Guitar Player, January 1972

Leo Kottke

by Michael Brooks

Page 2

In most of your numbers, do you use three fingers for fingerpicking?  

Yeah.  Usually I'll use the thumb and three fingers if I'm playing some sort of form figure like an arpeggio or something.  When I use the thumb in picking it, it's just in unison with the second finger.  

Do you use fingerpicks?  

Sometimes.  One of my 12-strings, when it's through an amp, I play with my fingernails and a thumb pick.  And my acoustic 12 I play with picks.  Some of the things on my 6-string I play with picks.  I don't like them though, because they're clumsy.  

What kind of fingerpicks do you use when you're using them?

National, and a Dobro thumb pick (clear plastic).  I always light a match to the point of the thumb picks to shorten them a little bit, because they're too long and too sharp when they're new.  

Seeger probably didn't get you as much into fingerpicking as much as you're into it now.

Pete Seeger was the main one.  Probably "Living in the Country" was the main tune, because when I heard that, I had to learn it.  To play that, I had to do everything I could because it's full.  There really isn't a hole in it anywhere.  And about three years ago was when I first heard Fahey, and realized that I was slighting my index finger, because he's perfect, he's completely clean.  I wasn't, so I worked it out.  

Have you been through the old blues trip; the kind of Charley Patton, Mississippi John Hurt runs?  

No.  I'm just now starting that trip.  Some people that I really appreciate are [late Bahamian guitarist] Joseph Spence, Blind Blake and the Reverend Robert Wilkins, and I'm trying to work out an arrangement of a thing he does called "Thank You, Jesus."  I never listened to it before, because, first of all, I didn't know it was there.  When I found out it was, it took me a long time to get used to the form.  

When you say "the form," do you mean the sound itself?  

Well, blues, yeah.  That of the 12-bar and all of the repetition that goes on.  You see, the things that I like to listen to are either classical or a little bit of jazz in there.  

For you right now, what is easy listening?  

Oh, I like to listen to Ry Cooder, and I'm nuts about a guy named Giuseppe D'Stephano, I guess, who was a tenor.  Evidently he's not singing any more.  And Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, and along that line.  

Do you do any kind of warmup exercises?  

No.  I don't warm up before I play.  I just go out and play, which is kind of a stupid way to do it, but somehow it seems I never had a chance any other way.  Either my guitars are out on stage or my amps are, and I can't play before I go on.  

What got you into the bottleneck guitar?  

Let's see, the first time I heard it was on a song about a flood on a record by Rolf Kahn and Eric Von Schmidt, but I didn't like it at the time.  Then I remembered it a couple of years ago and started fooling around with a broken-off bottleneck and just fell in love with the sound.  Then I started looking for other people who were playing it.  Fahey's "Poor Boy" was another tune that got me interested in playing bottleneck.  

On the bottleneck, what kind of open tunings do you use?  

I use C, G, D, and a chord that's tuned to a Nashville tuning and it sounds that way, it sounds like a steel.  I think it's like an A6th tuning.  

Do you know the six-string lineup for that tuning?  

No, I don't know the notes of the guitar.  I can sit down and figure them out.  

You do it all by ear?  

Yes, I'm generally pretty ignorant about it.  

What about your pitch?  Do you have perfect pitch?  

No.  You see, my 6-string is tuned to concert [pitch, A=220], my acoustic is tuned to C and my acoustic with a pickup is tuned to A, low A.  You really don't have any trouble with pitch on a guitar once it's tuned, but I have trouble with singing.  That's why I have them in different tunings so that I don't have to go through an hour and a half to tune them.  

What guitars do you have?  

Well, I've got a Gibson 12-string, which is first in a series of three guitars that they made in the B- 45 model.  They quite making them about eight years ago.  And I've got a Martin 000-18 made in 1935, and the electric 12-string cutaway with a 28-inch scale that John Lundberg did for me in Berkeley.  I've got about six other instruments, most of them are in stages of disrepair or repair.  

What kind of experimentation have you done with acoustic pickups, or did you just go out and get a DeArmond and slap it on?  

I just went out and got a DeArmond and slapped it on.  Somebody told me to try a Micro-Fret pickup, so I tried one of those.  What I want to get is a little ceramic pickup which is about the size of a quarter which you just put on your guitar with wax.  I don't know, it costs about $200 and you get it somewhere in L.A., and you plug it into an amp.  It's just a contact mike, but you get a perfect acoustic sound out of it.  

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