Leo Kottke/Eight Songs, 1986

Leo Kottke/Eight Songs*

transcribed and edited by John Stropes

      John Stropes is a leading authority on American finger-style guitar.  Through the historical research, analysis, transcription, and teaching of American finger-style guitar, he has brought focus to this style as a significant American music.  Together with Peter Lang, he is co-author of the aesthetic adventure, 20th Century Masters of Finger-Style Guitar.  He has also written John Fahey's Guitar Christmas Book and has had articles and transcriptions published in leading guitar magazines.  Mr. Stropes is President of the Milwaukee Classical Guitar Society.  He has been on the faculty of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music since 1976 and is currently Chairman of the Guitar Department.  He is the coordinator of the biennial American Finger-Style Guitar Festival.  

     This event, first held in August 1985 at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, features concerts, workshops, and lecture/demonstrations by the premiere artists in this style, and a world- class performance competition devoted exclusively to finger-style guitar.  Mr. Stropes is President of the Milwaukee Foundation for Guitar Studies, a federal tax exempt, non- profit, Wisconsin corporation dedicated to the promotion of interest and understanding of American finger-style guitar.  Its principal activities include the presentation of concerts, workshops and lecturers by leading artists in this style; the administration of an archive for the preservation of recorded and printed materials related to this style; the documentation of American finger-style guitar through video-taping of current activities' the publication of an national esoteric newsletter; and the development of scholarships and grants to promote the study of and research into this style.

Table of Contents

Bean Time
Mona Ray
Blue Dot
Three Walls and Bars
Machine 3
Jack Fig

Introduction by Leo Kottke

      These pieces come from the beginning of my writing career when I was especially interested in developing an invisible home for my thumb.  Being syncopated, this kind of writing can leave the thumb, the rhythm more or less, on its metronomic own -- an exile, like the tuba in a polka band, relegated to an oink per beat; but, I've found that, without resorting to rubato or an implied rhythm, it's possible to give the thumb a larger and less didactic role.  ("Ojo" is a good example of liberated thumb and of the melodic twists available to it).  Rhythm expands, the tune deepens, and that predictable, patterned sensation that comes from much of a syncopated, right hand guitar disappears.  When you play these tunes, try to think of the thumb as a finger in the lead, not as a sausage banging away behind it all.  Avoid "dead thumb"; the hand works as a whole.  (There are ways other than in the writing to free things up:  substitute the index finger for the thumb, at appropriate times, or double up on the thumb.  This gives the rhythm a refreshing, occasional kick that's especially welcome, for example, in blues.)

      Because guitar music is traditionally written "in divisi" you may get the idea that I hear as many as three voices going in these pieces.  I don't.  There is only one voice -- the guitar -- and to take the notation literally would be a mistake.  The musical notes and the rhythm, on the other hand, are correct and they should be taken literally.  (Some notes will appear to be unnecessary, like the mutes in "Bean Time", but they are critical to that overall voice and the "feel".)  The notes are written at twice their actual value, that is double the number of times you tap your foot, so that they will be easier to read.  In other words, you'll be playing quarters and eighths, rather than eights and sixteenths, but playing the same music.  (John Stropes suggested we accommodate the player rather than the page.  Just check the note value, in metronomic terms, at the top of each tune.)

      A lot of stuff that I wanted in this collection will have to wait until the next time.  In this book I've tried to cover some of the "hits" and some of my favourites -- "Ojo" and "Mona Ray" for example -- from my beginnings.  Some of the later writing is more aggressive or expansive, possibly, and I look forward to getting it down on paper.

      I'd like to thank those people who've written to inquire about this collection, which I've claimed for years was about to appear, for their patience.  To John Fahey, who made it possible for me to record and who's [sic] ideas and playing informed me and a couple generations of other guitarists, I would like to dedicate this book.  Without John and his original label, Takoma records, I'm convinced this kind of guitar would be quite different today and still practiced in obscurity.  My thanks also to Randy Morrison and Mike Justen without whom I would be un-heard and un-employed.  And Sue Weil.  And Denny Bruce.  And Paul Martinson.  And Anne C. Elliot, who discovered the armadillo in my guitar.

Leo Kottke

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