|Recordings: Ice Water (1974)|
Kottke's last original LP for Capitol was Chewing Pine, released in 1975, which was his first to crack the Top 50 of the US album chart and included a cover of Procol Harum's "Power Failure" and an original with the typically Kottke-esque title of "Venezuela, There You Go," after which he parted company with Capitol, having released six US chart albums in just over four years. During that period, he had made a triumphant appearance as a headline attraction at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1975. His period with Capitol was commemorated by the release in 1978 of The Best, a double album compilation with sleeve notes by the celebrated Dr. Demento, one of the most famous disc jockeys in America, although a previous single compilation album, [Did You Hear Me?] Best of Leo Kottke 1971-1976 had been released in the latter year covering much the same ground without Dr. Demento's help, but with a cover of John McLaughlin's "Open Country Joy (Constant Traveller)" and an original with the fascinating title of "The Scarlatti Rip Off" (no doubt a bizarre sequel to "The Spanish Entomologist," which appeared on "Greenhouse").
1976 was also the year when Leo Kottke signed with Chrysalis, become the British label's first American signing, and commenting at the time he was looking forward to dealing with individual enthusiasts who would not tamper with is ideas rather than a massive corporation. he also vowed to change the habits of a lifetime when recording his eponymous debut album for Chrysalis by preparing the material in advance, and to revert to his starting point of a purely instrumental collection. When Leo Kottke was released in 1977, it became his eighth US chart album and included such intriguingly titled originals as "The White Ape," "Buckaroo" and "Airproofing." 1978 produced Burnt Lips, for which he had decided to try some vocalising again, but it was his last US chart album for more than a decade despite including a memorable cover version of the remarkable "Sonora's Death Row", a song written by Kevin Blackie Farrell, plus excerpts from something he called "Terry's Movie" -- "The Train and the Gate" was one, and "The Credits: Out-takes" was another, titles which presumably refer to his contributions to the Grammy Award winning soundtrack of the film directed by Terence Malick, Days of Heaven, starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepherd.
1979 brought Balance, produced by Nashville legend and Area Code 615 drummer Kenny Buttrey, which was described at the time as "a new departure, with Kottke deciding to work with a rhythm section." It also included two diverse cover versions: Buddy Holly's "Learning the Game," and Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen's "Embryonic Journey." Kottke noted at the time: "If there were no other considerations, I used to think that I cold only make guitar albums, but I felt the need to work with a rhythm section. I enlisted Kenny's aid mainly because of our past musical association, years ago, which was a very successful collaboration" (Buttry had played on "Mudlark").
Live in Europe was a solo album without other musicians, released by Chrysalis in 1980, and recorded, as its title suggests, on the previous year's European tour -- he also appeared again at that year's Cambridge Folk Festival. By this time, Kottke had amassed a number of awards for his work, including "Best Acoustic Guitarist" for five years running from Guitar Player magazine and a German Grammy Award for Best Instrumentalist in 1977. Chrysalis surprisingly claimed that 1981's Guitar Music was Kottke's first instrumental album since 1969's 6 & 12-String Guitar, but they had obviously overlooked the eponymous 1977 album which had been his first for the label, as well as My Feet Are Smiling and Dreams and All That Stuff from the Capitol years.
Guitar Music opened with a track confusingly titled "Part Two," and included a ten and a half minutes medley titled "Side One Suite," as well as two tunes written by Ry Cooder, "Available Space" and "Perforated Sleep," and an interesting choice of cover versions: the slide guitar classic which was a 1959 hit for Santo & Johnny "Sleepwalk," the Everly Brothers classic "All I Have To Do Is Dream," and the chestnut recorded by Slim Whitman (and others), "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."
1983 brought Kottke's final album for Chrysalis, Time Step, perhaps his most clearly accessible album up to that point. Produced by T-Bone Burnett and with the latter's erstwhile Alpha Band colleague, David Milner, on bass, and David Kemper on drums, along with guest appearances from Emmylou Harris and another guitar star, Albert Lee, it included cover versions of the 1960s hit, "Memories Are Made of This," and a Kris Kristofferson song, "Here Comes That Rainbow Again." However, at this point Kottke and Chrysalis parted company, due to medical problems with the guitarist's right hand which made playing a painful business. This meant that no new album emerged until 1987, the intervening years being filled by his taking classical guitar lessons and mastering a new, and presumably less painful, playing technique.
Since his return, he has released five new albums on the Private Music label, launched by German electronic music expert Peter Baumann, once a member of electro-wizards Tangerine Dream, and a sixth album is no doubt imminent. For the record, their titles are A Shout Towards Noon (1987), Regards from Chuck Pink (1988), My Father's Face (1989, again produced by Burnett, which included a turntable hit on American FM radio, "Jack Gets Up," and a second version of Kottke's favourite among his own compositions, "Mona Ray" (which previously appeared on Dreams and All That Stuff)), That's What (1990) and Great Big Boy (1992, produced by Steve Berlin, who has also worked with both Los Lobos and The Blasters, helping both these excellent groups to success -- despite the fact he plays one of the dirtiest-looking saxophones ever seen on a London stage), and with participation from Lyle Lovett and a duet on "Pepe Hush" with Margo Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies. A Johnny Cash song, "I Still Miss Someone," was the only cover on an otherwise totally Kottke penned track list. Also in 1991, Chrysalis released a 22 track retrospective CD, Essential Leo Kottke, and that's about as far as the story goes to date.
That nice Mr. Gray at BGO is licensing and reissuing a lot of the early albums on CD, so there's quite a lot of movement for Leo Kottke around the world in 1992, perhaps more interest than ever before, in this eccentric genius with musical ability to spare and a sense of humour which no doubt mystifies his German label bosses. [The End]
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