Car crash kills Windham Hill guitarist

Wednesday, December 3, 1997

Michael Hedges, an acclaimed acoustic guitarist and composer known for his unusual two-handed picking style, was killed in an automobile crash. He was 43.

Hedges died in a one-car crash on State Route 128 in rural Mendocino County, about 100 miles northwest of San Francisco, California Highway Patrol Officer Bob Burke said Wednesday. A work crew discovered the guitarist's body in his wrecked 1986 BMW Tuesday morning.

Burke said it appeared Hedges' car had skidded off a curve and down a steep embankment a few days earlier.

Known for innovations such as simultaneously picking both ends of the guitar, the Grammy nominee described his own music as "heavy mental," "acoustic thrash" and "new edge."

In the early 1980s, he helped establish the Windham Hill label with his albums "Breakfast in the Field" (1983) and "Aerial Boundaries" (1984). He also collaborated with such musicians as bassist Michael Manring, guitarist Dweezil Zappa and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

"He was a great friend and one of the most brilliant musicians in America," David Crosby said Wednesday from his Southern California home.

A native of Enid, Okla., Hedges took an early interest in the guitar and flute that led him to study classical guitar at Phillips University in Enid. He eventually earned a degree in composition from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. He also studied electronic music at Stanford University, where he met Windham Hill co-founder and guitarist Will Ackerman.

"Michael tore my head off," Ackerman once said of Hedges' playing. "It was like watching the guitar being reinvented."

His music, Hedges once said, was without category.

"If I did have a formula, it would be one more limitation that I would have to deal with, and I'm not in this business to make limitations for myself," he said. "I'm in it to get high. That's what happens to me when I write music."

In recent years, Hedges lived in Mendocino County, recording in his Naked Ear Music studio. There, he incorporated vocals into albums such as "Taproot" (1990) and "The Road To Return" (1994), but had returned to instrumentals in his most recent album, "Oracle."

He was scheduled to perform in the Guitar Summit Tour on the East Coast beginning in January. He also had been working on his next album, tentatively titled "Torched."

Hedges is survived by his mother, Ruth Ipsen, of Fresno; sister Carol Hedges of San Francisco; two brothers, Craig of Los Angeles and Brendan of Madera; and two sons from a former marriage.

Copyright 1997 Associated Press

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