WHEN I ENTERED THE “STUDIO MUSICIAN BUSINESS” in the late ’60s, Hughie was already there. I can remember
as clearly as if it were yesterday the first time we played
together. I was struck by his warmth, good humor, selfconfidence,
humility, and by the incredible musical skills
he possessed. I mean, the cat could play—and groove!
The New York session players—most of us have known
each other throughout our careers—took one of the biggest
hits of our collective lives on March 28th. The sadness
that swept through our central soul was so powerful, followed
by celebration of his incredible achievements, along with anecdotal
stories and cool photos plastered on Facebook walls. I
think he’d dig that.
Speaking of our community, New York had a small army of
really fine pickers. In our ranks were players such as David Spinnoza,
Cornell Dupree, John Tropea, Vinnie Bell, and Jerry Friedman
(no disrespect meant to dozens of other incredible guitarists,
there’s just not enough space to list them all). I think it’s safe
to call us a mutual admiration society—and Hugh McCracken
was right at the center of it.
David Spinozza said: “People use the word virtuoso to
mean someone with amazing facility on an instrument, but
what Hugh McCracken had was a sense of economic playing
that heightened any song he played on. In many situations
his guitar part became part of the composition. All of us
studio cats that had the opportunity to sit next to him on a
session learned a lot.”
Hugh could have written a book on the art of ensemble playing,
understanding as he did that good music is a good conversation.
When he spoke through his instrument, he meant every
note he played—every single one—from the heart. Of course,
Hugh’s skills weren’t limited to guitar. He was also one heck of
a soulful harmonica player, a pianist, and a fine arranger.
Hugh’s musical odyssey was nothing short of astonishing.
Laura Nyro, James Brown, Hall & Oates, Roberta Flack, Steely
Dan, Billy Joel, John and Yoko, Dolly Parton, Dr. John, Paul
McCartney, and Alicia Keys are among hundreds of artists who
valued Hughie’s beautifully well-rounded musical palette. Type
his name into your favorite search engine or AllMusic.com for
a further glimpse into his musical journeys.
He could be a bit of a prankster too. Engineer Howie Lindeman
recalls Hughie bringing a dog whistle to a few dates—you
can guess the rest!
As Will Lee stated so eloquently: “Hugh was one of the gentlest
and funniest souls to ever have graced our planet and our
lives. He never had a negative word to say about anyone. He
played the most elegant guitar parts that we ever heard, and
sometimes didn’t hear—yes, they were that elegant. And he also
brought great harmonica parts to many of our favorite records.”
I just feel so privileged to have had Hughie in my life. He set
the diamond standard.
For some reason unknown to us, GP reader Ulf Appelqvist was inspired
to display his 30-year collection of Guitar Player magazines at a recent
Robben Ford concert in Karlskrona, Sweden. Wow! Rock on, Ulf.