The Death Whisperer Series

The Death Whisperer Series
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Michael Hedges & Mount Ecken Saratoga Cuvee Pinot Noir

Michael Hedges was perhaps one of the most innovative acoustic guitarists in the history of the instrument. He described his style in phrases like “violent acoustic”, “heavy mental”, “acoustic thrash”, “wacka-wacka”, “new edge”, “edgy pastoral”, “savage myth”,  and “deep-tissue gladiator guitar”, but when you listen to him, I think you’ll agree that he defies classification.
Hedges began studying classical guitar at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. From there he moved to Baltimore to study at the Peabody Conservatory where he combined his classical training with various innovative techniques to the steel-string guitar. As he said in an interview,  “I went to the school of modern 20th century composition. I listened to Leo Kottke, Martin Carthy, and John Martyn, but my head was headed more towards Stravinsky, Varese, Webern, and a lot of experimental composers like Morton Feldman.”
After leaving the Peabody, Michael’s compositional and performance skills exploded in sophistication, resulting in his dynamic “one-man-band” performances. Guitarist Will Ackerman, the founder of Windham Hill Records, heard him while he was playing in Palo Alto, CA and later recalled, “Michael tore my head off. It was like watching the guitar being reinvented.” Michael’s genius was first recognized in his 1984 Grammy-nominated recording, Aerial Boundaries.

But not only was he a great musician, he was a great performer as well. For my money, if you want a true taste of his music, pick up a copy of the 1987 live recording, Live On The Double Planet. It captures some of the intensity of his concerts and includes his ferocious version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” one of my all time favorite songs.

Michael Hedges won Guitar Player’s readers’ poll award for “best acoustic guitarist” five years running—and was subsequently named by the magazine as one of the “25 Guitarists Who Shook the World.”  Sadly, he died in a one-car crash on State Route 128 in rural Mendocino County, about 100 miles northwest of San Francisco. On December 2, 1997, the 43-year-old Grammy nominee was found dead down a steep embankment. 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. He and his music are sorely missed.

With Michael Hedges, I suggest a Mount Ecken Saratoga Cuvee Pinot Noir ($22.00). Bright ruby color with a bouquet of cherries, plums, and vanilla. The taste is full of sour cherry preserves, red raspberry, and cookie spices. It’s a medium bodied wine with a silky texture that ends with a complex mixture of red fruit. It’s an elegant wine to drink remembering the loss of a great musician. 

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