Tuesday Tune: ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Michael Hedges

Song: “All Along the Watchtower”

Artist: Michael Hedges

Album: Watching My Life Go By

As a follow-up to last week’s post, I thought that I would address my somewhat disparaging statement that Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” was covered by every coffee shop strummer and sloppy bar band. While the song is built on a relatively simple chord progression that even the most pedestrian musician can stumble through, there have been many truly inspired versions of “All Along The Watchtower”.

While most people will point to Hendrix’s seminal recording of the song (and who could argue with Hendrix) as the standard bearer, it is my opinion that the acoustic version performed by the late Michael Hedges might be even better.


In the 80’s, Hedges released a string of instrumental, acoustic guitar recordings that were classified as new age. While some of his compositions were tranquil, he displayed an intensity and creative fire that could hardly be considered new age.

Hedges was known for his technical virtuosity and his use of a dizzying array of alternate guitar tunings. While most guitar players are aware of Hedges’ instrumental recordings, he was also an excellent singer, songwriter, and interpreter of other people’s material.

Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” may be epic, but Hedges’ take on the tune exudes a passion that knocks me out every time.

Whichever version you like better, we can all take comfort in the fact that both musicians probably came from Cylon lineage.

Who is your favorite acoustic guitarist?

9 thoughts on “Tuesday Tune: ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Michael Hedges”

  1. Thanks for posting this, John.  Hedges is one of my favorite guitarists, and I was lucky enough to see him play outdoors at Purgatory Resort here in Colorado one summer long ago.  Amazing player, and a tragic end.

    I wrote a (an?) eulogy and put it on my fledgling website in 1997 when I heard about his death.  It’s still there, if you’re interested.

    If you haven’t seen Willy Porter perform, I strongly recommend catching him in concert.  Hedges was an influence on Porter, and though Willy is far to humble to compare himself, I find his acoustic playing to be equal in skill to Hedges, though different stylistically.

  2. Hedges = Genius. And I don’t say that about too many musicians. His passing was tragic, far too early, and the only time in my life I cried at the passing of a “celebrity.” Who’s my favorite acoustic guitarist? You got it in one. I got to see him live at the Vic in Chicago many years ago (with Michael Manring) and it was the single best concert I have attended. I don’t expect anyone will be able to top his performance in my lifetime.

    There are many acoustic guitarists that impress me. None more than Hedges. The only one who comes close, IMO, is Michael Kelsey: http://www.michaelkelsey.com/.

    Now, excuse me while I don my headphones. I feel a sudden need to get Hedged / Kelsified. :)

  3. For acoustic guitarists, my taste runs more toward Richard Thompson and some of the more-obscure works by John Renbourn and Mark Knopfler. That Segovia guy was pretty good, too, as was Christopher Parkening before… well, let’s stop there.

    As far as versions of “All Along the Watchtower” go, though, I’d point toward The Paperboys and their bluegrass version (http://www.paperboys.com/audio/THE_PAPERBOYS-All_Along_the-2.m3u)… which IMNSHO actually fits the tenor of what’s going on in the BSG sequencing better than does Bear McCreary’s (certainly acceptable and better than U2’s!) version. Hendrix has us with the single-instrument virtuosity; The Paperboys combine individual-instrument skill with interplay between them in a way that the various solo versions do not, simultaneously subverting and enhancing the piece.

  4. Stace: Sometime in 1996 or so, I passed on an opportunity to see Michael Hedges live.  When he passed away a few months later, I was so crushed that I wouldn’t never have a chance to see him live.  I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but that’s one of them.

    I love Willy Porter!  I actually saw him live at a small club in NJ about a year ago.  He was phenomenal and very humble. 

    Savant: I agree that the term genius is thrown around too loosely but it certaily applied to Hedges.  I dig Michael Manring as well.  He put out a great album that featured guitar solos by Steve Morse and Alex Skolnick. 

    I hadn’t heard of Michael Kelsey. I’ll have to check him out.  Thanks for the link.

    Scott & John: Bruce Cockburn is another favorite of mine.  Have you heard his recent live album? It is a solo acoustic affair and it’s quite good. 

    Jaws: I saw Richard Thompson live a few years ago.  Fantastic guitarist & songwriter and an underrated singer in my opinion.  I’m going to check out the Paperboys version of “All Along the Watchtower” right now! Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. This is a curious version.  I like it, but if I were to choose a favorite non-McCreary version of All Along the Watchtower it would be Dave Matthew’s version.

  6. John – love this song in all it’s versions, but I think my favorite has to be from the Dave Matthews Band.  A staple of their live shows for years, they absolutely rock this song every time they play it.

    As for my favorite acoustic guitarist, I’m torn.  Tim Reynolds is fantastic; the man does things with a guitar that just blows my mind.  I have some rare Stevie Ray Vaughan acoustic tracks that are also incredible and show that, unplugged, he was a master.  Clapton’s finger-picking style is unmatched, Jose Feliciano plays with passion and flare and I love the tonality of the classical guitar, Colin Hay surprised me with his work and Jason Mraz is an up and coming guitar star. 

    Too many to choose from!

    ~P

    @atfmb

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