The Windhaming Oaks have sprouted another acorn. I’ve seen so many thoughtful comments from people who care about the music and artists who came together to form Windham Hill Records. It seemed right to have a place of our own with a multitude of voices and perspectives on the music we love.
Windhaming.com will remain as a discography project (and keep the comments coming) Windhaming’s Facebook page will remain as a place to promote the activity here, and with weekly posts of music.
Windham Hill Re-issues – From a mighty oak, many acorns spring.
New re-issues, Windham Hill artists performing live, Imaginary Road studios carrying on the tradition – it’s a good time to be a Windham Hill fan
In 2009, I was trying to find liner notes for a Windham Hill album online google responded with an uncharacteristic yawn – nothing there. A quick search for a complete discography of one of the most important American labels of the late 20th century yielded incomplete results.
So much good music being ignored – it reminded me of how the now mighty Blue Note records was treated in the early 80’s before their owners realized the value of a good label. I already owned 40-50 of the 106 vinyl re-issues, and had a desire to learn WordPress and a lot of time on my hands between jobs.
And so was born Windhaming.
It felt like I was a lone voice holding up the value of Windham Hill artists (I wasn’t, but close to it). Did something change, or only our awareness of it?
Artists were touring, but few re-issues were coming out – Valley Entertainment had only two at the time. Will Ackerman had already founded Imaginary Road and artists he was producing were winning awards, but it was well before he issued the very Windham Hill-like compilations known as The Gathering (and The Gathering II).
I update the Facebook page much more frequently than this main site. if you’re not following us on Facebook, now is the time: http://www.facebook.com/Windhaming
Here’s a (certainly incomplete) roundup of some current Windham Hill activity:
Windham Hill Re-issues
The reissues are here! We’ve been beating the Windham Hill drum (okay, gong) for many years and hardly heard an echo. Now, we are in an era with a slate of reissues:
– GrassTops Recordings has put out two Robbie Basho Windham Hill albums (with Visions of the Country transferred to digital by yours truly).
– Valley Entertainment has released 10 titles (mainly later retrospectives),
– Adventure Music has just re-released Mike Marshall and Darol Anger’s Chiaroscuro and Darol Anger and Barbra Higbie’s Tideline, with three more titles scheduled to come.
– Audio Fidelity has just re-issues Michael Hedges’ Aerial Boundaries on vinyl and SACD.
Windham Hill Artists record and tour
So many artists regularly perform and record. Some are much better than others in promoting their concerts, but in the past two years, we’ve seen the following artists live (links to tour pages, where available):
Will Ackerman, along with Tom Eaton, continues to produce outstanding music that will be familiar to WH fans under the aegis of Imaginary Road studios. So much good new music. http://imaginaryroadstudios.com
So go, get out there and explore. The artists are generally performing much better 30 years on than ever before. Let some new music grow on you till it gives you the same thrills as the old classics. Most of all, enjoy.
Windham Hill Records Sampler ’84 – Selections from the Windham Hill Records Album Catalogue
Michael Hedges / Mark Isham / William Ackerman / George Winston / Shadowfax / Alex de Grassi / Scott Cossu / Billy Oskay & Micheal O Domhnaill
Windham Hill Records Sampler ’84 Review
Coming at the absolute crest of Windham Hill’s artistic and financial success, this is arguably the album to recommend if you are only to have one Windham Hill album. And if you were relegated to some kind of special hypothetical hell that allowed only one Windham Hill album in your life, well, it would be a hell with a bit of mercy in it if this were indeed the one pressing to keep you company. It’s got it all: Hedges, Ackerman and de Grassi on the groundbreaking acoustic guitar end; George Winston’s Thanksgiving representing the holiday albums to come with its autumnal glow, and the ensemble performances of Shadowfax, Nightnoise (before they were Nightnoise), Scott Cossu, and Isham’s On the Threshold of Liberty.
The Windham Hill Annual samplers were a driving force in the label’s popularity. Ask anyone who was around at the time, and they’ll remember either George Winston, the Winter Solstice albums or the samplers. The samplers were frequently featured on the Billboard charts, far outselling the original albums in virtually every case. Each release has its own flavor. ’81 had a focussed purity on solo performances, ’82 adds contemplative complexity akin to chamber jazz. On this release, there’s an expansiveness and confidence in the composition and performances that for the first time brings the underlying joy to the surface.
The mastering here is by the legendary Bernie Grundman. Grundman was mastering engineer for A&M records for many years before staring his own studio in Hollywood in 1984. The BG mark in the runout grooves generally is as good a guarantee of quality as is Rudy Van Gelder’s RVG mark. Production is most frequently by Steven Miller, whose work clearly grew with the label – or possibly helped drive the growth of the label.
Windham Hill Records Sampler ’84 Liner Notes
Aerial Boundaries 4.45
Naked Ear Music BMI & Windham Hill Music BMI
Aerial Boundaries WH-1032
Produced by William Ackerman, Michael Hedges and Steven Miller
On the Threshold of Liberty 7.29
Windham Hill Music BMI
Vapor Drawings WH-1027
Produed by Steven Miller
Windham Hill Music BMI
Past Light WH-1028
Produced by William Ackerman and Steven Miller
Windham Hill Music BMI
Produced by William Ackerman and George Winston
Greenshadow Music BMI, Administered by Windham Hill Music BMI
Produced by Chuck Greenberg
Alex de Grassi
Tropo Music BMI, Adminstered by Windham Hill Music BMI
Southern Exposure WH-1030
Produced by William Ackerman and Steven Miller
Oristano Sojourn 4.55
Silver Crow Music BMI and Windham Hill Music BMI
Produced by Steven Miller
The Cricket’s Wicket 6.16
Billy Oskay and Micheal O Domhnaill
Nightnoise Music BMI and Windham Hill Music BMI
Produced by Billy Oskay and Micheal O Domhnaill
Digital Transfer and Assembly by Steven Miller and Dan MacDonell at M&K Sound Corporation, Culver City, CA
Mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood, CA
Cover Photo by John Cooper
Design by Anne Robinson
Manufactured by Windham Hill Records, a Division of Windham Hill Productions Inc. Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94395 (c) (p) 1984 Distributed by A&M Records, Inc.
