Plains Sound

The strange and beautiful music of Hayden Pedigo.

March 2015By Comments

Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden

Sometimes Hayden Pedigo really hates Amarillo. Nothing much happens here: it’s flat and it smells and it’s full of cowboys who dip snuff and drive huge pickups and listen to bad country music. No one understands the music he makes—the intricate fingerpicking on acoustic guitar and the long, ambient dreamscapes on electric guitar and synthesizer, sometimes using sounds he records in his apartment and around town. He put out an album in November called Five Steps on which he collaborated with some of the world’s most celebrated avant-garde musicians, and it was greeted with widespread praise for its sound and vision. One writer said that Hayden, only twenty, “seems poised to become one of the all-time greats.” If the kid lived in Austin or Portland or Brooklyn, he’d be everywhere: the clubs, the hipster websites, and even the radio. Yet in Amarillo he’s an unknown. He didn’t even try to have an album-release party in his hometown. Why bother? Hardly anyone would come. On the few occasions he has played around town, the only people who have shown up are his friends: fellow musicians and other outcasts.

In November he played a rare improvisational show at the Fibonacci, a small performance space owned by Chamber Music Amarillo. The room, in a beautiful old building with high ceilings and ancient wood floors, hosts several dozen jazz and classical music events a year. The Fibonacci doesn’t usually feature experimental music, though, and Hayden had in mind staging a free-form guitar performance with a couple of friends while a film—Robert Downey Sr.’s satirical Putney Swope from 1969, about black revolutionaries taking over an ad agency—played silently behind them. Hayden didn’t know of anyone ever putting on a show quite like this in Amarillo, and beforehand he nervously walked around, hugging his girlfriend, L’Hannah Riehl, a nineteen-year-old theater major at Amarillo College, and talking to friends. The crowd of thirty—mostly people he knew, musicians, some of whom play with Hayden in a garage-rock band—drank  bottles of beer and waited for him to begin.

Hayden took a seat on the small stage, holding a Fender Stratocaster and wearing skinny black jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. He appears to be sixteen; he’s tall and thin with dark eyes, pale skin, and short, dark hair that falls over his forehead. He looks like River Phoenix without the pout. A percussionist stood behind him and another guitarist sat to the side; they hadn’t rehearsed anything. The film began and Hayden hit a chord, creating a low, rumbling wash of sound. After a few moments he started playing a series of cascading notes that echoed off the high ceiling, leading to an Indian raga–like rhythm, while the percussionist lightly thrummed mallets on a cymbal and the second guitarist gently brushed his strings. Onscreen, an adman dressed like a biker gave a speech to a boardroom of executives, leading to an animated discussion, and one of the men fell facedown, dead, onto the table. Hayden, a shock of curved hair bouncing above his eyes, picked a steadier riff, while the percussionist played more animatedly on a tom-tom and the other guitarist strummed heavier. They sounded like a band, with Hayden playing jangly leads while also picking the bass notes. People in the crowd were tapping their feet, nodding their heads, and taking photos, posting them on Instagram. In the film, the character Putney Swope was taking over the ad agency, replacing the all-white board with black members, and Hayden stepped on an effects pedal, creating a deep, distorted sound reverberating with vibrato while he used his whammy bar to bend notes and make windlike noises that accelerated into feedback. It sounded like a thunderstorm. He hit a chord that grew louder as he pulled stray notes out of it. There seemed to be no musical logic to what he was doing—no scale or riff. It was as if he was playing by feel, by sound, not notes. He banged a final chord, bending individual notes that cried out like a dying animal and slowly faded away, dwindling with echoes and low swells.

Outside, cowboys in huge pickups drove by unawares. Inside, something strange was going on, something altogether original. It could have been Manhattan, 1966, with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. But it was Amarillo, 2014, Hayden Pedigo.

I had come to Amarillo because I was so impressed by Hayden’s album Five Steps—not just the music but the musician himself, an unknown kid from a city not noted for its musical heritage. Amarillo is up high in the Texas Panhandle, almost to Oklahoma, as flat and desolate a place as you’ll find. The grass is yellow, the wind blows all the time, and the sky seems to go on forever. Some musicians who came from the region, mostly from Lubbock—rockers like Buddy Holly and the saxophonist Bobby Keys—made careers out of blowing up the space with guitars and clatter, destroying the nothingness.

