Stereo Review, April 1974

Leo Kottke

by Joel Vance

Page 2

      We fell into a discussion of various instruments, and I remarked that I hadn't recognized the brand-name on his guitar.  I asked him where he had gotten it.  "It's a Bozo [pronounced beau-zhow]," he answered.  "It's made by Bozo Pogunavac, a Yugoslavian refugee.  He has a shop in Chicago and makes strange guitars.  They have big bodies, and if you drape your arm over them in the usual way to get to the strings, your arm slides either one way of the other.  It takes a little getting used to.  He builds to order.  I once bough an old six-string of his from someone, and when he saw it, he though it had been stolen.  As it turned out, it was stolen, but I had a bill of sale with about ten names on it, so he knew I was legitimate, at least.  I ordered the twelve-string from him, and he's so busy it took about a year to make.  Some of his guitars have real gaudy gypsy inlay decorations -- they look as through they came right out of the Slavic woods.   He makes a few electrics -- he built two for Harvey Mandel.  Bozo says he wants to move out of Chicago because he doesn't like the air -- it's probably sitting around with all that varnish.  He also wants to go into mass production.  Somebody said to him, 'Well, if you open a factory everything will be machine-made,' and Bozo said that what he'd do is bring over some of his Yugoslavian buddies.  I've seen guys working with him in his shop -- apprentices, kind of -- but they don't last too long.  Bozo got his training in Belgrade, and I guess he doesn't trust anybody but a fellow Yugoslavian in making guitars."

      Denny Bruce left to make some last-minute preparations for their departure for Long Island, and Kottke continue to talk about instruments.  "I was playing one night, and one of the guys from the Firesign Theater came running over and said, 'You're playing a Bozo.  I knew you were a Bozo!  We're all Bozos on this bus!'"  I asked Kottke how many guitars he has.  "Fourteen.  And twelve of them don't work.  I'm brutal with my guitars.  I don't really take care of them except for one thing.  You know who you lean a guitar up against the wall or in a corner?  Most people leave them with the strings facing out.  I always turn mine around.  That's way, if somebody falls over your guitar or kicks it, you're not so bad off."[2]

      Though Kottke's musical background in unusually catholic, one might still wonder just how he found himself with a twelve-string guitar in his hands, so I asked him how it all started.  "With banjo mostly.  I wasn't that interested in the guitar.  I heard Obray Ramsey, Don Reno, Hap Smith.  I listened to Leadbelly, and at the time I thought he didn't make much of an impression on me.  But I found later that he stuck in my head, like the hook in a TV commercial.  He gave me a feeling for the bottom [bass strings] of the guitar.  There wasn't a lot of twelve-string being played then -- Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Fred Gerlac.  Living in the Country was the first instrumental I learned on the guitar.  I liked it because it was a composition.  I wasn't much interested in flat-picking or learning how to take solos or play rhythm because I seldom played with other people."

      I asked how long it takes him to record an album.  "The Takoma album took three hours:  Greenhouse took three days.  My Feet Are Smiling -- the live album -- took two nights.  Most of what is on the album is from the second night.  The tune called "Blue Dot" was written about three days before the concert.   "Eggtooth" was written by me and Mike Johnson.  It was originally for two guitars.  I think we're going to play it backwards form now on -- rearrange it, make the top the bottom and so on.  I think it can be a really satisfying, thick, weighty piece of music."

      As far as plans for the future go, Kottke doesn't want to get any busier than he is now.  "I have two kids -- one's two years old and the other is two months.  It used to be that if I was on the road, I could always stop off for two or three days with the family, but lately it's been getting a little cluttered.  For a long time Roy Buchanan just played in a little club outside Baltimore on weekends.  That's what I'd like to do -- confine it to weekends as much as possible, work two or three days and no more."

      The intercom announced a phone call for Mr. Kottke.  It was Bruce, saying that they'd better leave for Long Island.  We shook hands and parted.  I went home, got out my battered Gibson B- 25 six-string acoustic guitar, struck a harmonic, and bend the strings behind the nut.  It worked, but my calluses were way out of shape.  So I played the new Kottke album for the next three days instead.  Marvelous.  

[The End]

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