Windham Hill is a registered trademark of Windham Hill Productions Inc.
There’s lots of Windhaming on Facebook! I regularly publish video clips from YouTube, news from artists, and observations. It’s a nice feed and reminder of old favorites and things going on with many of the artists. I publish roughly weekly, but really just when the mood strikes. So if you’ve been here, and not there, over the past year you’ve missed 52 posts.
I’m very pleased to announce that Grasstops will also be re-releasing the stunning 1982 solo guitar debut album of Windhaming friend Dennis Taylor – Dayspring. Windhaming is also scheduled to do the analog-to-digital conversion and the first listen indicates this will be a treat for Windham Hill fans.
Grasstops is the brainchild of guitarist Kyle Fosburgh, a brilliant young guitarist and label founder. His playing starts where Basho and Fahey ended, and he perfectly captures a gorgeous combination of darkness and light, complexity and gentle beauty.
In other Windham Hill related artists, I’ve been listening to a lot of Jeff Pearce. Jeff worked with Ackerman, and the album covers certainly show they have the same taste in design… but the music pushes farther in to ambient territory, while remaining accessible to new age fans. In my book, he’s doing work on the level of Harold Budd and Brian Eno. There’s just no higher praise.
I saw George Winston live! Like many fans, Winston’s Autumn is what started me on Windham Hill. I’ve heard the album too many times, and just don’t enjoy it like I used to. But live? There’s so much there. Winston always stretched out (the last time I saw his was 1985). In the absence of new material, seeing George play live is an absolute must for any fan. Gorgeous and better than he was on the albums, even recent ones.
I saw Alex de Grassi and Michael Manring live! Seriously, it kills me that these folks aren’t selling out huge halls, Both artists are better than ever. Just outstanding live performers. I spend a fortune on music, but as Shadowfax’s GE Stinson passionately argues on his Facebook page, the current music industry is bad for artists and therefore bad for music – if there’s no money to be made on Spotify or iTunes, and CD sales are down, where will the money come from? Vinyl lovers like me are growing their purchases by 30-40% every year… but I doubt we’ll ever be more than 5-10% of total music purchases.
Of course, Windham Hill is not my only musical interest, sometimes I’m chasing other labels – like Blue Note, Concord Jazz and Erased Tapes. Windhaming readers will likely enjoy the work of Nils Frahm, A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Olafur Arnalds on the Erased Tapes label.
Why did it take so long to publish Liz Story’s Unaccountable Effect?
I created the site when I was between work in 2009, and had a lot more time. My clients have been keeping me quite busy, but a few weird things conspired for this post. First, I absolutely love the album and wanted to do it justice. I got Liz Story’s email after a show a couple of years back and hoped to get some comments from her on the album – alas, no response ever came. I also happened to drop my copy and scratch up side 2, which meant more time passed before I picked up another copy at Amoeba. Finally, I just realized I was letting perfection be the enemy of the good, and decided it was time to publish another page. The original intention of the site was simply to publish liner notes. Wanting to do a good job just slowed me down.
From Mark Isham’s opening synthesizer notes to the title track Unaccountable Effect, it’s clear that Liz Story’s second album (and Windham Hill’s 34th release) is delving into new territory with grace, emotion and depth. Liz Story’s debut Solid Colors shines brightly as one of the many high points in the Windham Hill catalog and in the rich selection of solo piano releases across the decades.
So how do you follow up a brilliant debut? An artist has a lifetime to create their first release, and generally a year or so for their second. For lesser artists the cracks start to show, and either you get a weaker rehash of the first album. For Liz Story, a further depth is revealed as the ideas and passions revealed in Solid Colors gain dynamic impact and space.
Unaccountable Effect is the thirty-fourth Windham Hill release and Liz Story’s second album.
Unaccountable Effect Track Listings
Unaccountable Effect Ο 8:10
Mostly The Hours 4:16
Rope Trick 6:12
My Heart, Your Heart Π 3:54
Leap of Faith 3:53
Deeper Reasons 6:03
Unaccountable Effect Credits/Liner Notes
All compositions by Liz Story and published by Windham Hill Music (BMI) except Ο by Liz Story and Mark Isham, published by Windham Hill Music (BMI) and Earle-Tone Music (ASCAP)/Lost Lake Arts Music (ASCAP) and Π by Dick Grove published by Dick Grove Publications (ASCAP)
Liz Story: Piano, all selections. Drum on “Deeper Reasons.”
Mark Isham: Synthesizer on “Unaccountable Effect.”
Bob Conti: Percussion on “Deeper Reasons.”
Produced and engineered by Steven Miller.
All selections recorded at Sound Castle Studio Center, Los Angeles, CA.
