Interviews & Reviews:  Connie's Insider (June 26 - July 11, 1971)

Leo Kottke

an interview by Tim Murtha

Page 2

TM:  Your singing on the Symposium album [Circle 'Round the Sun] is much smoother and more polished than the singing on your original recording for Oblivion [12 String Blues].

Leo Kottke and Bruce Doepke in impromptu kitchen jelly session (uncredited)
Leo Kottke and Bruce Doepke in impromptu kitchen jelly session (uncredited)
KOTTKE:  I am singing a little easier.  I think I could solve the whole problem if I would just sing within my range.  For some reason I'm infatuated with giving myself a hernia every time I sing.  I love to go right up to the top of my range, which I think is an E.  I thing I'm actually a bass voice and I'm trying to sing in the middle part of the tenor register.  I'll either end up sounding like Louise Armstrong with nodes, or I'll learn to do it right.

      It doesn't bother me as much as it used to.  I'm getting to the point where I'm starting to realize it's a little silly for me not to like my voice when it's me that's doing the singing.  One of these days I'll convince myself I'm the world's greatest singer.  There won't be any change, but at least I won't be bothered by it anymore.

TM:  Some people insist on comparing you with blues player Dave Ray.

KOTTKE:  I've been compared with a lot of strange people.  There's a song on the new record I did with a guy called the juke box phantom [Kim Fowley], "Monkey Lust."  He suggested I record a few Chevalier hits.  Somebody in Sioux Falls compared me to Fred Neal.

      I'm not a blues singer.  I'm getting to like blues a lot better than I used to.  I didn't used to like it at all, but when I met Fahey, he pointed out to me that I was missing a lot by not listening to any of the old blues players or singers.  So we went rummaging [through] his huge library and finally he played me a record by Blind Blake.  He's the first blues player I ever heard and enjoyed.  When I listened to the others, I had to be very detached and esoteric about it, because otherwise I'd get bored.

      That's not happening anymore.  I'm really getting a lot out of not just traditional blues, but all kinds of strange music, like "Good Guys only win in the Movies," for instance.  I'd like to do a little bluer record next time.

TM:  It is interesting to hear you say that you've never listened to much traditional blues, since your guitar certainly reflects blues influences.

KOTTKE:  A lot of people tell me that.   I think one reason it may sound like that is because I've listened to so much of Fahey's music.  I think I've probably picked up blues influences from secondary sources.

      I think what got my guitar playing going was my playing the banjo.  Actually, I got it going a little too much, because I play the guitar too much like the banjo.  I'm trying to get away form that.  That's another reason I like blues.  You can play slow, like just wait a half our between notes, and then play your note when you're really ready for it.  The way I had been playing until a year ago, I was trying to squeeze in as much as possible in the shortest time possible.   After a while, it just starts to sound a little frantic.

TM:  I understand you weren't too happy with your Symposium album.

KOTTKE:  That was just my paranoia about my vocals.  That was in the middle of all kinds of frightening things.  We got caught in Pasadena with an infestation of worms in the water system, I was broke and generally ornery.  I was not in the mood for music or music lovers.

      I did the Symposium record quite a while ago, only three months after the Takoma, which came out in December 1969.  It is mainly a remake of that first Oblivion record.

      It's silly for me to be dissatisfied with it.  Actually, "Prodigal Grave" is some of the best singing I've ever done!

TM:  I really enjoyed "Tell me this ain't the Blues."

KOTTKE:  I wrote that when I first arrived in St. Cloud.  I was staying in a hotel [above] a Country Western joint.  I was living a real Hollywood cliche, complete with plastic curtains on the window and a neon sign flashing out front.  Everything was so predictable it was terrifying.  Noisy band on the floor beneath me, old man crying in the hallway.  In the end it got so boring that I put a glass on the floor so I could hear everything that band was doing downstairs in the Blue Blazer.  

      There was one song they used to play, whoever they were, that was just great.  They only did it once, and I tried to remember it, but I never could figure it out.  That was how I wrote "Tell me this ain't the Blues."  I was trying to remember the other one.

TM:  What is your new Capitol album like?  Are you pleased with it?

KOTTKE:   I love it.  I even love the vocals.  The first version got a little screwed up because I sang too lightly on one song, and I would up sounding like Wayne Newton singing the Wabash Cannonball.  It was just terrible.  There were also some mastering problems.

      Capitol was just beautiful about it.  They told me "If you're not happy with it, do whatever you have to be happy with it."  So we recorded two things that were on the record, took off the Newton Cannonball, and added two more vocals.  All this was done in Nashville.

      The remake made all the difference in the world.  this is my favorite record.  So far when I've made records, I've been sick of them by the time I got [through] with them.   I hated them.   I was just too critical.

      This time I had a lot of fun recording because we did a lot of stuff with sidemen, and that opened up a whole world for me because I never really played with anyone else before.  I didn't' have time to fuss about the recording.

TM:  What's the story behind the song on which the jukebox phantom sings?

KOTTKE:  "Monkey Lust."  I don't know what to say about that.  We just did it for the fun of it.  The Phantom came in with a set of lyrics, and improvised a vocal.  We did it all in one take.

      He'll be coming out with his own record.  He sort of embodies the history of Los Angeles as far as the music business goes, so we thought it might be appropriate to have him on.

TM:  What will happen, now that the record is out?

KOTTKE:  I don't know.  We haven't made any plans yet.  I suppose we'll do some kind of a tour, but I'm not looking forward to it.  I don't like traveling as much as I used to.  Now that I've got a daughter, I'm getting more sedentary.  I've become a homebody.  One thing I plan on doing is traveling with a drummer and bass player as soon as I can afford it.  Jesus Christ, anything's better if [it's] shared.  It's so much more fun to play with a rhythm section.  

      At first I thought it would just sound tacked on.  But it doesn't.  In fact, it just welds together.  The best cut on the album is "Junebug."  If I really listen to that, like even just the drums...They're all playing the same thing I'm playing.  It's really amazing.  It's something I've never heard done quite that way before.  Fortunately, I'm really losing my complacency.  After being comfortably obscure for such a long time and not having to change or go anywhere, I'm finding out that I've got to be very positive about everything to make it all work out.

[The End]

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