This interview originally appeared at North Country Primitive on 5th January 2016
Chances are, if you’ve come across the music of Bob Hadley, it will be by way of Celtic Reverie, the track included in the seminal first volume of Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthems series. However, between 1973 and 1980, Bob released three Takoma-influenced albums of finger style guitar, augmented with some nifty bottleneck: Raven, Tunes from the Well and On the Trail of the Questing Beast, all on Stefan Grossman’s Kicking Mule label. The albums constituted a body of work any self-respecting acoustic guitarist would be proud of, with melodic original compositions sitting seamlessly side by side with traditional tunes and the occasional carefully chosen cover. Contemporary reviews bear this out: Guitar Magazine of London called him a 'genius of melody', extolling the virtues of his haunting sound. Meanwhile, Guitar Player described him as 'a fingerpicking talent on a par with anyone recording today.'
Whilst his albums are still available as downloads and you can occasionally pick up reasonably-priced copies of the vinyl originals, he has never had the CD or vinyl reissue treatment afforded to many of his contemporaries, which is a real missed opportunity when the music is this good. Maybe it’s because there's no mysterious back story: Bob arrived, made some great albums, before hanging up his guitar (in terms of public performances, at least) and swapping it for the world of academia and everyday life. Thirty five years on from that last wonderful album, we are very grateful that he was gracious enough to give North Country Primitive his time for the short interview below.
Can you tell me about your early musical journey - particularly the period leading up to your first album, The Raven?
The major key influences that come to mind are John Fahey and Leo Kottke. I heard an album of Fahey’s when I was about 20, and within a few years, I had bought a couple of his albums and listened a lot to him. I heard Kottke’s Takoma album in 1970, and found that to be amazing. I bought Kottke’s next few albums as they came out, and they were a strong influence. Other earlier influences were Pete Seeger, Elizabeth Cotton, Dave van Ronk, Tom Rush, and any number of other guitarists from the folk revival era.
In the early 1970s, I began to play guitar a lot, and did some composing, while I was in graduate school. When I completed my graduate studies in Philosophy, I recorded, on my own, the Raven album. The first pressing was just 100 copies.
You were signed to the Kicking Mule label and released three albums with them. What was this period of your musical life like?
Soon after I pressed those 100 copies of Raven, I sent some to out a few radio stations in Vancouver the CBC and CKLG-FM are the ones I remember. Both the CBC and CKLG-FM played cuts from the albums at least a few times, and once, when Ed Denson -who had founded Kicking Mules Records with Stefan Grossman - was in Vancouver, he was visiting the CBC. Somebody there let him hear my Raven album, and he liked it. He contacted me and this led to Raven being issued by Kicking Mule. In the next six years, I recorded two more albums with them.
From the early 1970s until 1980, I was performing in public and selling my albums at places like UBC and SFU. It was often a fun period and I gave concerts from time to time, did a fair amount of composing and taught some guitar as well. My albums were then getting a significant amount of airplay at CBC and in other places.
Are you aware of any plans to reissue any of your albums? Do you now own the rights to the recordings?
It appears that Fantasy Records had at some time acquired certain aspects of the rights to my recordings from Kicking Mule. I’m uncertain about the details, however. I believe also that Fantasy Records was later acquired by Concord Music and that that the latter arranged for my three albums to be available in MP3 format on sites like Amazon and iTunes and a few other places.
Are you still playing guitar?
Yes, I still play guitar a good deal, for my own pleasure. I have not performed in public in recent years, though with a small group of friends I do perform.
There is a whole new crop of young guitarists out there making music deeply influenced by the artists associated with Takoma, Kicking Mule, the early days of Windham Hill and so on. Do you keep abreast of developments in the world of fingerstyle guitar?
I have not really remained abreast of recent developments in the genre of fingerstyle guitar, though I do hear some of it at times. These days, I listen a good deal to Renaissance choral polyphony, western medieval music, and at times Celtic music on the harp.