Robbie Basho’s ‘Visions of the Country’ reissued on CD/LP 2013
Windhaming is proud to be a contributor to a new re-issue of Robbie Basho’s “Visions of the Country.” See the original Windhaming review here: https://windhamhillrecords.com/2010/01/23/whs-c-1005-robbie-basho-visions-of-the-country/
With the original master tapes long gone, Windhaming was charged with transcribing a pristine vinyl pressing to digital for mastering.
Robbie Basho Visions of the Country Re-Issue Press Release
Release dates: Vinyl: August 20 — CD: September 25, 2013
July, 26, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Out of print for 35 years, Robbie Basho gains new recognition with this exciting re-release of one of the finest albums ever recorded.
‘Visions of the Country’ was originally released on the hugely successful Windham Hill label back in 1978, as one of their earliest releases. Grass-Tops Recording (GrassTopsRecording.com) and Gnome Life Records (GnomeLifeRecords.com) have teamed up to bring this lost masterwork back to the public for the first time since it’s original release.
Grass-Tops Recording will be handling the CD reissue, and Gnome Life Records will be issuing an LP version. This record has been faithfully restored and remastered by Kyle Fosburgh (KyleFosburgh.com), Joe Churchich (Squeaky Clean Audio, Andover, MN), Andrew Weathers (AndrewWeathers.com), and John Dark (Curator at Windhaming.com). Both formats (CD/LP) are available for pre-order on each website now!
About Grass-Tops Recording
Grass-Tops Recording is a record label dedicated to archiving/reissuing music from the past, as well as featuring news artists who are blazing trails with original innovations in sound.
Still in progress, the Windhaming Windham Hill Vinyl collection has recently expanded and moved into a new home under the Windhaming Oaks. We’ve had a few requests for photos over on the Windhaming Facebook Page, so we’re sharing pictures here as well. If you haven’t visited the Windhaming Facebook page, come take a look. It’s a nice community of music lovers, with frequent videos from Windham Hill artists.
I purchased about 30 LP’s, and about 50 CD’s before starting Windhaming. The remaining 100 or so have been purchased generally one by one for $1 or $2 at Amoeba in Berkeley or San Francicso. The Audiophile editions were largely found at the Beat in Sacramento. I’ve shopped a lot in Europe lately (Budapest, London, Moscow and Hamburg) and haven’t found a single Windham Hill album there, though my ECM collection has grown a bit. I’m about to place all the albums in “Blake” sleeves – the crystal-clear protective outer jackets, and so took a moment to photograph the collection while it was easier to read the titles.
You’ll see several duplicates. These are generall promo and non-promo copies, but also a few audiophile editions, DMM masters, or alternate covers (what’s up with two covers for Isham’s Film Music?) There is a copy of every disc up through 1083, then a few still missing.
Click on the picture for a larger shot. Enjoy – and feel free to respond with pictures of your own collection.
With Islands, Scott Cossu builds on the group efforts of his first two Windham Hill releases, with a star-studded group of collaborators. Mining much of the same territory as Spyro Gyra and the Pat Metheny group, Cossu adds a romanticism and sweetness that belies the genuine complexity and ambitious appropriation of influences. Islands is Cossu’s second release on Windham Hill, following Wind Dance.
If you’re coming new to Scott Cossu, you may be in for a treat. But for me, this is a tough album to review. I’ve heard the tracks that made it onto samplers (Ohana and Oristano Sojourn) too many times; they had lost freshness, and only hearing the non-sampler tracks allowed me to appreciate the album as a whole. The relatively flat and thin recording (when compared to other Windham Hill releases) doesn’t help. This was the early days of digital, and the recording doesn’t do justice to the amazing musicianship that courses throughout the album. What a treat to listen to the album anew.
After opening with the high-energy, if over-synthesized Ohana, Cossu fears nothing by delving into the near eight minute Gypsy Dance – wending its way from a quiet piano piece through a spirited two-step between piano and violin. St. Croix is a richly colorful and plaintive conversation between piano and horn, and Islands gives a cheery Caribbean vibe with the facile flute playing of Dave Valentin.
Cossu seems to save his more relaxed and experimental tracks for the second side, from the 7 minute crescendo of Harlequin Messenger to the pastoral Fawn, the feel is just right – searching, and with an optimistic, but not cloying or celebratory quality, Cossu’s musicianship and compositional skills shine.
I would call Islands underappreciated, but apparently it’s just me who was a late adopter. Both fans and critics celebrate Islands. You might, too. Thanks to the magic of YouTube and the very excellent WindhamHillLovers channel, you can listen for yourself below.
Mark Egan and Danny Gottlieb courtesy of Antilles Records
Tom Varner courtesy of Soul Note Records
Special thanks to Will Ackerman, Anned Robinso, Steven Miller, Steve Lowy and all the people at Windham hill for their long and continued support. Also to my family, Robin, Jenny and our Creator.
Islands: Recorded on Manhattan, the most famous island, represents my progression of travels and my love of islands, their inspirations and the gypsy spirit within. May this music help unite us all as a family of islands.
(c) (p) Windham Hill Records, 1984.
<<note: liner notes taken from the Canadian release, WH-9-1033 – it’s just what I had on hand>>
Few albums stand at both the pinnacle of a genre and simultaneously transcend them. Michael Hedges Aerial Boundaries is one of those few albums that served to define a genre by showing all that it is capable of, while simultaneously and immediately appealing to both casual listeners and those most in the know.
With Aerial Boundaries, Hedges atypical tunings and two-handed percussive technique brought his music to another level beyond that of his first recording “Breakfast in the Field”.