Hayden is different. He loves the emptiness, the droning silence and the sounds that occasionally pierce it: the distant hum of cars on Interstate 40, the clanking of trains, the wind gusts that sound like bursts from a guitar. More than just about anything, Hayden loves sounds. Sitting in the living room of his one-bedroom apartment, he played me some of his favorites, cuing up the Beach Boys’ “Do It Again” just to hear the odd snap of the gated snare drum; the Allman Brothers’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” just to hear the part where guitarists Dickey Betts and Duane Allman duet in harmony like jazz saxophonists John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders used to; Gary Glitter’s “Baby, Please Don’t Go” just to hear the fuzz bass. “I love that fuzz bass,” Hayden said. All sounds have a different meaning, he explained. They strike you viscerally, in your memory, your heart. You don’t think about them. You feel them.

I asked him to show me around town, because the question I really wanted answered was this: Why was such a young, innovative musician still in Amarillo? By the time Holly was Hayden’s age, he was long gone from the High Plains, as was Keys and everyone else from the area who went on to fame, from Mac Davis to Terry Allen. What was it about this place that kept him here?

“Amarillo is cheap,” he said when we got in his car, a maroon 2001 Oldsmobile Aurora. “You can live here and do what you want.” As he pulled out of the parking lot, he popped in a CD, Deceit by This Heat, a late-seventies English punk-noise band. He forwarded to the song “Makeshift Swahili” and turned onto Amarillo Boulevard, the old Route 66. An organ drone filled the car, followed by a clanging guitar riff and snarling, indecipherable lyrics. He headed east into town, driving past abandoned businesses, weedy lots, and worn-out auto-repair shops, warehouses, and pawnshops. The music changed as he drove: a sing-songy recitation of the Declaration of Independence over percussion, then a song with a repetitive guitar riff and aggressive drumming, then a melodic synth riff played over ghostly machine moaning. A bell tolled. When Hayden was a teenager, this was one of his favorite albums. He loved the sounds. “It was tangled, twisted, chopped up, and ugly,” he told me. “If I listened to This Heat, it made the Beach Boys sound sweeter.”

We passed Triky’s 2 Bar and the Wagon Wheel Motel. These places belong to another era, the old, mythic, obstinate Amarillo that refuses to die. Modern Amarillo is a bustling, contemporary city with an opera, an orchestra, and a ballet. It’s a city with low unemployment, thriving businesses, and lots of money from oil and cattle. The stench of feedlots is almost constant—at least whenever the wind blows, and Amarillo is the third-windiest city in the country. Locals have a saying for such moments: “Smells like money!”

“I’ve heard that my whole life,” Hayden said. He has a deep voice with very little accent; in fact, he said, he works at not having one. He may be a musician, but he’s no slacker. Like most Amarilloans, he’s a Christian (the city of about 200,000 residents has more than 250 churches, mostly Baptist), and like most registered voters in Amarillo, he’s a Republican, though he says he’s not very political. He works as a commercial teller at Amarillo National Bank. He has no contact with customers and can listen to music on headphones all day. It’s sometimes monotonous: He arrives at 6:30 in the morning, meets the armored car to check off the arriving deposits, and works in a cubicle the rest of the day. He processes commercial deposits and logs counterfeit bills the bank receives, sending reports to the FBI. He leaves at 4 and goes back to his apartment, where he can do what he really wants: write songs and record them on his laptop, using his guitars, a keyboard, and a few effects, like tape delay, pitch modulation, and distortion. He produced Five Steps there.

We pulled over at Soul Town, a bar that used to be a strip joint called the Crystal Pistol, got out of the car, and walked to a corner of the parking lot where there was a concrete coffin surrounded by a metal fence. A plaque dedicates the coffin to “The Woman of the Moonlight,” saying, “She brought comfort to the souls of men. . . . May such love never be forgotten.” The coffin was installed here by Stanley Marsh 3, the oddball millionaire, Amarillo’s most notorious resident. Marsh died in 2014 amid allegations that he had sexually abused boys for years, and his family had to settle civil suits filed by his accusers. Before the abuse charges, Marsh was known as the artistic conscience of Amarillo, responsible for the city’s biggest tourist attraction, the Cadillac Ranch. Since the sixties, Marsh had battled Amarillo’s business-first attitude with silliness and art, installing the world’s largest necktie around the chimney of his mother’s house and putting up signs all over the city with slogans like “I Don’t Belong Here” and “Art Is the Tool Man Uses to Understand Himself.”

