Watching My Life Go By was the third studio album by Michael Hedges, released in 1985. After two solo instrumental albums, Michael sang all the tracks on this release. This album is an intimate vocal collection whose lush sound belies the simplicity of its instrumentation. It showcases Michael’s range, the depth of his life experience, and the power of his voice. Meticulously produced by long-time Neil Young collaborator Elliot Mazer, with guests Bobby McFerrin and Michael Manring, this CD was featured as part of the “Essential Windham Hill” collection.
Behind the Album
Michael had been writing vocal tunes since his early years in high school. His singer-songwriter/rock music roots were as much a part of him as his solo guitar work. He wrote folk-oriented vocal pieces during the ‘70s and early ‘80s, primarily influenced by Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.
After releasing two instrumental guitar albums, he had accumulated enough original songs to record a vocal album. To accommodate this new recording direction for his third album, his record label—Windham Hill—created a new singer/songwriter-focused subsidiary label called Open Air Records.
After taking voice lessons from Grammy award-winning jazz phenomenon Bobby McFerrin, Hedges teamed up with the famed producer Elliott Mazer to record Watching My Life Go By, released in October 1985. Mazer had produced many of Hedges’ favorite musicians, such as Bob Dylan, CSNY, Janis Joplin, Neil Young, and The Who.
The album was recorded in a Palo Alto garage on equipment that Hedges purchased with an advance from his record company. In addition to guitar and vocals, Hedges played flute, synthesizer, harmonica, and bass guitar. Michael Manring also contributed several (fretted) bass guitar tracks to this album.
Watching My Life Go By includes Michael’s wedding song (“Woman of the World”); the title track that was inspired by the view from the family station wagon in the third, backward-facing seat (“Watching My Life Go By”); a song written for his composition teacher at Peabody Conservatory (“The Streamlined Man”), with a mind-blowing vocal chant part sung by Bobby McFerrin; and an anti-war/patriotic song (“Holiday”) which features the first verse of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” Along with nine original songs, Michael includes his immortal cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”
This album introduces the world to Michael’s “strong, emotive, and rich voice,” as one music journalist described.
Words by Jake White, biographer Photo credit: unknown
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