Much has been written about Hedges. I don’t have much to add – simply, If you are not familiar with this recording, you must hear it – and on a good system. If you are, it’s time to hear it again.
Aerial Boundaries Samples
We are fortunate that Randy Lutge has posted so many of the recording from the New Varsity Theater. Hedges was an electrifying live performer, and as perfect as the songs seem on vinyl, they reach another level of depth and complexity still when performed live. Spend a little time on YouTube and you’ll be amply rewarded.
Enjoy the samples, Liner Notes, Credits and “Remembering Michael Hedges” below.
After the Gold Rush
Menage a Trois
The Magic Farmer
Aerial Boundaries Track Listing
Ó Aerial Boundaries 4:45
Ó Bensusan 2:30
Ó Rickover’s Dream 5:00
Ó Ragamuffin 3:15
ζ After the Gold Rush 4:10
Ó Hot Type 1:31
∞ Spare Change 5:45
Δ Menage a Trois 7:10
♦ The Magic Farmer 3:50
Aerial Boundaries Credits
Michael Hedges: Guitar
Mike Manring: Fretless Bass on “After the Gold Rush” and “Menage a Trois”
Mindy Rosenfeld: Flutes on “Menage a Trois”
Produced by William Ackerman, Michael Hedges and Steven Millar
Ó Recorded live to 2 track digital master at Windham Hill Farm, West Townshend, VT, using the Fedco Audio Labs remote truck. Engineered by Steven Miller, assisted by Tom Arrison and Nick Gutfreund.
ζ Recorded live to 2 track master at Sheffield Studio, Baltimore, Maryland. Engineered by Bill Mueller.
♦ Recorded live to 2 track master at Different Fur Studio, San Francisco, CA. Engineered by Steven Miller.
Δ Recorded at Mobius Music, San Francisco, CA. Engineered by Oliver DiCicco. Mixed to digital by Steven Miller at A&M Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
∞ Realized at the Peabody Electronic Music Studio, Baltimore, MD. All sounds are of guitar origin. Engineered and edited by Michael Hedges. Mixed to digital by Steven Miller at the Peabody Recording Studio.
Digital transfers by Mark Boeddeker at Master Digital, Venice, CA.
Original Mastering by Bernie Grundman, A&M Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Cover photo by Richard Santangelo.
Liner photo by Cathye English.
Design by Anne Ackerman Robinson.
All compositions written and arranged by Michael Hedges, published by Naked Ear Music (BMI) and Windham Hill Music (BMI) except “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young, published by Broken Fiddle Music (ASCAP) and Cotillion Music (BMI).
Manufactured by Windham Hill Records. A Division of Windham Hill Productions Inc. box 9388 Stanford, CA 94305
Windham Hill is a registered trademark of Windham Hill Productions Inc. All rights reserved.
Aerial Boundaries Liner Notes
Thanks to Randy Lutge, Steven Miller, Hilleary Burgess, Thayne and Ruth Hedges, George Winston, Geoffrey Wright, Steve Backer, Anne Robinso, Will Ackerman, Alex deGrassi, Mindy Hedges, Steve Reich, Admiral Rickover, Mike Manring, and Pierre Bensusan for their encouragement, support and inspiration.
The telescope was invented in 1608 by a Dutch lens grinder, Hans Lippershay. One day Lippershay discovered accidentally that by putting lenses at both ends of a tube and then putting the tube up to his eye, he could view things “close up”. He called his device a looker, and thought it would be useful in war. Galileo got hold of one, improved it a little, and they used it himself to challenge prevailing ideaas abotu the solar system. This music is dedicated to the spirit of Galileo.
Remembering Michael Hedges
Immediately after Hedges died in 1998, Acoustic Guitar magazine and Alex de Grassi did a lengthy recollection of of Michael, consistent with the stories I’ve heard from engineer Harn Soper. I do not own the rights that this content, but given that the web is old enough that I’ve seen valuable pages disappear over the years, I have decided to do a cut and paste. (If you own this content, and want me to remove it from this page, simply contact me via the comments below.)
The death of Michael Hedges in a car accident last November sent a quake of shock and sadness through the music community, and tremors are still being felt. Using radical alternate tunings and two-handed tapping and percussion techniques, Hedges redefined the language of the acoustic guitar, cutting an extraordinarily influential path. For this special tribute, we look back at Hedges’ life and music, through the eyes of his friends and collaborators. Alex de Grassi, Hedges’ labelmate at Windham Hill and a groundbreaking guitarist himself, compiled the stories that follow from hours of conversations, some of which occurred at a small gathering of San Francisco Bay Area musicians who had known and worked with Hedges for years. Several of these people also shared rare photos: the black-and-white images of Hedges’ landmark recording sessions for Aerial Boundaries were rescued from water-damaged negatives, and most are published here for the first time. Together, these words and pictures provide an unprecedented front-row view of the life and music of a guitar revolutionary.
–Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
RANDY LUTGE (manager/owner of the New Varsity Theater, Palo Alto, California) It was the summer of ’79 or ’80, and I was sitting in the lobby of the Varsity Theater when a fellow with very long hair and a guitar walked down the courtyard, looking like a street musician out to hustle up a gig. It was Michael, walking in from a day at his computer/electronic music class at Stanford, and he said, “I hear this is the place to play in Palo Alto.” I said, “Yes, perhaps. What sort of music do you do?” Mike said that he didn’t much like to be pigeonholed into any one style but that he liked Neil Young a lot.
“Aha! We have all kinds of people, all the time, who do Crosby, Stills, and Nash. We’re really not interested.”
