Michael Hedges was playing in a Palo Alto coffeeshop when William Ackerman heard him and signed him on the spot. Good move. Hedges is arguably the best acoustic guitarist to ever play, with apologies to Ackerman, de Grassi, Django Reinhardt and Bucky Pizzarelli.
“Breakfast in the Field” is Hedges’ first album, and the seventeenth Windham Hill release. It’s a deceptive album – what sounds simple has incredible technical skills behind it; what sounds pastoral becomes funky and urban. When the album came out, the buzz was not only that you had to hear Michael Hedges, but you had to see him playing. His style was so new and different that it made it seem as if the instrument had simply been waiting all these generations for its true master to come along. “Breakfast” gives you the first taste of the tremendous talent that Hedges developed before he died at the age of 43 in a car crash north of San Francisco.
Because “Breakfast in the Field” opens with two slow-paced songs, the casual listener could easily be fooled into playing the album quietly as background music. But turn it up, pay a little attention, and it will quickly become apparent just how much this 34-minute acoustic album can rock.
Michael Manring, who was so omnipresent on Windham Hill that it seemed as if he functioned as a house bassist, makes his first appearance here. George Winston, on the heels of “Autumn” and his successful contribution to William Ackerman’s “Passage” also performs here. In both cases, the effect is to complement and not overwhelm the immersive soundscapes created by Hedges.
In a 1987 concert, Hedges gives an introduction to “The Funky Avocado” that is revealing about his open-minded approach to composition and how he brought in so many influences to his work. Says Hedges: “This tune has a little bit of a cross cultural bent to it, but it has more of an American bent to it. from the time where I lived above a health food store just down the street from a gay disco called The Pink Hippopotamus. I used to be trying to write music up there, trying to… maybe it would be just after dinner and I’d be trying to get some work done, and The Pink Hippo was always sending me back ‘boom boom boom’ and maybe the bass line would come through, ‘bum Bum BUM bum Bum BUM,’ so rather than trying to compete with it, I decided to try to incorporate some of the elements. So that’s how ‘The Funky Avocado’ came about. It starts out with a medium R&B tempo, slows down into some heavy rock and it finishes up in a fit of disco fury”.
The sound quality is outstanding – Michael’s guitar is full of body and resonance, detailed, and all of one cloth. There’s an interesting side story regarding the guitar Hedges used for several of the tracks: “Eleven Small Roaches,” “Babytoes” and “Two Days Old”. As noted on Hedges’ memorialized “Nomadland” site: “If Michael’s art is driven by openness, the fates were on his side just after he finished The Road To Return. At a concert in Oregon in 1994, Michael was approached by a woman who returned a guitar to him which had been stolen from his van fifteen years earlier while opening for Jerry Garcia. The custom guitar (built by luthier Ken DuBourg and heard on much of Breakfast in the Field) was in dreadful condition, but Michael invested in its restoration and the instrument’s presence wound up becoming the inspiration for several of the tunes heard on Oracle.”
“As Michael points out, Oracle fits perfectly into the chronology of his own life—“The Road to Return was a search for ‘Who am I?’ Then my old guitar was returned and I thought, ‘Yeah, this is part of who I am.’ Now, I’m open. I have a feeling something new is on the horizon for me, because, after all, how many ways can you slap a guitar? Since I’ve been writing songs, I’m more conscious of the music I’m after. It shouldn’t be seen as a new phase of my playing, but just more of me.”
This is an essential recording for any guitarist, lover of acoustic music or Windham Hill.
Have a thought, memory or experience to share about this album or Michael Hedges? Leave a comment below.
- Layover 2:30
- The Happy Couple 3:20
- Eleven Small Roaches 3:00
- The Funky Avocado 2:03
- Baby Toes 2:10
- Breakfast in the Field 2:24
- Two Days Old 4:46
- Peg Leg Speed King 3:20
- The Unexpected Visitor 2:46
- Silent Anticipations 3:23
- Lenono 4:03
Michael was a phenomenal live performer. Samples below are largely from concerts – he tells great stories about each song, and you get a sense of his showmanship.
The Happy Couple
Eleven Small Roaches
The Funky Avocado
Breakfast in the Field
The Unexpected Visitor
- Michael Hedges: Guitar
- Michael Manring: Fretless Bass
- George Winston: Piano
- Produced by William Ackerman
- Recorded at the Music Annex, Menlo Park, CA
- Engineered by Russell Bond
- Original Half-Speed Mastering by Stan Ricker, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab
- Matrix and Pressing by RTI Camarillo, CA
- Cover Photo by Leo Holub
- Liner Photo by Ron May
- Design by William Ackerman
- All Compositions by Michael Hedges
- All Selections Michael Hedges Music (BMI)
- Administered by Windham Hill Music (BMI)
- Manufactured by Windham Hill Records Box 9388, Stanford, CA 94305
©(p) Windham Hill Records 1981
This album was recorded without overdubs or multitracking on a MCI JH 110 A analogue two-track tape recorder at 30 inches per second through a Neve 8036 console with minimal equalization. No noise reduction was employed. The guitar was close-miked in stereo with a matched pair of AKG 452 EB condenser microphones in a cardioid pattern.
This album is dedicated to my teachers of composition: E. J. Ulrich who sent me on my way, Jean Ivey who let me go my own way, and Morris Cotel who asked me where I was going and why.
Thanks to Ervin Somogyi of Berkeley, CA who built the splendid guitar used on most of the tunes in this recording. Thanks also to Ken DuBourg of Arbutus, MD who made the guitar used on Eleven Small Roaches, Babytoes, and Two Days Old.