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Leo Kottke

Leo Kottke

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Leo Kottke is an acoustic guitarist
Steel-string acoustic guitar
A steel-string acoustic guitar is a modern form of guitar descended from the classical guitar, but strung with steel strings for a brighter, louder sound...

. He is widely known for his innovative fingerpicking style, which draws on influences from blues
Blues
Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the "Deep South" of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads...

, jazz
Jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

, and folk music
Folk music
Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers....

, and his syncopated
Syncopation
In music, syncopation includes a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak but also powerful beats in a meter . These include a stress on a normally unstressed beat or a rest where one would normally be...

, polyphonic
Polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 melodies. Kottke has overcome a series of personal obstacles including partial loss of hearing and a nearly career-ending bout with tendon
Tendon
A tendon is a tough band of fibrous connective tissue that usually connects muscle to bone and is capable of withstanding tension. Tendons are similar to ligaments and fasciae as they are all made of collagen except that ligaments join one bone to another bone, and fasciae connect muscles to other...

 damage in his right hand to emerge as a widely-recognized master of his instrument.

Focusing primarily on instrumental composition and playing, Kottke also sings sporadically, in an unconventional yet expressive baritone
Baritone
Baritone is a type of male singing voice that lies between the bass and tenor voices. It is the most common male voice. Originally from the Greek , meaning deep sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C Baritone (or...

 famously self-described as sounding like "geese farts on a muggy day". In concert, Kottke intersperses humorous and often bizarre monologues with vocal and instrumental
Instrumental
An instrumental is a musical composition or recording without lyrics or singing, although it might include some non-articulate vocal input; the music is primarily or exclusively produced by musical instruments....

 selections from throughout his career, played solo on his signature 6-
Steel-string acoustic guitar
A steel-string acoustic guitar is a modern form of guitar descended from the classical guitar, but strung with steel strings for a brighter, louder sound...

 and 12-string guitars
Twelve string guitar
The twelve-string guitar is an acoustic or electric guitar with 12 strings in 6 courses, which produces a richer, more ringing tone than a standard six-string guitar...

.

Early life and career


Born in Athens, Georgia
Athens, Georgia
Athens-Clarke County is a consolidated city–county in U.S. state of Georgia, in the northeastern part of the state, comprising the former City of Athens proper and Clarke County. The University of Georgia is located in this college town and is responsible for the initial growth of the city...

, Kottke moved with his parents so frequently that he was raised in twelve different states. As a youth living in Muskogee
Muskogee, Oklahoma
Muskogee is a city in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, United States. It is the county seat of Muskogee County, and home to Bacone College. The population was 38,310 at the 2000 census, making it the eleventh-largest city in Oklahoma....

, Oklahoma
Oklahoma
Oklahoma is a state located in the South Central region of the United States of America. With an estimated 3,751,351 residents as of the 2010 census and a land area of 68,667 square miles , Oklahoma is the 28th most populous and 20th-largest state...

, Kottke was influenced by folk and delta blues
Delta blues
The Delta blues is one of the earliest styles of blues music. It originated in the Mississippi Delta, a region of the United States that stretches from Memphis, Tennessee in the north to Vicksburg, Mississippi in the south, Helena, Arkansas in the west to the Yazoo River on the east. The...

 music, notably that of Mississippi John Hurt
Mississippi John Hurt
John Smith Hurt, better known as Mississippi John Hurt was an American country blues singer and guitarist.Raised in Avalon, Mississippi, Hurt taught himself how to play the guitar around age nine...

. Kottke learned to play trombone
Trombone
The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate...

 and violin
Violin
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

 before trying the guitar and developing his own unconventional picking style. A mishap with a firecracker permanently damaged the hearing in his left ear, a condition that would be exacerbated due to exposure to loud noise during firing practice while serving in the United States Navy Reserve
United States Navy Reserve
The United States Navy Reserve, until 2005 known as the United States Naval Reserve, is the Reserve Component of the United States Navy...

, when his other ear also was damaged.