Hayden didn’t know Marsh, though friends of his worked for him. Hayden says there are many people in Amarillo who still love Marsh and what he did for the city but loathe what he was accused of doing to teen boys. “I don’t like what he did,” Hayden told me. “But he could’ve lived anywhere, and he chose to live here, and he brought something to Amarillo that wasn’t there before. In the documentary Road Does Not End, he said how art didn’t belong in galleries, it belonged under highway overpasses and in gas stations, in places where it would surprise and shock people.”

We got back in the car, and Hayden continued, “The thing is, part of art is the art and part of it is the reaction to it.”

At lunch at Coyote Bluff Cafe, we talked about how Amarillo doesn’t have the musical pedigree of Lubbock, only 120 miles away. Nearly all of the famous musicians from the region—from Holly and Keys to Davis and Allen to Waylon Jennings and Natalie Maines—came from Lubbock or surrounding towns. Amarillo? Well, besides old-time fiddler Eck Robertson (who was raised in Amarillo), there’s Jimmy Gilmer, who sang “Sugar Shack”; J. D. Souther, who wrote “You’re Only Lonely”; and Lacey Brown, who reached number twelve on American Idol four years ago. The city’s biggest claim to fame may be “Amarillo by Morning,” written by local Terry Stafford, a huge hit for George Strait. And, of course, there’s Texas! The Outdoor Musical Drama, which has been playing since 1965 in nearby Canyon, making it the longest-running outdoor musical ever.

Hayden doesn’t care about the distinction. He’s a big fan of Lubbock musicians, especially Allen, a visual artist and quirky songwriter whose “Amarillo Highway” Hayden can quote: “I don’t wear no Stetson / But I’m willing to bet, son / That I’m as big a Texan as you are.” Hayden laughed. “I love Terry Allen. He broke the mold of what a West Texas musician could be.”

There’s very little musical pedigree in Hayden’s family either. His father, Terry, is a graphic artist who started his own ad agency in 1987. Terry had met Suzanne Lara in the early eighties in Amarillo, and they married in 1986. Their daughter, Taylor, was born in 1991 and Hayden on March 26, 1994. A year later, the family moved to a home in the rural Rolling Hills neighborhood on a rise of land just north of Amarillo. “It’s very Andy Griffith up here,” Suzanne told me.

Terry and Suzanne, in their early fifties with graying hair, are very religious. He is a Baptist preacher and ministers every other Sunday to truckers, hitchers, and the homeless at the Petro Truckstop on Interstate 40 as part of the group Truckstop Ministries International. She writes the occasional letter to the local newspaper protesting the RU486 abortion pill and oversexed Abercrombie & Fitch ads while urging readers to remember Jesus.

Terry and Suzanne decided to homeschool their kids, and Suzanne made them work hard, sometimes starting at the same hour as public schools did, mixing language arts, history, and math lessons with Bible reading. Every week she took her kids to the public library for books, DVDs, and CDs, and it was there, at age eleven, that Hayden’s music education began. He told the librarian one day that he liked listening to guitars. The librarian recommended a couple of CDs: Danny Gatton, a country and blues player, and Wes Montgomery, a famed jazz guitarist. Hayden took them home and listened. He loved the different sounds, the different styles, and he played them over and over. The librarian made more recommendations; soon Hayden was seeking out musicians on his own: James Brown, Miles Davis, the Beach Boys. He was homeschooling himself in music.

At twelve Hayden decided he wanted to learn the guitar, and his parents paid for lessons. Like many young guitarists, he asked his teacher to show him how to play like Stevie Ray Vaughan. He spent months studying Ry Cooder. He was obsessive, focusing on a song or a riff and practicing until he could play it. “When he focused on something,” Terry says, “he would get consumed by it.” Then he’d move on.

When he was thirteen, he played one of his mother’s old CDs, The Best of Leo Kottke. Hayden liked the swift fingerpicking and, in the liner notes, read about one of Kottke’s influences, John Fahey. Hayden got one of Fahey’s albums. He wasn’t as flashy as Kottke, but there was a soulfulness to the playing that Hayden loved. Fahey was a cantankerous eccentric from Maryland who took old blues, gospel, and country songs and opened them up with a modern, airy fingerpicking style, sometimes changing tempo mid-song, getting louder and softer as he felt like it. He used open tunings that maintained a drone while plucking a melody, and he borrowed ideas from symphonies and Gregorian chants, playing songs that were lonesome one minute and rollicking the next. Hayden began trying to play like Fahey and found there was a whole school of younger musicians who also followed him, players like Robbie Basho, Daniel Bachman, and Mark Fosson. Their style was called American Primitive Guitar.

