|Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (April 3, 1997)|
Guitarist Proud To Defy Convention
Kottke turns up the percussion on his latest album -- the 24th
by Erin Perry
Leo Kottke's not a picky man, but he does want his hotel room to be clean and comfortable.
And quiet. And pleasant-smelling. And empty of other people.
Doesn't seem like too much to ask, but the Salt Lake City hotel where Kottke was staying earlier this week was having a hard time filling the bill. Kottke switched rooms four times before he was able to settle back for a phone interview.
"The first room was on the corner, right at an intersection, and it was so loud. The second one had trash and a leg brace in it -- I thought maybe it was a bonus for changing rooms," Kottke said, in a voice so deadpan you might think he's serious if you didn't know any better.
He continues his tale: "The third room just stank. They asked me what it smelled like. I said, 'Gas and friut.' They said, 'That's the lake.' But the lake's a long way off from here."
After spending more than half his life crisscrossing the country, and a few oceans, to play his signature guitar-picking style, Kottke, 51, has learned to shrug off most of the hassles of the road. His latest travels bring him to Grand Junction on Friday.
Kottke has cut an album, mostly of instrumentals, for nearly every one of the years he's been fashioning his own style of six- and 12-string acoustic guitar picking. It started when he was just 11 or 12 -- the first time he got his hands on a guitar and never wanted to let go.
You can't peg his sound, and that's a good thing. "Folk" is the term most commonly attached to his music, but that label peels off pretty fast when unaccompanied by references to jazz, rock, soul or country.
His 24th record, "Standing in My Shoes," is due in stores in May, after record-label disputes pushed back the original release date.
A reviewer who latched onto one of the precious few advance copies in circulation described the record this way: "It's as if some hip-hop deejay had done a dance remix of Leo Kottke." That has a lot to do with producer David Z, a former Prince collaborator and longtime friend of Kottke's.
"We got to know each other in Minneapolis (Kottke's current home), and we'd always threatened to work together," Kottke said.
As far as the hip-hop comparison goes, "I'm fine with that. I don't think (it's a departure), but it's Dave's way of doing things. He just turned the percussion up a little louder than it's ever been. And I wanted to go for the groove on this one."
Despite the dance-floor beat lurking in the new songs, Kottke said he doesn't think any of his records ever sound different from the rest. Just different from most everyone else.
"For people like me who are self-taught, if you're lucky you wind up having a lot of different hats," Kottke said. "Your writing benefits in the long run, but your playing probably suffers.
"I belong to the same school as Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus. You teach youself how to play, and then you sit down and do your homework. But I didn't do mine, and I think I flunked."
He's not as self-depracating as he sounds. Kottke just tries to keep some perspective on his talent and how it fits into the world's body of music.
The most dangerous thing for any artist, he said, is to be popular and realize it.
"It's easy to be detested. If you're liked, you can shrivel up like a prune," Kottke said. "The first time I heard myself on tape, I thought, 'Jesus Christ, I've got an audience. I've gotta get good.'"
Although he's been summoned to play with the likes of newer talents from Big Head Todd and the Monsters to Lyle Lovett to the Violent Femmes, Kottke doesn't seem ready to assume the role of Being An Influence.
"I know I'm part of the soundstream," he said. "I've wanted to play since before I can remember. The was this trail, and I couldn't find it for a long time. And then one day I looked around, and I was in it.
"I'm part of an unacknowledged tradition. Nobody looks at it that way. It's a job handed down from one to the next. It's inherited."
Kottke seems to be teetering at the edge of the philosophical deep end, until he snaps back with this: "It goes all the way back to the guy hitting his friend on the head with a rock for the first time and liking the sound of that."
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