Denver Post (June 25, 1996)

Pickin' to Please
Kottke builds his audience in person

by Butch Hause, Special to The Denver Post

Leo Kottke has never felt comfortable with the business of making records
Article Photo

      Guitarist Leo Kottke is trapped in a world he single-handedly created.

      Extraordinary instrumentalist, composer and sometimes vocalist, the self-taught Kottke has been making music for more than 30 years, winning over folk, blues and rock audiences around the world.

      Kottke even once managed to land a pop hit, making Billboard's Top 30 with his cover of "Pamela Brown."  He also enjoyed a brief brush with the rock world, touring Europe in the early '70s with Procol Harum.

      "That was right after Robin Trower had left the band," Kottke said.  "So they took me along.  I'd come out and play 'Power Failure' with them.  I wasn't very convincing."

      And though Kottke's credentials speak for themselves, the witty picker has never felt comfortable with the business of making records.

      "I don't think I'm a recording kind of act," Kottke said.  "So that's never been a priority. I tour all the time and take my music directly to the people.

      "I'm convinced that adds up eventually and you can really build an audience that way, even though that kind of thinking is pretty rare nowadays.  But connecting with a crowd is the single most important thing when it comes to making music."

      Even with that in mind, Kottke has released more than two dozen projects, including his most recent, "Leo Kottke Live," recorded last year at the Fox Theatre in Boulder.

      In his youth, Kottke switched from trombone to guitar, only to discover that there was little inspiration for him in the blossoming folk scene.

      "One of the reasons I started playing guitar was because there wasn't anybody else playing what I wanted to hear," Kottke said.  "I didn't know what to call it, and I still don't, but I could see it clearly and I knew I wanted to play it."

      So Kottke sat down with Gibson 12-string in hand and started translating his mind's vision to the fingerboard.

      "It didn't come easily," Kottke said. "In fact, it was down right discouraging at times.

      "I remember working on a piece I'd written called 'Ojo.'  My first mistake was thinking I'd invented the word for the title.  But then I spent 12 hours working on one spot in the song.  I knew where it had to go but I couldn't get it to go there.  Suddenly, I got it and that turned out to be the key to my right hand.

      "From that point I knew I could count on coming up with stuff I would like."

      Leo Kottke performs at 7:15 pm Friday at the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1005 York St.  Tickets are $15.  Call 331-4000 for more information.


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