Telluride Times-Journal Examiner, March 1998

Like guitar? You'll love hearing Leo Kottke live:  An interview with Leo Kottke

by Karen Metzger

     What: Leo Kottke in concert
     Where: Sheridan Opera House
     When: April 3 at 8 p.m.
     How Much: $15 and $30 on sale at the Opera House Box Office
     Information: 728-6363

      Leo Kottke's latest release, which is his 24th record, is called Standing In My Shoes. That happens to be something countless aspiring guitar players would like to do, because Kottke is a guitar player's guitarist, even if he may not think so.

      "I think I'm good at writing songs for the guitar," Kottke said. "but I'm nowhere near as good of a musician as some other folks."

      Kottke must also be pretty humble because he is almost unanimously regarded as a technical virtuoso on both the six- and, particularly the 12-string guitar. He is a brilliant composer who is stylistically fluent and a master of improvisation in everything from classical and jazz to blues and folk.

      Kottke has played Telluride a few times, each time leaving the audience stunned. He's the kind of player who does that to audiences all of the time, both because he is an amazing musician and because he loves to play live. On April 3, Kottke will return to Telluride for a solo performance on the Opera House stage.

      "Performing is good for you," Kottke said. "Recording is poison. I hate recording, in fact, I don't know anyone who likes it. It's the most desiccating experience. I might as well jump into a 40-foot tub of alum."

      Kottke likened playing live to food. In concert with his reputation for dry humor, he carried the analogy further and he brought up the obese man from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life who keeps eating until he is sick, vomits, then eats some more.

      "I used to think I would get sick of performing," Kottke said. "But just the opposite has happened. It's not really like food and vomiting because I never get sick of it. I've gotten worn out and overwhelmed, but never sick of it."

      Except for some formal training on the violin and trombone, he is self-taught. When he was a kid, he was convinced his life would be playing the trombone. At 12, he discovered the guitar and has not put it down in over 30 years.

      "After I started playing guitar, I became obsessed," Kottke said. "Everything else was incidental."

      Kottke never consciously chose to have a career in music. Rather, it chose him. He attended St. Cloud State University in Minnesota (where he now lives) for three years, then sent demo tapes to folk-guitar virtuoso, John Fahey, and began a career in music. Kottke's first recording was through Fahey's independent label, Takoma Records, in 1969.

      Since recording with Takoma, Kottke has been inducted into Guitar Player magazine's Hall of Fame, has upheld a relentless recording and touring schedule and has built a reputation as a premier acoustic guitarist and composer. In addition to his astounding solo work, he's recorded with artists such as Lyle Lovett and Rickie Lee Jones.

      Always playing on a strong rhythmic current, Kottke's brand of acoustic guitar borrows a lick or progression from one genre only to transform it into something entirely different, something that is his own. The majority of Kottke's numbers feature incomprehensible arrangements of technical impossibilities lyrically strung together like priceless gems from a treasure chest. But, for those of you out there who hear the words "instrumental" and "guitar" in the same sentence and picture a long evening -- read on.

      Not only can Kottke's hands blow your mind, but his playing is rich with emotional communication that is accessible to anyone. Plus, he's a great storyteller who can sing a tune or two with his "deep, expressive voice." And, judging from this interview, he's funny.

      "The vocals are really secondary to the guitar," Kottke said. "Originally, it was Capitol's idea to include some vocal tracks. I have a few vocals that I like to sing when I play live, but the guitar is the thing."

      His latest album is what Kottke calls a "rhythm record. I wanted to be able to listen to it with my feet." The record features Kottke originals and reworks of folk-blues classics like "Corrina, Corrina," and "Cripple Creek."

      Because of his ability to seamlessly finger-pick his way through almost any playing style, Kottke has managed to defy all classification except as a virtuoso. Quite simply, if you like acoustic guitar masterfully played, you'll probably love Leo Kottke.

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