Following the passing of Hugh at the end of March, Guitar Player Magazine asked me to write an obituary for our much loved colleague. It was a tough task – sad, a little cathartic, but I wanted to share with the world of guitarists just how much he meant to all of us.
Treasure every moment.
Hugh McCracken — the Shining Example [1942-2013]
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, self-confidence, 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 our entire adult lives — took one of the biggest hits of our collective psyche 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.”
“The Art of Ensemble Playing” — Hugh could have written that book, 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. 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.
– with special thanks to Guitar Player Magazine