also made extensive use of string damping as employed in classical guitar, and was known to insist strongly on the precise duration of sounds and silences in his pieces. He also played guitar variants like the harp guitar (an instrument with additional bass strings), and the TransTrem Guitar.[1] He was a multi-instrumentalist, playing piano, percussion, tin whistle, harmonica, and flute, among others on his albums. Bassist Michael Manring contributed to nearly all of Hedges' records.

Frustrated that his published work reflected only the instrumental side of his creative output, Hedges convinced Windham Hill to release Watching My Life Go By, a 1985 studio recording of Hedges' vocal originals written over a span of five years – songs often performed at his concerts leading up to the album's release.[1]

His fourth album, a live recording called, Live on the Double Planet, was assembled from 40 of his live concerts captured from 1986 to 1987 recordings.[1] Subsequently, Hedges earned the freedom to release his albums with both vocal and instrumental songs.

Hedges had a very broad range of influences and his output spans many genres. His musical education was largely in modern 20th century composition. He listened to Martin Carthy, John Martyn, and the Beatles, but his approach to composition owed much to Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varèse, Anton Webern, and Steve Reich, in addition to experimental composers such as Morton Feldman. He saw himself as a composer who played guitar, rather than a guitarist who composed music.[1] He was often categorized as a new-age musician because of his association with the Windham Hill record label.[1] Somewhat in reaction to this, he described his music as "Heavy Mental", "New Edge", "Acoustic Thrash", "Deep Tissue Gladiator Guitar" or "Savage Myth Guitar" amongst other terms.

Hedges toured briefly as a co-bill with Leo Kottke. These shows included solo performances by Kottke and Hedges and, as a finale, a number of duets including performances of Kottke's "Doodles" with Hedges playing a high-strung parlor guitar.

Hedges' Aerial Boundaries album, released in 1984, included a tribute piece for the works of acoustic guitarist Pierre Bensusan, simply entitled "Bensusan". Bensusan posthumously returned tribute on his 2001 release Intuite ("Favored Nations"), with a composition entitled "So Long Michael".


Hedges regularly used the following instruments:[2]

  • 1971 Martin D-28 guitar (nicknamed "Barbara") with a combination of a Sunrise S-1 magnetic pickup and FRAP contact pickup under the treble strings
  • A 1978 Ken DuBourg custom made steel string guitar (stolen and returned many years later)
  • A custom 1980s Takamine guitar with his name on the headstock
  • Lowden L-250 guitars
  • Martin J-65M guitars
  • 1920s Dyer harp guitar configured with a FRAP/autoharp pickup combo / reconfigured with Sunrise S-1 and two Barcus Berry magnetic pickups for the sub-basses (glued straight to the body)
  • Steve Klein electric harp guitar with a Steinberger TransTrem bridge
  • circa 1913 black Knutsen harp guitar (often incorrectly referred to as a Dyer) with a FRAP/autoharp pickup combo—and rattlesnake tail wedged under the sub-basses at headstock
  • Custom Ervin Somogyi acoustic (as credited on Breakfast in the Field)

Hedges experimented with different pick-ups, effects and gain structures to achieve a different and unique sound for every song.

Personal life[edit]

Hedges was married to flutist Mindy Rosenfeld but the couple divorced in the late 1980s.[3] He was the father of two children, Mischa Aaron Hedges and Jasper Alden Hedges.[4]


According to his manager Hilleary Burgess, Hedges was driving home from San Francisco International Airport after a visit to a girlfriend in Long Island, New York. His car apparently skidded off a rain-slicked S-curve and down a 120-foot (37 m) cliff. Hedges was thrown from his car and appeared to have died nearly instantly. His body was found a few days afterward.[5][6] After his death, his album Oracle won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best New Age Album.

Hedges' unfinished last recordings were brought to completion in the album Torched, with the help of his former manager Burgess and friends David Crosby and Graham Nash.[7]

Quotations about Hedges[edit]

  • "I feel I can always hear his heart when he plays. He respected my playing too, and that simply thrills me." – Pete Townshend[8]
  • "Michael was unique. His music transcends genre and trend. It's truly musical, fun and enlightening." – Steve Vai[8]
  • "His playing has a feel and timbre all its own – technically brilliant, but always organic and true." – Joe Satriani[8]
  • "One of the most brilliant musicians in America." – David Crosby[8]
  • "I considered him to be a genius and when he died I lost a great friend." – Graham Nash[8]
  • "There was simply no one like him." – Bonnie Raitt[8]
  • "He was a real musician who remained humble even through stardom. A rare breed indeed." – Alvin Lee[8]

Tribute music[edit]


Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

Compilations (solo)[edit]

  • Strings of Steel (1993)
  • Sounds of Wood and Steel (1998)
  • Best of Michael Hedges (2000–posthumous)
  • Beyond Boundaries: Guitar Solos (2001–posthumous)
  • Platinum & Gold Collection: Michael Hedges (2003–posthumous)
  • Pure (2006–posthumous)

Compilations (various artists)[edit]

  • An Evening with Windham Hill Live (1982)
  • A Winter's Solstice II (1988)
  • A Winter's Solstice III (1990)
  • Windham Hill: The First Ten Years (1990)
  • Windham Hill Guitar Sampler II (1992)
  • Carols of Christmas (1996)
  • Summer Solstice (1997)
  • A Winter's Solstice VI (1997)
  • The Renaissance Album (1998)
  • Touch: Windham Hill 25 Years of Guitar (2001)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 590. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ Matt Guthrie. "Michael Hedges' Stage Rig". Nomadland.com.
  3. ^ LaBlanc, Michael L. (1990). Contemporary musicians: profiles of the people in music. Gale Research Inc.
  4. ^ "Michael Hedges". Geni.com. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  5. ^ "Local news report". Nomadland.com. December 5, 1997.
  6. ^ Bendersky, Ari. "Guitarist Michael Hedges Dies In Car Accident". Rollingstone.com. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  7. ^ Matt Guthrie. "Michael Hedges: Torched". Nomadland.com.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Hilleary Burgess. "Testimonials". Nomadland.com.
  9. ^ "Sole Rebel: A Interview with Keller Williams". Vermontreview.tripod.com. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  10. ^ "Calum Graham - The Nomad - Solo Acoustic Guitar".
  11. ^ "Don Ross - Michael,Michael,Michael - Solo acoustic guitar".

External links[edit]