Hayden was barely a teen when he began checking out library books about even more-experimental musicians, such as John Cage and Brian Eno. He was drawn to Eno, especially his work on Low, a 1977 album by David Bowie that Eno collaborated on. The first side was edgy pop songs, but the second was moody instrumentals heavy on synthesizers with occasional percussion and drums. Though the music was mostly made by machines, Hayden thought it had more heart and soul than what he heard on the radio.

Low led him to prog rock, the European experimental music movement from the seventies, and bands like Genesis, the Soft Machine, and King Crimson. Hayden focused on sounds and played them over and over, like the mellotron in the chorus of “In the Court of the Crimson King.” Prog rock led to Krautrock, music from German art bands like Neu, Can, and Faust that employed drone and repetition more than melody and lyrics. It was futuristic, it was strange. And it sounded to Hayden a lot like the world he lived in. As a teenager, he didn’t have many friends and he’d walk the lonely fields listening to the wind pour down the plains or get in his 1964 Plymouth Barracuda and drive the straight country roads into the darkness. During summers he’d lie in a hammock strung between two tall trees in the backyard and listen to the quiet. He’d put on his headphones, stare up at the sky, and listen to “Für Luise,” by Brian Eno and Cluster, one of his favorite songs, with layered synthesizers and something that hooted like an owl. “When I first heard it,” he told me, “I was fifteen, and it made me want to cry. I’d play it over and over. It was so comforting, the sky and the music. It felt like a human ambient piece. Some people think ambient and electronic music is unemotional. I think it is so emotional.”

He burrowed into all kinds of music: Stevie Wonder’s early-seventies albums, Tangerine Dream, This Heat, Henry Cow (a late-sixties English art band featuring guitarist Fred Frith). Miles Davis and Pharaoh Sanders. Funk. Glam. As he exhausted the library, Hayden found new resources on the Internet, like UbuWeb, which archives hundreds of recordings of arcane music.

Terry and Suzanne didn’t always like what their teenager was listening to—the industrial aggression of Throbbing Gristle, the incessant drone of Faust. “We’re pretty conservative,” Suzanne says. “Some of the experimental music is dark. Being a Christian, I feel like some things are a part of the light of Jesus Christ and some things aren’t.” Hayden didn’t see anything unholy about the music, leading to clashes with his parents. “They’d laugh at the music I liked,” he says. “My dad would say, ‘This music is noise—it sounds like a mental hospital.’  ”

But Suzanne and Terry loved it when their son fingerpicked the guitar. Hayden would sit on the porch and play for hours. When he performed his first acoustic show, at a local coffee shop, Terry did the poster. “As a father, you want to be supportive,” he says.

(Hayden played an exclusive showcase for Texas Monthly on February 21, 2015, at the Google Fiber studio in downtown Austin, his first gig outside of the Amarillo area. This song, “Across the Pond,” was part of his set.)

“As a Christian, you want him to be balanced,” Suzanne responds. Both had gone through their own wild times in their youth, and Terry in particular had rebelled against the wishes of his father, a commercial pilot who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Terry had wanted to be an artist. “Suzanne and I both come out of rebel pasts,” he says. “Artists are all about testing boundaries, doing things, being creative. We’re like, ‘Don’t forget your faith.’ ”

In 2012 a friend shot a video of Hayden playing guitar at night in an abandoned elementary school, lit by the headlights of a couple of cars. Hayden submitted it as a demo to Austin’s Marmara Records, whose owner, Matthew D. Nieto-Miller, was so impressed that he asked Hayden to make an album. Hayden sat down in his bedroom and began writing and recording songs, mostly acoustic fingerpicking but also ambient sound poems made with a synthesizer and special effects, that would become the album Seven Years Late. He sent them to Nieto-Miller, who had never heard anything like it. “And it was all coming from this kid in the Panhandle,” Nieto-Miller said. “It blew my mind, really.” So many of the American Primitive guitarists play like Fahey imitators, but Hayden was forging his own style, half from fingers on strings, half from fingers on machines, be they a Moog synthesizer or a cheap Japanese keyboard/radio/cassette recorder. “Sky Is Growing” was a minute-long drone that evoked a sunrise; “Dreaming of Nothing” was inspired by Eno’s “Another Green World,” a two-chord song Hayden had been obsessed with for years, one that reminded him of a huge ship slowly passing close by. Hayden’s version also had two chords, with an organ, a bass, a guitar played through a fuzz pedal, and the same stately feel of a passing liner. There’s a confidence to the experimentalism, a sense that he’s not just showing off digital toys but using these sounds for a simple reason: they mean something to him.

