|Acoustic Guitar, November 1995|
By the 1960s, Kottke was a regular performer at regional folk-music venues such as the Scholar coffeehouse in Minneapolis, where he recorded his first, self-produced album called 12 String Blues (long out of print). Kottke's lucky break came after he sent a demo tape to John Fahey, whose early Takoma albums were an important model for Kottke's playing. The resulting 6 and 12 String Guitar LP brought Kottke's playing to a national audience and started a groundswell of fascination among acoustic guitarists everywhere.
"I was in a Sam Goody record store in New York City, and I asked a guy there if he could recommend any good solo guitar records, " Michael Hedges recalled after a recent concert in Milwaukee. "He handed me a copy of 6 and 12 String Guitar and said, 'Check this out.' I did, and I was never the same. He was the first guitar composer who really got to me."
Kottke's Takoma album quickly led to a record contract with Capitol, which produced a series of outstanding albums that helped catapult him from the regional coffeehouse circuit to concert stages around the world. Kottke even became something of a celebrity, with a flurry of appearances on TV talk shows and a feature in People magazine.
Capitol albums such as Mudlark, Ice Water, Dreams and All That Stuff, and Chewing Pine also marked the beginning of Kottke's presence as a vocalist and the transition from a strictly solo format to ensembles featuring bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, and pedal steel guitar. While the Capitol albums comprise some of Kottke's most brilliant work, the commitment to deliver a new record every six months was exhausting.
"When that contract expired, I was really flat. My noodle was empty," Kottke said. "They were willing to accept a record from me every nine months, but I couldn't make them that fast anyway. I left the company because I was afraid I was going to destroy my capacity to even enjoy the guitar."
In 1975 Kottke found a more relaxed arrangement with Chrysalis Records, where he produced another important body of work, including several haunting orchestral collaborations with Jack Nitsche on Leo Kottke. Later Chrysalis albums such as Burnt Lips and Guitar Music marked a return to less elaborate solo guitar recordings that were a blueprint of sorts for much of what Kottke has done on the Private Music label since 1988.
Kottke's recent work for Private Music, notably Great Big Boy and Peculiaroso, represents a summation of everything he's done -- solo guitar instrumentals, ensembles, vocals -- with a few new twists, such as lucid guitar-and-poetry pieces like "Husbandry" (That's What) and "Driver" (Great Big Boy). His arid, matter-of-fact verbal delivery has even bought him to the attention of advertising agencies, who have hired him to record commercial voice-overs for Maxwell House coffee and other products. After countless hours spent in recording studios with a guitar, Kottke said he "feels naked" just sitting behind the mike and talking.
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