Leo Kottke

Infobox musical artist

Name = Leo Kottke
Img_capt = Clearwater Festival 2007
Img_size = 250
Landscape = yes
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name = Leo Kottke
Alias =
Born = September 11 1945
Athens, Georgia
Died =
Instrument = Guitar
Voice_type = Baritone
Genre = Folk, roots music
Occupation = Guitarist
Years_active = 1968 - present
Label = Capitol Records, Private Music, Oblivion Records
Associated_acts = Mike Gordon, John Fahey
URL = [http://www.leokottke.com/ Official website]
Notable_instruments = Martin, Taylor, Bozo

Leo Kottke (born 11 September 1945, Athens, Georgia, U.S.) is an acoustic guitarist. He is widely known for his innovative fingerpicking style, which draws on influences from blues, jazz, and folk music, and his syncopated, polyphonic melodies. Kottke has overcome a series of personal obstacles including partial loss of hearing and a nearly career-ending bout with tendon damage in his hand to emerge as a widely-recognized master of his instrument.

Focusing primarily on instrumental composition and playing, Kottke has sporadically moved in a vocal direction, singing in an unconventional yet expressive baritone famously self-described as sounding like "geese farts on a muggy day". [http://www.solidairrecords.com/AMR_interviews/kottke.html 1994 James Jensen Interview "Leo Kottke".] Accessed on April 29, 2008.] In concert, Kottke intersperses humorous and often bizarre monologues with vocal and instrumental selections from throughout his career, played solo on his signature 6- and 12-string guitars.


Early life and career

Born in Athens, Georgia, Kottke moved along with his parents so frquently, he was raised in twelve different states. Ankeny, Jason Accessed September 27, 2008 [http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:7e821vkjzzua~T1 "All Music" Review] ] As a youth living in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Kottke was influenced by folk and delta blues music, notably that of Mississippi John Hurt. Kottke learned to play trombone and violin before moving to the guitar and developing his own unconventional picking style. A mishap with a firecracker permanently damaged his hearing in his left ear, a condition that would be exacerbated during exposure to loud noise during firing practice during his service in the United States Navy Reserve, when his other ear also was damaged. Accessed on May 30, 2008 [http://www.nextnc.com/content/view/15198/40/ Life in Northern Colorado interview, May 2007] ]

After being discharged from the Naval Reserve due to his partial loss of hearing, Kottke attended St. Cloud State University in central Minnesota, but left before completing his studies, choosing instead to hitchhike around the country, busking for a living, before finally settling in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. There, he recorded his debut album, "12-String Blues", which was released on the independent Oblivion record label. He recorded "6- and 12-String Guitar" (also known as the "Armadillo album" after the animal pictured on its cover) for John Fahey's Takoma Records. It remains one of the works most associated with Kottke and has been re-released many times on various record labels.

Fahey's agent Denny Bruce signed Kottke to Capitol Records and in 1971, Capitol released Kottke's first major label record, "Mudlark". Ankeny, Jason Accessed September 27, 2008 [http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:7e821vkjzzua~T1 "All Music" Review] ]

Pressured in the early 1970s to be a folk singer-songwriter rather than an instrumentalist, he recorded with vocals backing musicians on albums from this period. In 1972 he released "Greenhouse", and in 1973, a live album, "My Feet Are Smiling" and "Ice Water". These albums showed Kottke moving toward an eclectic mixture of musical genres, including folk, rock, jazz, and bluegrass.

Kottke closed out his contract with Columbia with his seventh album, "Chewing Pine", in 1975. By now he had also gained an international cult following thanks to his performances at folk festivals. With his 1976 eponymous release, he moved to the Chrysalis Records. "Burnt Lips" (1978), "Balance" (1979), and "Live in Europe" (1980), and 1983's T-Bone Burnett-produced "Time Step".

Injury and new playing style

In the early 1980s, Kottke began to suffer from painful tendinitis and related nerve damage caused by his vigorous and aggressive picking style (particularly on the 12-string guitar). [http://www.solidairrecords.com/AMR_interviews/kottke2.html James Jensen Interview "Mr. Natural".] Accessed on April 29, 2008.] As a result, he changed his picking style to a classical style, using the flesh of his fingertips and increasingly small amounts of fingernail rather than fingerpicks, and changing the positioning of the right hand to place less stress on the tendons. He also studied more classical and jazz-oriented compositional and playing techniques. He took a long break from recording and performing band simultaneously moved from his relationship with major labels to the smaller Private Music label. Private Music was considered a New Age music label in the Windham Hill style, and Kottke often found his music categorized as such during this period. After 1986's reflective "A Shout Toward Noon", he took a brief break from recording before returning with "Regards from Chuck Pink" in 1988.

Later career

Kottke released an album annually from 1989 to 1991, following "My Father's Face" with "That's What" and finally "Great Big Boy", which featured a guest appearance from Lyle Lovett. Two years later, Kottke returned with "Peculiaroso", which featured production by Rickie Lee Jones. The solo "One Guitar, No Vocals" followed in 1999.

In 2002, Kottke and Mike Gordon (then the bassist from the band Phish) collaborated on "Clone", an album featuring instrumental work and vocals from both musicians. A second album from the pair, "Sixty Six Steps", followed in 2005 (by which time Phish was disbanded). The duo has toured in support of both albums. [ [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5019563 "Kottke and Gordon: Calypso-Brushed Guitars"] (interview and performance) by David Dye, from NPR's World Cafe November 24, 2005] In between these two duet albums, Kottke released a solo album, 2004's "Try and Stop Me".

