Saturday, June 23, 2012

''GUITAR GODS: Michael Hedges"

 - David "Skinny Devil" McLean
Originally published in Tinfoil Magazine
Date: Friday, May 03 2002 @ 16:47:19 BST

               There are guitar gods, and then there are Guitar Gods - the former of whom are those who excel in many areas, but the latter of whom are the elite few who manage to radically re-shape our view of what the guitar can do. Michael Hedges was a revolutionary player, combining pristine classical technique, rhythmic fire, a fresh ear, and a flare all his own to create something that was wholly new in the world of music.

The following interview took place in late 1990, a few days before Michael Hedges performed at Bogart's in Cincinnati, Ohio (USA), and 7 years before Michael's tragic death in December of 1997.

     Since his debut solo album "Breakfast in the Field" was released in 1981, Michael Hedges has been shattering the limits of acoustic steel-string guitar. He has worked with fabulous musicians (like Leo Kottke for the 1988 "Strings of Steel" tour), been nominated for a Grammy (1984's "Aerial Boundries"), and influenced an entire generation of guitarists.

I was fortunate enough to experience one of Michael's performances recently, and was quite surprised as he opened the show with a blistering version of the Who's "Eminence Front", then flew immediately into a collection of his own compositions as well as diverse cover tunes like Neneh Cherry's "Buffalo Dance", Prince's "Love Bizarre", and "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones. I had many illusions shattered, too - thinking him the sort of performer who sat on a stool and played pretty. In fact, Michael never sat at all, but ran about the stage, told jokes, and amazed us all at every turn.

Q - Besides your love of guitar and music in general, do you have any reason for performing and creating music? Are you trying to communicate something particular?

MH - Yeah. I think music is communication, and to me it's a more subliminal type of communication. I'm driven to write music because there are some things I can say with words and some things I can't say with words. If I want to get real specific, I can always add words. I also intend to expand my textural possibilities, maybe by using an orchestra.

Q - You mean a full live orchestra, or an emulated....

MH - Well, orchestral - whether it be synthesizers or pure orchestra or a combination of the two. To become richer texturally.

Q - Are you moving towards more electronic music?

MH - I'm moving in as many directions as I can.

Q - Are you still using a lot of different tunings, or have you narrowed down to a few favorites?

MH - Oh, I have one tuning in particular that I use on my latest record (1990's "Taproot") more than others, but I don't have any favorites.

Q - What tuning is that?

MH - Low to high, D,A,D,E,A,B.

Q - What gear are you using live and in the studio?

MH - It's a surprise, man. You'll have to come see the show (laughter)! (Michael played his standard 6-string acoustic and also brought out his harp guitar. He used very few signal processors and no effects.)

Q - Do you generally work through strict composition or through improvisation?

MH - I usually strictly compose, but I improvise rhythmically. Harmonically, it's usually pretty set, but the rhythm is always changing.

Q - Who were early influences on you, and who do you like to hear lately?

MH - I really enjoy Steve Vai's music, and I'd like to work with him a little. We've been talking lately, so we'll see. I also like Canadian singer Lisa Dalbello, and the first Sinead O'Connor record. I also like that Prince song she did. For influences, I love Pete Townsend. I love Pat Martino and Pat Metheny. I love Todd Rungren. And how could somebody not be in awe of Jimi Hendrix's music? I'm doing a cover of "I Don't Live Today" - you know the one I'm talking about?

Q - Oh yeah!

MH - De de, du-du...!!! I love Jimi!

Q - I can't wait to hear it, man. Thanx for your time!

MH - Yeah - see you around, man.


  1. So glad you were able to meet Michael. I was supposed to meet him before his final show at Lake Tahoe. There were some crossed wires, but his assistant promised me "next time." I was so moved by his performance! Hard to imagine the range of compositions he covered and how influential he has become!

  2. I only got to meet him on the phone, but did get to see him at the show. Part of the interview that enbded up on the cutting room floor was where MH told me to learn & perform "I Don;t Live Today" for years I did!!!

  3. I met him just after that 1990 show at Bogarts. He was the picture of the humble musician with very little self importance on display. He seemed like a real down to Earth guy.