Champaign News-Gazette (April 2, 1999)

Kottke accompanied by banter and bugs

By Kirby Pringle

      St.  Paul, Minn.  -- Leo Kottke isn't looking for a virus.  The acclaimed guitarist, who performs at 8 p.m.  Friday, April 9, at the Virginia Theatre, recently got over a flu bug that was so bad he hadto cancel a couple of shows.  "And I never do that," he says.  But Kottke has found an upside to being ill.

      "There's something about being on stage that's almost therapeutic," Kottke says from his St.  Paul, Minn., home.  "There's something about being sick that's really good for you.  Sometimes, I've found, the sicker you are, the better you play because your focus is better.

      "The focusing in my job involves a kind of not focusing.  When you're onstage, sometimes, you find yourself thinking about what you had for breakfast that morning.  These little things pop in -- usually they don't -- but when they do, it's usually when I'm not sick."

      Kottke seems to be a magnet for various afflictions, some of them a bit odd.  He has trouble getting to sleep on road trips, and one time ran into Dizzy Gillespie in Italy and asked advice for catching a few zzzzzs.  He has broken his right foot.  He has burned his nose shagging golfballs.  He has frozen his feet solid and landed in the hospital.  He has had severe tendonitis, which prevented him from picking up a 12-string guitar for a decade.

      As a result, he has become a grizzled road warrior.  He takes a lickin' and keeps on ticking.

      "I get most bugs that go around," Kottke says.  "If there's anything going around the Midwest when I head to Champaign, I'll probably get that, too."

      At least his custom-made Taylor guitars never get bugs.  With Kottke's magic fingers on the fretwork, the sound is always rich and dazzling.  It's no wonder he's in Guitars Player Magazine's Hall of Fame and is consistently near the top of the list of most-admired acoustic guitar players.

      Kottke sings, too.  However, early in his career he wasn't a big admirer of his own voice and made the mistake of saying in linernotes that his singing voice sounds like "geese farts on a muggy day."

      "It's haunted me," he recently told an interviewer with the Arizona Republic in Phoenix.  "I can be too cute for my own good sometimes.  It wasn't entirely wrong.  But I should have just said there are songs I was not cut out to sing."

      Actually his baritone voiceis a pleasant, very appropriate tool, especially on story-songs like Tom T.  Hall's "Pamela Brown."

      His next record will be sort of a return to his own roots because it will be just him and his guitar -- singing voice included.

      "I'm working on the next record, but it won't take much because it's just me and the guitar.  I should have it finished by the end of this month.  I've got about half of it recorded, but I'm not really happy with the sound of it.  I've been recording it here in St.  Paul, but I'll probably finish it in Los Angeles," Kottke adds.

      Kottke is sloth personified when it comes to the recording studio.  "When I'm ot out playing, you have to hit me over the head with a cow to get me into the studio," he says.

      He isn't sure, though, what label the new record will be on.  Windham Hill/Private Music, his current label, recently underwent much upheaval -- nothing unusual in the record business these days -- and all of the staff was fired.

      "It was like the whole building disappeared into thin air," Kottke says.  "It was very strange.  I was left in limbo with Taj Mahal and Etta James.  I can conceive of me being fired, but not the whole record label."

      The original concept of what was to be a double album was one CD of just Kottke and his guitar, and, on the other disc, snippets of his entertaining banter between songs on stage.

      "I had misgivings about that concept," he admits.  "I told them I didn't want to do that.  I don't want to be a comedian or storyteller.  If that (record concept) ever happens, then that means I've changed occupations.

      "There are some nights, when I'm going on, that I wish I could just shutup.  But it's gotten to be a habit.  It all comes out of the tunes, and the two have become so intertwined by now.  A set doesn't feel complete unless I can talk my BS in front of the audience."

Interviews & Reviews | Recordings | Concerts | Tour Schedule | Songs & Lyrics | Guitar Tab
Audio & Video | Photo Gallery | Kottke Network | Links | Search | Credits

Home (Frames) | Home (No Frames)

Comments or questions about Leo's web site? Send mail to