Santa Rosa Press Democrat, December 5, 1997

Renowned Mendocino guitarist Hedges dead
By MARY CALLAHAN, Press Democrat staff writer

Mendocino guitarist Michael Hedges, an innovative and eclectic musician with a national following, was identified Wednesday as the victim of a fatal weekend car crash on Highway 128 near Boonville. The 43-year-old Grammy nominee was found dead down a steep embankment Tuesday. He apparently had died several days earlier while driving home from San Francisco International Airport after a Thanksgiving visit to his girlfriend in Long Island, N.Y., said his manager and longtime friend, Hilleary Burgess.

"He really touched a lot of people,'' a still-numb Burgess said Wednesday. ""I mean, I was somewhat aware of that, but I'm becoming much, much more aware of it."

"The calls are coming in from friends and colleagues all over the country and people are just stunned,'' he said. A 12-year resident of Mendocino and father of two young boys, Hedges was best known for his work on the Windham Hill record label. He began earning recognition in the mid-1980s for groundbreaking acoustic guitar work, in which he strummed, picked and beat his instrument, creating rich textures that made it sound like many instruments at once.

But Hedges, Burgess said, considered himself a composer first -- one who just happened to play guitar, as well as flute, cello, clarinet and keyboards. He also was a vocalist and had recorded two albums that were primarily vocal, Burgess said.

Hedges resisted any attempts to classify his music as "new age'' or anything else, his manager said. "To some extent I think he felt a little bit restricted by the categorization that happens in the commercial end of music,'' Burgess said. "It becomes an impediment to some extent.''

Hedges himself sometimes described his music tongue-in-cheek as "acoustic thrash'', "edgy pastoral", "new edge'', and "deep-tissue gladiator guitar,'' according to Windham Hill's Web site.

A native of Oklahoma, he had trained classically on the guitar, earned a degree in composition at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and studied electronic music at Stanford University, according to another Web site devoted to Hedges. "He was a great friend and one of the most brilliant musicians in America,'' musician David Crosby, one of many to collaborate with Hedges, told the Associated Press.

Hedges also had worked with Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Graham Nash, Dweezil Zappa, Michael Manring and Bobby McFerrin, according to his biographical sources. Windham Hill co-founder and guitarist Will Ackerman first heard Hedges play during a gig in Palo Alto and later recalled, ""Michael tore my head off. It was like watching the guitar being reinvented.'' Hedges' first album, "Breakfast in the Field,'' recorded in 1983, "was looked upon as being groundbreaking,'' Burgess said. In his second album, " Aerial Boundaries'', released in 1984, Hedges "blew the genre apart,'' according to a 1990 cover story in "Guitar Player'' magazine.

"Aerial Boundaries'' also was nominated for a Grammy award, as was "Taproot,'' released in 1990. Hedges recorded seven albums, most recently ""Oracle'' in 1996. He was working on a new album tentatively called "Torched'' at the time of his death.

Hedges also was working on projects at his private Naked Ear Music recording studio in Mendocino and was scheduled to tour 14 East Coast cities with other Windham Hill artists in the spring. Authorities still weren't certain Wednesday exactly when Hedges died, but said they believed he was dead for at least two days before his body was found by members of a county road crew 1 mile west of Fish Rock Road.

He had [apparently] been thrown from his 1986 BMW, which had tumbled 120 feet over the cliff, apparently after skidding on a rain-slicked S-curve, California Highway Patrol spokesman Bob Burke said. Worn tires and speed may have contributed to the crash, Burke said . It appeared Hedges had died close to instantly, Deputy Mendocino County Coroner Kevin Broin said.

Hedges had flown back to San Francisco from New York on Friday evening and called Burgess from the plane, but the accident could have occurred as late as Sunday or Monday, Broin said. Burgess said family and friends in Mendocino expected Hedges' return late Friday but weren't worried when he didn't appear because he liked to be flexible about his schedule.

"We just thought maybe he'd popped over to Harbin (Hot Springs in Lake County) for a couple of days,'' Burgess said. ''We weren't alarmed until the Sheriff's Office came to visit.''

Hedges' sons from a previous marriage, Mischa, 13, and Jasper, 11, lived with their father in Mendocino, Burgess said. "Needless to say, they're devastated,'' he said. A trust fund has been set up to benefit Hedges' sons. Contributions may be made to the Children of Michael Hedges, care of Bank of America, 228 North Main St., Fort Bragg 95437.

This story includes information from Windham Hill's Web site and Nomad Land, a Web site devoted to Michael Hedges, and the New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll.

Article Copyright 1997, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat


  1. Michael (alas) never worked with Joni Mitchell.
  2. Michael's sons lived with their mother. Michael lived nearby.
  3. The planned 14-city tour mentioned was the second half of the Guitar Summit tour, and did not include other Windham Hill artists.

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