“What would you like me to sound like?” he asked.
“Well, if you walked in here and said you sounded like Alex de Grassi or Will Ackerman, I would be much more intrigued.”
“All right, I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said.
The next afternoon back he comes with a cassette tape in hand. The night before he had recorded “Silent Anticipations”and one other piece. It seemed so bold at the time that the tape got put on right then, with everyone including Mike checking it out. It was clear from the first few notes that it was very eclectic, complex stuff. I told him the place was his, whenever he wanted, as often as he wanted. He played the next night. That evening was so special that we got out the early primitive video camera and taped, as we would do for so many later shows. Michael spent the next several years having the Varsity as his musical home base, going eventually from tips in the courtyard to large concert events in the theater.
WILL ACKERMAN (founder of Windham Hill Records) I was accosted on the street by Randy Lutge of the New Varsity Theater. He said, “Look, I’ll give you two free tickets to the movie tonight and dinner if you’ll come hear this guy play.” I’m hearing that all the time and I’m thinking, “Oh God, but two free tickets and a dinner, that’s pretty good.” So he takes me to that little upstairs room overlooking the courtyard, and Michael was there playing for just a handful of people. At the time, he was playing most of the stuff that’s on Breakfast in the Field[his first album, 1981], obviously some pretty impressive stuff. I started writing out what I could remember of a contract on a napkin and had him sign it. It was a way of saying to Michael how completely overwhelmed I was and how sincere I was about wanting to work with him. That was one of the quickest propositions in the history of Windham Hill.
MICHAEL MANRING (Windham Hill recording artist) At the time we met, I was playing in a band in D.C. and doing a bunch of pickup gigs. One night in Baltimore I was doing basically a jazz gig with Lon Efram. We played this place where we did a set of dinner music and then a set of pretty much whatever we wanted. Mostly we were playing jazz tunes, but in the second set Lon told me to play some of my solo bass stuff I was working on at the time. Michael was there–I think he had lent us a PA–and he came up to me after the set and was real excited. He saw that I was goofing with some stuff on the bass that was like what he was doing on the guitar. We started talking about all kinds of stuff. He seemed such a strange person and very intense. I remember asking Lon, “Is this guy OK?” Lon said, “Yeah, he’s a pretty good guitar player.”
So we got in this intense conversation right away about a lot of music that we liked. We had a lot of common tastes in music. We were talking about Jimi Hendrix and Anton Webern and Morton Feldman and Harry Partch. I didn’t know very many people who knew about their music. I think we talked about Van Halen.
Michael said he was working on this demo tape for this little record company that nobody ever heard of, especially me. And of course that was Windham Hill. I went up a couple of weeks or a month later and played on his demo. I met him at his apartment, and he said, “Man, you gotta hear this record”–and it was your record [Alex de Grassi’s Turning: Turning Back]. Then we did the demo in the Peabody electronic music lab. He gave me a tape of some of his electronic music and some of his chamber stuff for unusual ensembles like vibes, cello, and guitar. I still have a copy of a piece he did for flute and tape. He actually started performing it in ’90 or ’91. An atonal piece, as I remember, it was based on frequency relationships. One of the first things we talked about in our first conversation was composing with the Fibonacci series [a numerical sequence developed by 13th-century Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci]. There was this book we were both interested in that analyzed Bartók’s music in terms of the Fibonacci series. We had both been doing “Fibonacci” compositions at that point. He was also writing pop music at the time. He had already written “Watching My Life Go By.” He had a bunch of other songs like that that he never played again.
We talked about music constantly, sometimes staying up all night. The amazing thing about him was he’d be playing something that was totally rocking, totally melodic, and yet really intellectually challenging, and the two things would be happening completely interweaved with each other. He wrote a piece I used to love to play. It was a pop song, but the melody was a 12-tone row. It was gorgeous, and you wouldn’t know it was a tone row unless you analyzed the music. And that was so much how he thought.
ALEX DE GRASSI I remember when I heard his first album. I hadn’t met him yet–I’d just been hearing about him through Will. I heard the record and I went, “Wow, this guy’s great!” The piece that really stood out was “Breakfast in the Field,” because it was such an unusual approach to solo guitar. A lot of the other pieces on the album were great pieces, but they sounded a little like Martin Carthy, a little like this and that. It wasn’t until Aerial Boundaries came out  that I thought the really amazing stuff emerged.
MANRING I remember doing Breakfast in the Field and thinking, “This guy’s got a wonderful music sense.” I don’t know if I encouraged him or not, but we talked about getting more intense, more rhythmic; we were both real interested in the tapping thing. When we were touring for Breakfast in the Field, we used to do his tunes and a lot of covers. We would do a bunch of Neil Young tunes and a bunch of Beatles tunes. We were on our way to play in Ashland [Oregon], and he was saying, “We need to do a new Beatles tune,” even though we were already doing five Beatles tunes. I remember saying, “Oh, we should do ‘Come Together.’” And he said, “Oh, no, no–that’s much too crazy, we could never do that.” And I said, “No, Michael, we really should do it. I think it would be great–we gotta do something different.” We were playing all the acoustic stuff–“Rocky Raccoon,” all the mellow stuff. I finally talked him into it, and we stopped at some small town and found a music store that had the music so that we could learn the lyrics. I taught him the lyrics as we continued driving and then we played it that night. So I don’t know if I encouraged him, [but he began] to get a little wilder.
BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES
STEVE MILLER (engineer/producer) I remember Will saying when we were getting ready to do the live record [Windham Hill Live, Berklee Performance Center, Boston, 1983], “Wait until you hear this piece [‘Rickover’s Dream’] that Hedges is going to do.” I didn’t hear it until we did the dress rehearsal that first day. I just went, “Holy shit!” It definitely knocked me out. I had never heard anything like that. It was the next step from that piece “Silent Anticipation.”
WILL ACKERMAN “Silent Anticipation”was striving for something, but “Rickover’s Dream” was cinematic. It’s such a realized piece.
MILLER The first day he showed up [to record in Vermont], we were all psyched because at the live show at Berklee he had shown up with this TC [Electronics] chorus. It was so cool, that sound we got on the live record [Windham Hill Live] for “Rickover’s Dream.” So when he showed up, I said, “Where’s that box?” He said he had left his stuff at the Greyhound station in Boston and it got ripped off. So right off the bat we had to get him a chorus.
The first thing we recorded was maybe one of the more acoustic pieces, like “Ragamuffin” or something. And then we did “Rickover’s Dream.” Will and I actually were both kind of bummed out because it wasn’t as cool as the live version; that was the piece Will had been saying to everyone, “This is the most influential, important acoustic guitar piece of the last 50 years.” And then, as I remember it, we did the piece “Aerial Boundaries.” Will and I talked, and I said, “I’m going to try to take it another step further than ‘Rickover’s Dream.’” And he said, “Do it. This will be great.”
ACKERMAN As far as [recording the album] Aerial Boundaries, I almost have amnesia.
MILLER There’s a good reason why Will doesn’t remember much, because he got poisoned on the second day! He was building his garage, and he was putting some sealer on it, and we didn’t see him for two and a half days.
ACKERMAN Oh yeah, I was really sick! No wonder I was out! What I remember, what I think I remember, is Michael being in the living room. Steve had created this monster sound [out of “Aerial Boundaries”], and Michael was basically horrified. I remember him saying that he was looking for an acoustic record, and this had gone into this very different place.
MILLER He freaked! He totally wigged out and ran out of the [remote recording] truck and went into the woods for a few hours. And we couldn’t find him. Nick Gutfriend [owner of the remote recording truck] and I played football for half the day. And then Michael came in and smoked a huge joint. It took him a few times [listening] before he went, “Wow, that’s pretty wild.” And then the next day Michael and I went and found Will at his property.
ACKERMAN And I had poisoned myself [with the sealer]. It was bad. I was so dizzy that when I went to try to get out of that room, I fell down the trap door. And you know, that wasn’tfunny. I was hurtin’. I was stark naked on the ground in either October or November. . . . Oh, God.
MILLER And Michael was kind of uptight at that moment, because he still wasn’t, I don’t think, really convinced that this [recording of the piece “Aerial Boundaries”] was the thing. And then when Will told him what had happened [in the garage], it totally loosened him up–he felt a lot better [laughs]. . . .
He did the piece “Spare Change” on a four-track. These days people would be able to cut and paste that together on samplers. I came to Baltimore [Peabody’s studio] and helped him get started, and I came back about five days later. I didn’t realize what he was doing. He had written the melody backwards, physically on paper, and played it backwards, and then turned the tape over so it would play the melody. I said, “Jeez, Michael, I’m anal, but I don’t have the patience to do that!”
Not only that, but there’s that one chord that drops in pitch. So we’re going, “How do we make that happen? Like a whammy bar or something on the acoustic guitar?” So we sat there for an entire evening trying different techniques to make that thing happen until finally the two of us were pressing the recorder at synchronized times and I was rolling this oscillator that vari-sped the machine down. We were there for five hours getting that one thing to happen.
ALEX DE GRASSI I remember doing a little promotional gig with Michael at an audio dealer in San Francisco when Aerial Boundaries and my album Southern Exposure had just come out. Michael asked me if I minded if he stood up when he played. It had never occurred to me to stand up and play solo guitar. I had played standing back in my street musician days, but I always felt that I had more control over my playing by sitting down. Everybody I had seen playing solo guitar–Leo Kottke, John Renbourn, Ralph Towner–all sat when they played.
I told Michael whatever he wanted to do was fine with me. Then I sat back and was amazed at both the precision and energy of his playing as he stood and played. It really changed my thinking about what was possible. In Randy Lutge’s video of Michael playing at the Varsity back in ’82, you can see even though he was standing up, he had the hand position and technique of a classical player even when he was playing a Neil Young song.
MICHAEL MANRING He was actually a pretty good classical guitar player. He was playing Sor, Tarrega, and Bach. He wasn’t going to do that as a profession, but he could sit and play that stuff well. He studied classical guitar at Peabody, although he was an electronic music major.
DE GRASSI I can see how there might have been some influence from Sor in Michael’s playing because a lot of those Sor studies have to do with overlapping voices and the duration of notes. That was something that Michael did so well–along with all the other innovative techniques in his vocabulary.
JOHN STROPES (Hedges transcriber/publisher) It was clear from the beginning that the current state of notation for guitar would be inadequate to fully express Michael’s compositions. Now, it could also be argued it’s pretty inadequate for anyone else’s guitar music too. It only gives you a little bit of information. But he had really cut new ground, exploring new areas of guitar technique that had not been previously exploited, such as duration of notes, for example–carefully controlling when notes stop. That was something that was rarely, if at all, expressed. You can write a half note, but when you play the guitar it often might not be a half note. And we all know this and we have lived with this for many years, but in order to capture the real truth of Michael’s music it seemed like it was incumbent upon us to develop notation that would be able to focus in on those things that make it unique. We had not only to try to develop notational devices, but also to test them with groups of students to make sure that in fact you could get a result at the other end that was somewhat similar to the original performance. It’s something that more guitar music should focus on.
