|Recordings: Leo Kottke: The Best (1976)|
Meanwhile, that Takoma office warehouse was so full of orders for Leo's album that Fahey couldn't get at the tape deck anymore. Even John realised that the services of a major record label were called for. More sympathetic ears were located at Capitol, and thus began the series of six Capitol albums here anthologised, all of them produced by Denny Bruce.
Mudlark was the first -- the album with the photo of Leo rising through L.A. smog. (This cover, along with three more Kottke albums later on, was designed and/or photographed by the noted L.A. graphic artist John Van Hamersveld).
There was general agreement that Kottke should try recording with some backup musicians. It was quite an experiment indeed, for it developed that Leo had never worked with other musicians before...not any kind of band, ever, not even jamming.
How well the experiment turned out can be heard from the earliest recording included here. It's "Eight Miles High" which features Leo with bassist Roy Estrada (of Mothers and Little Feat fame) and Kaleidoscope drummer Paul Lagos. This session was co-produced by Fahey and Bruce.
Then it was off to Nashville for sessions with Area Code 615 musicians Wayne Moss (bass), Kenneth Buttrey (drums), and John Harris (piano). Bruce, with Wane Moss engineering and playing the bass at the same time, produced "Cripple Creek," "Standing in My Shoes" and "Bumblebee" at Cinderella Studio in Nashville. Then back to L.A. and The Sound Factory for the solo "Bouree" and the most curious Kottke recording ever: "Monkey Lust" featuring bassist Larry Taylor (of Canned Heat/John Mayall fame), Paul Lagos, and vocal by the "Juke Box Phantom." (Now it can be told -- behind the Phantom's mask is the incredible Kim Fowley).
A good time was had by all, despite the lout who stole Leo's lifetime 12-string. He resolved then and there to do his subsequent recording in Minneapolis, where the crime rate is lower because it's easy to track burglars' footprints through the snow.
After borrowing a pair of galoshes from me, Denny Bruce set out in 1972 for the Land o' Lakes to produce album No. 2, Greenhouse. Basically a solo effort, this LP included a rare Kottke recording of a Fahey composition, "Last Steam Engine Train," plus Kottke originals "The Song of the Swamp," "Bean Time" and "The Spanish Entomologist." Kottke described the latter as "A medley made up of a children's song and my two favourite songs when I was a kid."
On December 19 and 20, 1972, Leo was recorded live in concert at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, an ultramodern hall designed for classic drama. Tracks 15-20 of The Best [are] from these tapes, which originally appeared on an LP called My Feet Are Smiling (Kottke juggles oranges on the cover of that one, shot by Norman Seeff).
1974 found Leo back in Sound 80, Minneapolis' premier recording studio, and working with the Twin Towns' top studio musicians: drummer Bill Berg, bassist Bill Peterson, pianist Bill Barber and steel guitarist Cal Hand. Album No. 4, Ice Water, is represented here by "Short Stories," Tom T. Hall's "Pamela Brown" and the moving "Tilt Billings And The Student Prince" which Kottke co-wrote with Ron Nagle, the San Francisco ceramic artist and musical adventurer who has also written for artists as diverse as Barbra Streisand and The Tubes.
The same forces prevailed on album No. 5, Dreams And All That Stuff, whose cover pictures a considerably altered Denny Bruce in animated conversation with Leo. The title of "When Shrimps Learn To Whistle" is from a U.N. speech by Nikita Khrushchev. In Leo's words, "Hole In The Day" commemorates "a place in Minnesota I have never seen." Also from Dreams are "Mona Roy" and the old fiddle tune "Bill Cheatham."
The most recent recordings on The Best are "Venezuela, There You Go," "Standing On The Outside" and "Power Failure." These first appear on Chewing Pine, yet another Sound 80 session with Berg, Peterson and Barber playing and Bruce producing.
Leo Kottke. The Best. An American original. I'll prescribe Leo's music for almost anything.
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