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By J.B. Birney
Photos by Tucker Joenz
About the late guitar guru Michael Hedges, Pete Townshend said, “I feel I can always hear his heart when he plays.” This line also describes Michael Jordan — not the basketball phenom, but “our” Michael Jordan. St. Augustine’s Michael Jordan. He cares a lot about a lot of things and expresses it beautifully through his music and art. Although passionate about life in general, his musical convictions are akin to the basketball convictions of the other Michael Jordan (fittingly, they are both considered modern-day wizards). The St. Augustine Jordan’s guitar shamanism is evident when you witness his amazingly percussive performances live.
Originally from Northumberland County, Virginia, he’s best known for laying his acoustic flat on his lap and proceeding to pound, strum, pick, knock, bend, stroke, poke, whack and wiggle every inch of the guitar, all the while creating other-worldly sounds woven inside his beautifully melodic songbook.
Years ago after busking (the act of performing in public places for gratuities) in Asheville, NC and making, according to him, “nothin,” Jordan busked through St. Augustine on a trip to and from the Florida Keys. He made “beau-coup bucks” on both stops through The Oldest City and decided to stick around. His initial living arrangements quickly dissolved, and he was forced to sleep in the woods behind Broudy’s on US 1 (which he knew the cops allowed back then through a prior encounter). He persevered, both musically and financially, and has made St. Augustine his home ever since.
Always seeming to be located near a coast, water is a common theme and can be heard in Jordan’s unique sound. It bubbles up, flows, ebbs, splashes, and then hits the rocks hard. With a similar style, he’s not to be confused with the legend Hedges. Along with his love for songwriting, Jordan also sings, slays the lead guitar, and expertly handles any myriad of drumming accessories. At any given musical competition, he is generally better than everyone else. Always learning, his latest musical field of battle is conquering the real blues and especially mastering his playing of blues slide guitar. And he’s killing it.
“ HE’S BEST KNOWN FOR LAYING HIS ACOUSTIC FLAT ON HIS LAP AND PROCEEDING TO POUND, STRUM, PICK, KNOCK, BEND, STROKE, POKE, WHACK AND WIGGLE EVERY INCH OF THE GUITAR, ALL THE WHILE CREATING OTHER WORLDLY SOUNDS WOVEN INSIDE HIS BEAUTIFULLY MELODIC SONGBOOK. “
Although his original tribal rhythms and beats will surely make you dance, he can cover a classic Tom Waits tune with the best of them. Jordan’s signature improvisational playing style is always exciting, sometimes spiritual and usually haunts you in some way. Although it’s the perfect sound for any mouse-quiet 1,000- seat concert hall, Jordan might actually be happier playing on a busy Ancient City street corner. There, his short playlist can include very long and transcendent songs that will inevitably connect with literally thousands as they casually stroll by or briefly stop and enjoy. He comments that the bonus to busking is all the practice time you get to work on your songs and techniques.
Jordan claims the original Café 11 as his favorite St. Augustine venue, even though he has never played a full set there (one song in the “Local Honey” showcase). He references his love of similar “listening rooms” and explains the concept: “It’s a place that’s kind of dark and the people are there to hear music. It’s wherever they turn off the TV when the music starts. Instead of a dessert menu on the table, the insert has instructions about not talking during the show.” He lists The Hideaway in St. Pete as an example of a quality listening room in Florida. His songs and performances need and deserve that type of low-key space and attentive listening audience.
Resembling the struggles of “Dale – The Big Blue Whale” in his song, a full-time musician’s life can be rough. Opportunities are usually unpredictable and many times unsustainable. It’s hard to provide the art people love as your job when it seems like people don’t support the arts. In St Augustine, we can all hope that the tide is shifting, and that talent like Michael’s always wins in the end. Similar to the seas, his musical faith runs deep. He adores playing music. He literally lives for the sensory overload of singing and playing, experimenting, listening and constantly gaining musical knowledge as his guitar behaves like an additional body part.
On an entirely different note, Michael is such a good fisherman that his freezer is too full. At times, he has had to stop fishing for a while and start eating (Mangrove Snapper, Trout, Reds, and more, more, more…) in order to make some room. No doubt, this comes from the mad Northumberland skills he inherited from growing up in that insanely coast-lined area. He says, “Fishing hasn’t been that good lately either. The two hurricanes have messed up the beach on my favorite spot in Vilano and the mullet are absent. I like to fish when it’s easy!”
That’s “our” Michael Jordan. St Augustine’s Michael Jordan. A mystical, musical survivor who strives to be like his hero Stevie Ray Vaughn (a.k.a. “The Michael Jordan of Guitar”) and who already fishes like the guys on Sunday TV.
Go see for yourself. Look for him playing at Marineland’s Lohman Auditorium or playing at a “fest” somewhere (Gamble Rogers, Clean Water, Florida Folk Fest in White Springs & more…). He’s recently returned from playing in Cuba and has toured throughout Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and North Carolina. He’s got a weekly gig downtown at Stogies in St Augustine each Sunday from 9 pm- 1am. You can also catch him playing some nasty lead guitar with Amy Hendrickson’s band at Hoptinger’s on Wednesdays or at any one of his many other local appearances. He’s excited to be working on his first true album, and admits that he hasn’t been too happy with his recorded releases to date. They’re great, but seeing him live is the ticket for sure.
You can click to hear Michael Jordan’s music HERE at Reverb Nation.