The most radical thing about Emmett Chapman‘s Stick is that it requires you play the neck of a guitar like a piano, with each hand playing an independent part and the fingers tapping the strings in a keyboard-like fashion. As Alphonso Johnson stated in that 1979 Rolling Stone piece, “Most musicians are not put off [by The Stick], but they don’t comprehend what’s happening.”
Q: Do you remember where you were the first time you saw a musician employing that “two-handed tapping” technique on a six-string guitar?
For me, it’s basically a toss-up between Michael Hedges and Stanley Jordan, since both musicians were exploring this innovative guitar technique around the same time. But 1984’s Aerial Boundaries – Michael Hedges’ grand “opening statement,” (though admittedly, his second album release) – would make a fairly seismic impact on the guitar world (or was it just me?) just before Stanley Jordan’s released his equally illuminating Blue Note debut album, Magic Touch, the following year:
Michael Hedges (1986)
Interesting that Hedges and Jordan utilized similar tapping techniques, yet each musician produced a distinctive sound and style. Certainly, one musician playing an acoustic (Hedges) vs. an electric (Jordan) would explain a number of the differences in sound, but there’s no denying the difference in spirit that animates these two artists:
“Stairway to Heaven“
Stanley Jordan (198?)
Singles-wise, Blue Note would initially bestow a decent amount of promotional muscle upon Stanley Jordan, whose debut Blue Note 45, “The Lady in My Life” b/w “New Love,” would enjoy release in the US, UK, Canada & Netherlands. Altogether, at least three 7-inch and three 12-inch single releases, plus a pair of CD singles, would bear his name between the years 1985-1994. Also, Guitar Player would issue Jordan’s “A Touch of Blue” as a flexi-disc in their October 1985 edition.
Stanley Jordan (1990)
Michael Hedges, meanwhile, on indie New Age label, Windham Hill, would be the beneficiary of at least two promo 7″ singles in 1984 (“After the Goldrush“) & 1985 (“Streamlined Man“), plus two 12” singles in 1985 (“Streamlined Man”/”All Along the Watchtower“) & 1987 (“Ready or Not“). Intriguing, too, to see “All Along the Watchtower” b/w “Aerial Boundaries” get UK & European release in 1988 as a 7″ single.
If you are wondering why you haven’t heard much about Michael Hedges, it is because Hedges died tragically young in a car accident in 1997 at the age of 43. The bottom of Hedges’ Wikipedia page includes quotes from a number of music notables that convey the awe and high regard in which he is held by his colleagues.
One other key composition by Hedges shows him playing an older instrument – harp guitar – in a fresh and fairly “futuristic” way:
“The Double Planet“
Michael Hedges (1984?)
“The Double Planet” – as Hedges dryly informs us in the intro that precedes his live performance – was purchased for use in the soundtrack to Santabear’s First Christmas, a 1986 book + cassette aimed at the children’s market! The voice of Santabear, by the way, was supplied by none other than Bobby McFerrin.
1985 UK single