Leo Kottke received an honorary Doctorate in Music Performance from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee on May 18th, 2008, where he gave the commencement address. [ [http://onmilwaukee.com/music/articles/kottkeuwmdegree.html?15235 OnMilwaukee, Guitarist Kottke receiving UWM honorary degree. Friday, May 30, 2008] Accessed on May 30, 2008.]


Kottke's guitars are often tuned unconventionally; early in his career he heavily utilized open tuning, while in recent years he has used more traditional settings but often tunes his guitars as many as two full steps below standard tuning.

Orchestral works, re-recordings and other collaborations

In 1976, Kottke collaborated with arranger Jack Nitzsche on the release "Leo Kottke" which featured Kottke backed by a small orchestral section on a number of the tracks.

In the later part of his career Kottke has begun reworking and re-recording tunes he wrote and recorded in the early 1970s. For example, 1999's "One Guitar No Vocals" offered a new instrumental version of 1974's "Morning Is The Long Way Home", with the countermelody opened up from behind the vocal line, stripped of its original trippy lyrics. [http://www.innerviews.org/inner/kottke2.html Anil Prasad Interview "Getting to Mouth Off".] Accessed on April 29, 2008.] Kottke has also combined previously-recorded tunes into new compositions, notably the mini-suite "Bigger Situation", also released on "One Guitar No Vocals".

In 1990 Kottke and composer Stephen Paulus created "Ice Fields", a work for amplified acoustic guitar and orchestra in a concerto format. "Ice Fields" featured five movements, each based existing Kottke composition, with orchestral backing and interlude sections. [Stropes, John. "In Search of the Great American Guitar Concerto", "Acoustic Guitar Magazine", March 1991] It was premiered by Paulus' Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and has been performed occassionally since but has not been released on record, partly due to the high cost of producing a recording with a full orchestra. [cite web|author=Prasad, Anil |title="Leo Kottke: Blowing the Saddletank" |url=http://www.innerviews.org/inner/kottke.html |publisher=Innerviews: Music Without Borders]

Kottke has also collaborated on his records with his mentor John Fahey, as well as with Chet Atkins, Lyle Lovett, Margo Timmins, Mike Gordon, and Rickie Lee Jones. He has recorded tunes by Tom T. Hall, Johnny Cash, Carla Bley, Fleetwood Mac, The Byrds, Jorma Kaukonen, Kris Kristofferson, Randall Hylton, and many others.

He has toured with other guitarists playing both solo and ensemble pieces; notably he toured as part of the "Guitar Summit" with jazz guitarist Joe Pass, flamenco guitarist Paco Peña and classical guitarist Pepe Romero. He is also a frequent guest on the radio variety program "A Prairie Home Companion".


# "12-String Blues" (1969)
# "6- and 12-String Guitar" (1969)
# "Circle Round The Sun" (1970)
# "Mudlark" (1971)
# "Greenhouse" (1972)
# "My Feet Are Smiling" (1973)
# "Ice Water" (1974)
# "Dreams And All That Stuff" (1974)
# "Leo Kottke, John Fahey & Peter Lang" (1974)
# "Chewing Pine" (1975)
# "1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?)" (compilation album) (1976)
# "Leo Kottke" (1976)
# "The Best" (1976)
# "Burnt Lips" (1978)
# "Balance" (1979)
# "Live in Europe" (1980)
# "Guitar Music" (1981)
# "Time Step" (1983)
# "Voluntary Target" (1983)
# "A Shout Towards Noon" (1986)
# "Regards From Chuck Pink" (1988)
# "My Father's Face" (1989)
# "That's What" (1990)
# "Great Big Boy" (1991)
# "Essential" (1991)
# "Peculiaroso" (1994)
# "Paul Bunyan" (with Jonathan Winters) (1994)
# "Live" (1995)
# "Standing In My Shoes" (1997)
# "The Leo Kottke Anthology" (1997)
# "Hear the Wind Howl" (released in England and Europe only) (1997)
# "One Guitar, No Vocals" (1999)
# "Clone" (with Mike Gordon, formerly of Phish) (2002)
# "" (2003)
# " (2003)
# "Try And Stop Me" (2004)
# "Sixty Six Steps" (with Mike Gordon) (2005)


# "Home & Away" (1988)
# "Home & Away Revisited" (2006)


External links

* [http://leokottke.com/ Official Leo Kottke website]
* [http://www.guitarmusic.org Unofficial Leo Kottke web site] (fan site)
* [http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:7e821vkjzzua~T1 All Music biography of Leo Kottke, by Jason Ankeny]
* [http://concertology.com/artists/leo-kottke Latest Leo Kottke Concert Reviews and Photos on Concertology]
* [http://www.innerviews.org/inner/kottke2.html 1999 Leo Kottke interview by Anil Prasad]
* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5019563 "Kottke and Gordon: Calypso-Brushed Guitars"] by David Dye, from NPR's World Cafe November 24, 2005
* [http://www.publicradio.org/tools/media/player/news/midmorning/2007/11/09_midmorn2 Interview on Minnesota Public Radio November 9, 2007]

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