After he finished recording the songs for Seven Years Late, he moved out of his parents’ home. He had found himself questioning his faith and had been fighting their insistence that he read the Bible and go to church. “I’m young,” he says. “I think God wants you to question.” He had also been making his first close friends, such as Kyle Fosburgh, an American Primitive guitarist from Minneapolis who had visited Hayden and spent a week with him, playing music and exploring Amarillo. Hayden was rebelling, and he and his father had a fiery argument about going to church. “My dad said maybe I’d want to move out and do my own thing.” Hayden did so, without telling his parents. The split was so awkward that Hayden didn’t even tell them when his first album was released, in April 2013.

“I think music is like looking in the mirror,” he says. “I’ve gone through painful things with it. Sometimes I’ve thought music caused a lot of problems, like conflict with my family. It’s been a difficult road. I’ve loved it, and I’ve hated it.”

On his own and flush with naive ambition, Hayden tried something different for his second album: he decided to ask some of his musical heroes to play with him. Just as the Internet had helped him discover new music, it helped him get in touch with guitarists like Steffen Basho-Junghaus, from Germany, and Nick Jonah Davis, from England. Hayden began sending his songs to them over the Internet; his only instructions: “Do what you want.” They would record their parts and send the songs back.

He also reached out to giants of the avant-garde, men old enough to be his father. He contacted Charles Hayward, a founding member of This Heat, on Facebook. Hayward was intrigued. “He seemed sincere,” he told me. “It felt genuine and respectful but not sycophantic.” Hayden sent him four different tracks of sounds. “Do what you want,” he said. Hayward did and returned them. With Hayward in his pocket, Hayden sent an email to Fred Frith, perhaps the most famous living experimental guitarist. Frith said yes too. Hayden recruited Hayward to ask Zappi Diermaier, the drummer of Faust, if he would collaborate. Diermaier agreed. Hayden sent him sounds he had recorded in his kitchen: water from the tap, spoons shuffling in the drawer, the disposal. When Kawabata Makoto, from the modern Japanese psychedelic band Acid Mothers Temple, heard that Diermaier had worked on the project, he wanted in too. Hayden did these collaborations without ever having to leave Amarillo.

The album, Five Steps, released on the Seattle label Debacle in November, was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Side one is all acoustic duets, ranging from delicate to jaunty. “Be Thankful” feels like a drive on the straight roads around Amarillo. “Stray” sounds like a big sky, with two guitars playing against each other and a slowly growing drone underneath—a bow played on a guitar. Side two creates another world: it’s all one song, “Dream Theory, Parts 1–4,” full of waves of sounds: handclaps, disembodied voices, synth bursts, guitar screeches, bell tones, with a drone holding all four parts together.

Hayden had made something entirely new, just as Fahey, Hayward, and Eno had done before him. Only twenty years old, he had revealed through sound the world he had grown up in and the sense of wonder he felt at being alive. Hayden’s idol as a teenager, Hayward, thinks there’s a simple reason that the kid is so good. “He’s not trying to prove anything. He’s young and not stuck in a camp. Often people use music to give themselves an identity. ‘I do fingerpicking’ or ‘I do ambient.’ Hayden is wide open. It’s not about him; it’s about the sounds.”

(Another track recorded on February 21, 2015, in Austin by Texas Monthly at the Google Fiber studio.)

In November Hayden’s parents invited me to dinner, and I brought a bottle of wine to their house and met Hayden, his sister, and L’Hannah there. Before eating, we all held hands in a circle while Terry gave a blessing. Neither Terry nor Suzanne drank any wine, and they looked amused while Hayden and I spent most of dinner talking about music. I didn’t sense any tension among the Pedigos, and Hayden told me later that things are a lot better between them now. “My parents have reached a point where they know I do what I want to do, and I’ll end up where I want to end up. I’m not afraid of moving forward, opening myself up.” He may be a Christian by upbringing, but by nature he’s a freethinker. “Religion has always been hard for me. I believe it, but it’s a story. I don’t think humans can actually grasp God. The only example of infinity we have is space.”