I think what surprised us all was that he not only had the technique to be a significant artist, but that we had in our midst a great composer. I think on one level or another it’s what struck everyone.
MANRING He got so far away from technique. I think he was actually a little bit uncertain about his technique. When we met, he was studying with this jazz player Larry Woldridge. And Michael kind of couldn’t do that Pat Martino thing. I remember for years him trying to play like that. Certainly he had the brains to do it, but somehow the particular connections involved in making that kind of music just never seemed to work for him. But then he took all his musical skills and put it in this other direction that was totally amazing.
TUCK ANDRESS (Windham Hill recording artist, with Tuck and Patti) Michael had the ability to completely distract you from how dazzling the technique was by being so musical.
MANRING I think Michael never felt like the guitar players who have all the chops; he never had that cockiness about his chops. And he was always real, real shy about playing with other people or playing other people’s music.
BOB DUSKIS (former head of A&R at Windham Hill) I remember we were in Philadelphia on a Windham Hill tour staying in the same hotel as the rock band GTR, which featured Steve Hackett from Genesis and Steve Howe, one of Michael’s heroes, from Yes. We’re in the elevator, and Steve Howe gets on with one of his roadies. Hedges says to him, “Hey, you know what I have in this case? I have a Dyer harp guitar.” Howe says, “Yeah? I’d love to check it out.” So we get out of the elevator. Howe has no idea who Hedges is. Hedges pulls out the guitar, and suddenly he knows he has the opportunity to play for one of his guitar heroes.
So he begins to play, and Howe’s jaw just hits the ground. He stands and watches him for a minute. Then Michael gives him a cassette of Aerial Boundaries. As he is walking away, we overhear Howe say to his roadie, “That guy was fucking unbelievable!” Michael was walking on air the rest of the day.
OTHER VOICES, OTHER INSTRUMENTS
MICHAEL MANRING He always talked about wanting to find a drummer we could play with and having a band. We tried it a couple of times. Something about that was really hard for him, but I never quite figured out what it was. I’d offer to bring some drummers up, and he would get excited about it but then change his mind.
Sometimes when we played with a group of people, he would get lost, kind of buried. The amazing things that he did were often the more subtle things that made you listen more deeply. It was hard to hear those things in a big group.
When Michael and I played together, we just never seemed to get in each other’s way. There was always plenty of room. It was certainly a thrill to play with him. It was like a conversation, and we would always get into something deep right away. Sometimes we wouldn’t play together for a few months, and then we’d play a gig and just be right back continuing that musical dialogue barely saying hello. It’s too bad he didn’t play with more people; he was such a treat to play with. He was a great listener. Everything was different every night. For a guy who “didn’t improvise,” he was a better improviser than almost anyone I’ve met. He wasn’t a jazz player, but he always found some new place to take the music. And it always seemed appropriate, perhaps reflecting something that had happened that day. He was definitely somebody who was fully awake.
PATTI CATHCART (Windham Hill recording artist, with Tuck and Patti) Michael and I sang together one time at Stanford. I can’t remember what songs we did, because we literally were just jamming–we were by the skin of our teeth. I’ve always been a complete fan of Michael’s vocal style; I love the way he sang. I know it was always hard for him to get Windham Hill behind him on his vocal projects. We all played together just last September in Chicago and Montalvo [Los Gatos, California]. His singing had just gotten more beautiful. He was playing the hell out of the guitar and singing like an angel.
TUCK ANDRESS I remember in the early days he was playing a lot of piano, which of course he wasn’t doing later. He was good at that too! I remember talking to him one time back then, and he seemed bemused at the fact that he had really gotten over doing this acoustic guitar and singing thing. He said he loved doing that, but that was just one of the things that he did, and that it just worked. This was just when he was beginning to get a lot of notoriety. He said he would “definitely ride this thing out and go for it, but somewhere along the line I’m going to do some of these other things that are equally interesting to me.” So we never really got to hear a lot of those other things. But he had quite a variety of talents.
LARGER THAN LIFE
TOM LARSON (tour manager 1995–1997) I probably saw Michael in concert for the first time in ’88 or ’89. I was blown away by the bigness of his live guitar sound. At that point, I thought, “This is someone I would be interested in working with.” He played voicings that you didn’t normally hear on guitar. Also the color and the sonorities were part of what attracted me to his music in the first place.
I feel really rather spoiled and lucky and fortunate that I got to hang out with him for the last couple of years. We did about four tours and some summer dates. We did a couple of openers for Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and that was a real treat. We went to Brazil. That was interesting. I met him in Brazil, and he showed up with no hair. He had had this helmet made [seen on the cover of Oracle] with holes to stick his hair through, and then he goes and cuts his hair all off. We did four nights in Brazil. It was fun to see how strong the response was. He was doing the Peter Gabriel tune “Talk to Me,”and I think he was doing “Pinball Wizard.” The last two weeks we were out on tour he was doing Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” He was doing it on the harp guitar. Normally on the harp guitar he had five strings in the bass section, but for that tune he had to wire up a sixth string. He had gotten an extra tuning machine from Steinberger that he liked, and he put it on. At the intermission he would have the monitor tech undo that string so it wouldn’t goof him up in the next set when he had to play “Because It’s There,” one of the harp guitar features.
