Guitar Player, August 1977
Leo Kottke: His Techniques, Guitars, Slide, & Tricks of the Trade
by Gil Podolinsky
What do you use for a slide?
I use an Almaden Mountain Red table wine. Don't drink the wine. Don't even give it to your guitar -- it won't appreciate it either. Most of your California wines are good because they all use the same bottle. It's that long green thing. It's a little lightweight, but I think your guitar is better off if it's working with a little heavier bottleneck.
You must have gone through a process of elimination. What didn't you like about the others you tried?
Well, most of your options are limited to whether it's got the right kind of lip. Wine bottles have fluted tops or some contraptions that are not suitable. You have to have one with a little bit of a curve on it to help apply even pressure, even if you're playing with a flat fingerboard.
Photo by Jon Sievert
What about the length?
It's a little longer than my pinkie. It's longer than what most people seem to like, but I think it's better being too long than too short. I tried a socket wrench which came close, but wasn't quite it.
Can you characterize the sound you get from using the glass slide?
I play slide on the 12-string only. It's harder on a 12-string because you have to have more constant and even pressure in order to get all the strings nice and clean without a lot of rattle. In general the action on my guitars is high, and I play slide on the Gibson and the Martin Conversion. The B-45 is noisier, more dense, doesn't soak up enough.
Have you tried electric 12-strings?
Yes, but they didn't do anything to me; like a Rickenbacker has too narrow a neck.
Are you classically influenced in any way?
I think I am; I listen to a lot of that stuff. Recently I have been listening to a lot of orchestrations. I go on kicks: right now I'm trying to find all the things that Albert Lee has played on because that guy fried some of my engrams, deep fried. I listen to classical composers such as Vaughan Williams, Respighi. Some of John Williams [see GP, Feb 77] work is just superb. It takes some listening to. I just wish he'd write. It really bugs me that some of those players who are so good don't write. I think they're intimidated by their knowledge, otherwise, why wouldn't they write? I had that problem where, for about a year and a half, I became quite aware of how much of what I'd written didn't measure up to the works I admired. I got over that.
Can you describe the way your melodies develop -- from single notes, chords, or what?
No, it all happens at once. It's not a function of the left hand or the right. In a purely physical sense, it happens at once as well. I can't do the fadeaway type of writing that so many people seem to be able to do, like Robert Louis Stevenson who blamed it on his brownies that visited him between sleeping and waking. What I'm thinking is what I'm playing -- not that I can play whatever comes into my mind. Picking up the guitar to me is like chewing your nails, it's a nervous habit. In the process, things pop up. The ones that I have to sit down and analyze are the ones which work least. The ones that just barrel through and seem to come from somewhere else work great. Rather than being intimidated by how much great playing there is, I'm resigned to the fact that I'm lucky enough to come up with a few tunes now and then, and that I shouldn't mess with that gift or be ashamed for that matter.
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