After being discharged
Military discharge
A military discharge is given when a member of the armed forces is released from their obligation to serve.-United States:Discharge or separation should not be confused with retirement; career U.S...

 from the Naval Reserve due to his partial loss of hearing, Kottke attended St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud State University is a four-year public university founded in 1869 on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Cloud, Minnesota, United States. The university is the largest member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system which is the largest single provider of higher...

 in central Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

 but left before completing his studies, choosing instead to hitchhike around the country, busking
Busking
Street performance or busking is the practice of performing in public places, for gratuities, which are generally in the form of money and edibles...

 for a living, before finally settling in the Twin Cities
Twin cities
Twin cities are a special case of two cities or urban centres which are founded in close geographic proximity and then grow into each other over time...

, Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

. He arrived at the Scholar Coffeehouse in the Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis
Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis
The Cedar-Riverside, also referred to as the West Bank, is a neighborhood within Minneapolis, Minnesota. The boundaries of the neighborhood are the Mississippi River to the north and east, Interstate 94 to the south, and Hiawatha Avenue and Interstate 35W to the west...

 area in the autumn of 1966 and soon was a regular performer. There, he recorded his debut album, 12-String Blues
12-String Blues
-Personnel:*Leo Kottke – 6 & 12-string guitars, vocals*Annie Elliott – cover designCopyright Symposium Music, BMI 1969-External links:* Read some contemporary and retrospective views: *...

, which was released on the independent Oblivion record label in 1969. He recorded 6- and 12-String Guitar
6- and 12-String Guitar
-Side Two:-Personnel:* Leo Kottke – 6- & 12-string guitarsCover design by Annie Elliott -External links:* Read some contemporary and retrospective reviews of * *...

(also known as the "Armadillo album" after the animal pictured on its cover) for John Fahey
John Fahey (musician)
John Fahey was an American fingerstyle guitarist and composer who pioneered the steel-string acoustic guitar as a solo instrument. His style has been greatly influential and has been described as the foundation of American Primitivism, a term borrowed from painting and referring mainly to the...

's Takoma Records later the same year. It remains one of the works most associated with Kottke and has been re-released many times on various record labels.

Fahey's agent Denny Bruce
Denny Bruce
Denny Bruce is an American record producer and artist manager. He was born in Lancaster, PA on October 4, 1944.In the early 60s, he was a drummer for Frank Zappa but suffered a six-month illness with mononucleosis which cost him his job prior to the recording of Zappa's first album with The Mothers...

 signed Kottke to Capitol Records
Capitol Records
Capitol Records is a major United States based record label, formerly located in Los Angeles, but operating in New York City as part of Capitol Music Group. Its former headquarters building, the Capitol Tower, is a major landmark near the corner of Hollywood and Vine...

 and in 1971, Capitol released Kottke's first major label record, Mudlark
Mudlark (album)
Mudlark is American guitarist Leo Kottke's fourth album, his first on a major label and his first to feature other musicians. It reached #168 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts.-History:...

.


Pressured in the early 1970s to be a folk singer-songwriter rather than an instrumentalist, he recorded with vocals and backing musicians on albums during this period. In 1972 he released Greenhouse
Greenhouse (Leo Kottke album)
Greenhouse is American guitarist Leo Kottke's fifth album, his second on the Capitol label, released in 1972. It was recorded in three days. From the liner notes: "In the sense that my guitars were once plants, this record's a greenhouse...

, and in 1973, the live My Feet Are Smiling
My Feet Are Smiling
My Feet Are Smiling is American guitarist Leo Kottke's sixth album, and his second album recorded live. It reached #108 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts.-History:...

and Ice Water
Ice Water (album)
Ice Water is the seventh album by guitarist Leo Kottke. It contains Kottke's only charting single, the Tom T. Hall composition "Pamela Brown"...

. These albums showed Kottke moving toward an eclectic mixture of musical genres, including folk, rock, jazz
Jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

 and bluegrass
Bluegrass music
Bluegrass music is a form of American roots music, and a sub-genre of country music. It has mixed roots in Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish traditional music...

.

Kottke closed out his contract with Capitol with his seventh album, Chewing Pine
Chewing Pine
Chewing Pine is the last album on the Capitol label by American guitarist Leo Kottke, released in 1975. It peaked at #114 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts...

, in 1975. By then he had also gained an international cult following thanks to his performances at folk festivals. With his 1976 eponymous release, he moved to Chrysalis Records
Chrysalis Records
Chrysalis Records was a British record label that was created in 1969. The name was both a reference to the pupal stage of a butterfly and a combination of its founders names, Chris Wright and Terry Ellis...

.

