|Frets, May 1987|
Leo Kottke: Fingerstyle Visionary Learns From Tradition
by Mark Hanson
Isn't that a lighter set than you've used in the past?
It's pretty thin in the middle. I'm kind of surprised myself that they are so thin. I was always one to say that heavier strings gave you more sound. It may have something to do with the fact that I'm using the Lawrence pickup. My favorite kind of string for sitting in a room, playing for myself, is silk-and-steel. Those are discreet. I like the decay. They offer a special kind of warmth that some guitars are missing. But most guitars don't seem to take too well to them.
Do you mike your guitar on stage in conjunction with a pickup?
No. I used to, but now I just run the Bill Lawrence through a Countryman direct box [Countryman Associates, 417 Stanford Ave., Redwood City, CA 94063].
Have you ever tried a piezo transducer?
I'm pretty interested now in the Lloyd Baggs pickup [L.R. Baggs Co., 316 1/2 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015]. I've never liked the sound of a transducer on a guitar. But the Baggs is about as close as I've heard anyone come to making it sound right. I have one in the Hoffman, but I still prefer the Lawrence.
What is your effects chain on stage?
If the room presence seems to need some life, or the sound is too much like a "pickup" sound, then I'll use a little delay. But I use very little of it. It's a Boss DD-2 foot pedal [Roland Corp., 7200 Dominion Cir., Los Angeles, CA 90045]; that and the Countryman. It's surprising how acoustic-sounding the tone really is.
Do you control the sound of the P.A.?
If I'm pretty sure of what I am hearing. I'll make suggestions to the soundman. If I'm having a problem with the soundcheck, I'll walk out into the room and play in front of the speakers. I'm desperate to avoid boosting anything in the EQ. It adds noise to the system. I'd much rather take away. If I have to add high-end, I'll usually add at about 12K. If I'm getting too much clank or not enough warmth, I'll cut at about 2K. It helps the bottom end. I like to have a lot of bottom end available. Then I play away from it. But if I want to use it, it's there.
Do you ever feel isolated, working as a solo artist?
Yes. When you're on the road it's just you by yourself. And when you get off the road, you don't feel like going out and jamming with your friends at the local clubs. To a degree it suits my nature, though.
What drives you, as an artist, to keep developing?
I used to wonder about that, but I never got anywhere with it. All I know is that I have to play the guitar. And it is the guitar. I've played an instrument since I was five. I played violin and trombone. But when I found the guitar, something literally happened to me. I had never felt so good, and so happy, and so thrilled. what was it that Randy Newman said? "When I get off a good one, nothing compares." Fortunately, it's guitar playing that I love -- not sniffing glue or something [laughs]. I think that more than having a talent or skill, having a deep affection for something is a great gift.
Who are your musical inspirations?
I've listened to a lot of saxophone, for some reason. I'm not that fond of the instrument, really. But Johnny Hodges is a real thrill for me these days. In the past I listened to a lot of John Coltrane. Recently Eric Dolphy.
How about players other than saxophonists?
Buell Neidlinger [jazz bass virtuoso, and producer of A Shout Toward Noon]. I've never heard anybody play live like Buell. When I first met him, he was playing along with the surf at his house in California. He said the waves were coming in sevens.
Which guitarists do you enjoy?
I like John Scofield a lot. Jim Hall is really something else. Pierre Bensusan is just a gift. I have to put in a plug for "Snoozer" Quinn. He was a New Orleans fingerstyle jazz guitarist who played with some of the great jazz bands of the '20s'; leaders like Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, and Paul Whiteman. Snoozer was playing what a lot of us today are trying to play, which is a finer approach to the guitar, but with all of the available harmony. He was sort of consigned to oblivion in the late '30s by [Benny Goodman sideman] Charlie Christian's electric guitar style, playing horn lines with a plectrum. The only record of Snoozer that survives was made on his deathbed in the early '50s [The Legendary Snoozer Quinn, Fat Cat's Jazz (Box 458, Manassas, VA 22110), FCJ 104]. His stuff is unlike anything that I have ever heard. It's a crime no one has heard of him. [Ed. Note: Short biographies of Edwin McIntosh "Snoozer" Quinn are available in The History of the Guitar in Jazz (dist. by Oak Publications) and The Jazz Guitar (dist. by Ashley Mark).]
Comments or questions about Leo's web site? Send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.