Michael was incredibly particular about his monitor mix. When I started out with him he had two wedges down front so he’d get that nice stereo imaging. Then he’d have two more speakers behind him that were usually in mono. Towards the end, those speakers became stereo, and then he wanted stereo side fills as well. So he’d end up having this huge six-speaker system on stage, so that wherever he went on stage, he was literally inside his sound. He also would want reverb in the monitors. It ended up working really well, and the guitar sound in the front of the house at the Baltimore Artscape Festival  was the biggest sound I ever heard from any acoustic guitar in my life. I just remember sitting there and thinking, “This is really fun.” There were probably five to eight thousand people out on the hill that day. Later that day we came back and listened to Tito Puente and grinned from ear to ear and danced. Later that night he showed me his old haunts in Baltimore.
WIDE-EYED AND WILD
ALEX DE GRASSI Michael was known to have his eccentricities, but underneath it all one senses he was still that wide-eyed, somewhat innocent Oklahoma boy.
TOM LARSON He had his rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, but he also had a really solid sense of where his family was. It was always a treat whenever his mom would come to shows; she would bribe us for good seats with cookies and stuff like that. So he had a bit of both senses, but it was that innocence that was great. One of the things that I thought he did really well–whether with fans after a show, with promoters, or with me–was the way he had of making you feel, at that moment, like you were the center of the world, that you were the focus of his utmost attention. He gave himself completely to whoever he was talking to, or to whatever he was talking about. If we were talking casually or listening to a Rolling Stones song or a Prince song, he was totally able to go into that moment. That’s the way he looked at life–go for every moment. He was curious about everything–somewhat innocent, but it never seemed to hurt him.
He wanted to fly if the drive was over three hours. Part of his regimen was making sure he had time to do his yoga every day, so sometimes he’d end up doing it at the airport. He had this rug, and he’d sit there by the gate while everyone else was sitting in those chairs. He’d be on the floor doing these stretches on his rug or rolling around on this nine-inch–diameter spiked blue ball. He was definitely eccentric. One thing his success gave him–and he was never a wealthy man–was that he made enough money in his career so that he never had to do anything he didn’t want to do. He was always pretty much able to do the music that he wanted to do, and call it what he wanted.
During the last couple of tours he was really into his Chinese meditation and the theory of five elements. The song “Oracle”was originally called “The Fusion of the Five Elements.” It has five specific sections that deal with water, fire, earth, wood, and metal. The song keeps repeating that cycle. He was exploring that along with the Chinese herbs. He’d go to that side of his personality on some nights. Other nights, say in a club, it would be a looser vibe and he might decide to have a white Russian or a shot of tequila–although he would just kind of sip it and maybe drink half of it, just to be in the culture.
JOHN STROPES Michael’s music came from a deep source within himself. He was a very spiritual person, and his music embodied profound things for people. Music was not his life. More than anyone he realized that music was about life. He felt driven to be a composer; he had that talent. But it was by expressing what was going on in his life that his music had such an ability to move people.
WILL ACKERMAN My memory of Michael is much more of the guy than the musician. He was such a character . . . truly the only one of those on the planet. He seemed to embrace all aspects of life evenly. There didn’t seem to be the division in him between good and evil. Whatever it was, it was fascinating to him. He seemed to embrace the gutter as well as the sun with an equal amount of fascination. I always kind of admired him for that.
MICHAEL MANRING Whenever I hung out with him, big things happened. Whether it was ridiculous, tragic, or inspiring, big things would always happen. He lived his life with so much intensity. Every experience was magnified. I would worry about him sometimes. He used to love to walk on those cliffs by his place in Mendocino [California]. That’s just how he lived his life: on the edge.
RANDY LUTGE Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. Remembrances of trips to Lake Tahoe, being woken in the morning to share a newly scribed “Rickover’s Dream,”andjoining him for a trip to the Grammies when Aerial Boundaries was nominated [Best Engineered Record]. Sometime last spring, about ten in the evening, I got a call. It was Michael. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, could he stop by? We spent an hour or so together, catching up on our lives. We played a song or two together, and he reminded me of some chording he had taught me years earlier for Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” Mike was not only good to listen to, he was good at listening, and would always turn a conversation about what was happening for him into inquiries about his friends’ lives. Very special, deeply missed.
TOM LARSON I last saw Michael after a gig at Club Bené [in New Jersey]. We were back at the hotel with Evan Brubaker, the monitor engineer and a good singer-songwriter in his own right, and Karen Haskell, who was driving and selling merchandise. The four of us sat around and just talked and had a great time. Michael had this crystal with him. It was probably 12 inches long and four inches in diameter–big white crystal, probably weighed about 25 pounds. He had picked it up about two weeks earlier, and he was sitting there talking about pumping crystal and lifting it over his head. It was sort of a joke, but he was sort of serious, and he was talking about how he was going to get himself in shape and we were having some good yucks. And then, all of a sudden, he pulls out the Tao Te Ching and reads something that was terribly profound and funny:
If you realize that all things change
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.
Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.
The next morning his girlfriend Janet came down from Long Island to pick him up, and we all said good-bye. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Best tour yet. We really got it on this one.” And he was genuinely the happiest I’d ever seen him.
There is a Michael Hedges memorial fund available at:
Children of Michael Hedges, c/o Bank of America, 228 North Main Street Fort Bragg, CA 95437 USA
There are several good Web sites devoted to the memory of Michael Hedges. The official site is www.nomadland.com. Another interesting fan site can be found at www.rootwitch.com.