After dinner, Hayden pulled out his acoustic guitar and played a song he’d written for L’Hannah; it’s the first song on Five Steps. He sat on the carpet in the living room, his legs folded under him like a deer, while the rest of us settled into chairs and the sofa. The guitar was tuned to open C, which Fahey often used, and Hayden began to play. With a thumb pick, he beat an alternating rhythm with his right hand while the long, bony fingers on his left danced on the fretboard, picking the pretty melody. The song has a pace that evokes the rush of young love, and Hayden’s head was bowed, watching his left hand and occasionally nodding with the rhythm.

Terry and Suzanne each cupped their heads in their hands and watched their son, whose body swayed lightly as he hammered the strings and shook the neck to sustain the notes. Hayden slowed down at the song’s bridge and sped up again at the last verse, ending with a big chord that hung over the room. After a moment, his mother, smiling proudly, broke the silence. “Excellent, Hayden.”

Sometimes Hayden really loves Amarillo, its open spaces, smells, cowboys, and bad country music. Amarillo has made him who he is, inspiring him even as it ignores him. “My biggest influence is what’s around me,” he told me. “I’m making my music, working my job, doing what I love to do.” He knows all about early-twentieth-century American composer Charles Ives, an influence on Fahey and one of the most adventurous avant-gardists of all time, who was also an insurance executive. Ives showed that you could make great music while living a normal life.

Hayden and L’Hannah are getting married next month at First Baptist Church. Terry is performing the ceremony. The couple want to buy a house, and in Amarillo they can get a mansion cheap. “I want to have a good time with my girlfriend, family, and friends. I could leave town tomorrow, but I’m not ready. If I move, I want to get to a new place with a reputation, with something under my belt.” Like others from small towns, he worries about being good enough to make it in the big city, about nobody showing up at his performances. “Sometimes I think I’m scared of failing at music.”

Suzanne isn’t even sure Hayden will make music his career. “I don’t know if music is what he wants to do,” she says. “He’s easily frustrated. He wants it all so fast, he wants to go for it in a big way.” Hayden acknowledges there may be some truth to that. “She’s my mom. No one knows me better,” he says. “When it comes to my art, I’m an immediate kind of person—you know, ‘Let’s record now.’ I’m not a slow-paced person. On the one hand, I’d like to have a job, a family, be able to record at home. I might just make music for my wife and kids.” And he has no illusion of ever having a hit song.

In February, Western Plaza, Hayden’s garage-rock band, released its debut album. The same month, the Tompkins Square label in San Francisco released volume seven in a well-received series of albums of acoustic guitar playing called Imaginational Anthem. This one was curated by Hayden, who spent the past eighteen months asking guitar players he likes to contribute a song, from his friend Kyle Fosburgh to Mariano Rodriguez, from Argentina, and former metalhead Sean Proper, from Florida.

Hayden says his next album will be for Tompkins Square, probably just him and his guitar, though he’s not sure. He knows it’s easy for him to continue playing open-tuned guitars—almost as easy as recording the whoosh of water coming from a faucet. But he says he needs to evolve. “Honestly, I have considered getting rid of acoustic guitar and just using tapes and sounds along with new instruments.” Fahey was always moving forward, playing with aural textures and songs and leaving behind his old material. “You have to get rid of your technique,” Hayden says, “to get to the next level of music and emotion. It’s like reaching a new level of understanding. I want to feel something when I play a song, and I want to create a feeling for someone who hears it.”

It’s all about sounds. Sitting in his apartment, he pulls up a song on his computer, “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” by Pharoah Sanders, a song that was recorded after the death of friend and bandmate John Coltrane. “I think this is the greatest thing ever recorded,” Hayden says. It begins with a desperate wail of the sax, soon joined by flute, piano, drums, and percussion. “The first two minutes of this song sound like purple fire. This is a big influence on my guitar playing.” He paused. “This sounds like heaven. It’s not played pretty—it’s played almost aggressively; it sounds so emotional, it’s like crying real hard. It’s like Sanders is saying, ‘John Coltrane has died and we’re all asking, Why? But there’s a reason, a master plan.’ It’s like listening to a prayer.

“When I hear Sanders play, I don’t hear a technical sax player. I’m hearing a person. It’s very human. And there’s nothing like that.”

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