Frets, May 1987

Leo Kottke:  Fingerstyle Visionary Learns From Tradition

by Mark Hanson

Page 5

Who is your favorite classical guitar player?

I've listened to more [British virtuoso] John Williams than anyone else.  I like [Cuban composer/guitarist] Leo Brouwer a lot because he writes.  I think that if you are going to play, you ought to write.

What are some of your favorite records?

Fusion [out of print] by [jazz clarinetist] Jimmy Guiffre, with Steve Swallow on bass.  I've had that record for about 25 years.  I've commissioned a Minneapolis guitarist named Tim Sparks to do an arrangement from it.  I used to listen to a John Coltrane album called Expressions [soon to be reissued on Impulse (to Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608)].  I wore it out.  One of my favorite rock and roll records is Countdown to Ecstasy [MCA, 1592] from Steely Dan.  That was flawless.  A record I wish I still had was 80 High C's By 90 Tenors [out of pint].  It was the same 30-second segment from the same opera -- La Traviata, I think.  In those 80 tries there were about three decent high Cs.  The rest of them are just side-splitting.

What have been some of the most enjoyable places you have played?

Several of them are in Minneapolis.  The Guthrie Theatre is where I had my first real concert.  The Ordway is a new theater built along the old lines.  And the Scholar was a great place -- Bob Dylan started there.  A little club in Frankfurt called "Onkel Po's" was my first solo gig in Germany.  I got something like eight encores.  Finally my hands were sweating so much I had to stop.  We ended up just laughing, all of us.  One place in Walla Walla, Washington, was built by Bell Labs.  The audience sounds like they're in another state.  Either that or they're two inches high in a shoebox at the other end of the room [laughs].  The performer doesn't sound like that to them, of course.  It's supposed to be acoustically perfect.

What are your future plans?

I don't know exactly where I'll end up, but I've got the same feeling about playing guitar that I did when I first started.  This time, though, I'm actually sitting down and practicing, instead of just trying to have fun.  Now I'm having fun by practicing to an end, getting more familiar with the fretboard. [The End]

Leo:  On Life And Avoiding Trombones
by Leo Kottke

Photo by Tom Berthiaume
Photo by Tom Berthiaume

      By the time I discovered the guitar, I had already discovered most human disease, including the trombone:  I was dying in Oklahoma with a smile on my face.  Such a superior attitude toward imminent personal decay allowed me to embrace entropy the way MacFarlane embraced Valium:  I wanted everything to stop, including me.  And, in this resolve, while my 11-year-old body continued its archaic blitz, my mind disengaged, and I went where few humans, except Shirley MacLaine, had gone before:  "The Late Zone."

      I floated out of my body in a flu-like, faded paradise and consorted regularly with the shades, most notably the Lone Ranger and Tonto -- who eventually left me for a train.  (I was standing by a big rock.)   Then, into this shivering, twitching, goodbye land, while I tried to decide whether to chase after the train or crawl under the rock, came the guitar, a gift from my mother who suspected a few good years left to her son; and as Faulkner has said, "Whang!"

      I invented what I later called an E chord and was vertical for days.  Within months I tired of the E chord and, saving it in case I could find nothing better, found a G chord.  Years later, I weathered my first crisis, the 7th chord, and I was on my way.  I had an E, a G, and an A7, and the world was my rock.  All snickers in abeyance, the guitar saved my life.

      So my practice regimen, and my advice to all guitarists, is this:  play or die.  And avoid the trombone. [The End]

[Ed. Note:  "The Late Zone," which Leo describes as a "grateful slither in E," will appear on his next album.]

Up Previous
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