Injury and new playing style


In the early 1980s, Kottke began to suffer from painful tendonitis
Tendonitis
Tendinitis , meaning inflammation of a tendon , is a type of tendinopathy often confused with the more common tendinosis, which has similar symptoms but requires different treatment...

 and related nerve damage caused by his vigorous and aggressive picking style (particularly on the 12-string guitar). As a result, he changed his picking style to a classical style, using the flesh of his fingertips and increasingly small amounts of fingernail rather than fingerpicks, and changing the positioning of the right hand to place less stress on the tendons. He also studied more classical and jazz-oriented compositional and playing techniques. He took a long break from recording and performing and simultaneously moved from his relationship with major labels to the smaller Private Music
Private Music
Private Music is a United States record company founded in 1984 by experimental musician Peter Baumann, as a home for instrumental music. Initially signing such artists as Yanni, Suzanne Ciani, Patrick O'Hearn, and Baumann's former bandmates Tangerine Dream, the record label specialized in New Age...

 label. Private Music was considered a New Age music
New Age music
New Age music is music of various styles intended to create artistic inspiration, relaxation, and optimism. It is used by listeners for yoga, massage, meditation, and reading as a method of stress management or to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home or other environments, and is often...

 label in the Windham Hill
Windham Hill Records
Windham Hill Records is a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment specializing in Acoustic, New Age and Folk music. Originally founded in 1976 as an Independent record label by guitarist and carpenter William Ackerman and his then-wife Anne Robinson, Windham Hill was a successful and well-respected...

 style, and Kottke often found his music categorized as such during this period. After 1986's reflective A Shout Toward Noon
A Shout Toward Noon
A Shout Toward Noon is an album by American guitarist Leo Kottke, released in 1986.-History:A Shout Toward Noon is Kottke's first recording on the Private Music label after a three-year sabbatical, largely due to a difficult tendinitis injury in his hand...

, he took a brief break from recording before returning with Regards from Chuck Pink
Regards From Chuck Pink
Regards from Chuck Pink is an album by American guitarist Leo Kottke, released in 1988.The song "Busy Signal" is the only song by Leo Kottke nominated for a Grammy award...

in 1988.

Later career


Kottke released an album annually from 1989 to 1991, following My Father's Face
My Father's Face
My Father's Face is an album recorded by American guitarist Leo Kottke, released in 1989. It is his second with producer T Bone Burnett.The same year as the release of My Father's Face Kottke would be featured in a PBS feature, Home and Away....

with That's What
That's What
That's What is one of the more idiosyncratic releases by solo steel-string guitar artist Leo Kottke. It is distinctive in its jazzy nature and "talking" songs...

and finally Great Big Boy
Great Big Boy
Great Big Boy is an album by American guitarist Leo Kottke, released in 1991.-History:Kottke's fifth album on the Private Music label, Great Big Boy is unique in the later Kottke canon in that every song includes a vocal part. The disc consists of nine Kottke originals and a cover version of...

, which featured a guest appearance from Lyle Lovett
Lyle Lovett
Lyle Pearce Lovett is an American singer-songwriter and actor. Active since 1980, he has recorded thirteen albums and released 21 singles to date, including his highest entry, the number 10 chart hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, "Cowboy Man"...

. Two years later, Kottke returned with Peculiaroso
Peculiaroso
Peculiaroso is an album by American guitarist Leo Kottke, released in 1994.-History:Coming more than two years after the Great Big Boy album, where all tracks included vocal parts, Peculiaroso returned to Kottke's usual mix of vocal and instrumental selections...

, which featured production by Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones is an American vocalist, musician, songwriter, and producer. Over the course of a three-decade career, Jones has recorded in various musical styles including rock, R&B, blues, pop, soul, and jazz standards.-Childhood:...

. The solo album One Guitar, No Vocals followed in 1999.

In 2002, Kottke and Mike Gordon
Mike Gordon
Mike Gordon is a bass guitar player and vocalist most noted for his work with the rock band Phish. Gordon is also an accomplished banjo player, and is proficient at piano, guitar, harmonica and percussion...

 (the bassist from the band Phish
Phish
Phish is an American rock band noted for its musical improvisation, extended jams, and exploration of music across genres. Formed at the University of Vermont in 1983 , the band's four members – Trey Anastasio , Mike Gordon , Jon Fishman , and Page McConnell Phish is an American rock band...

, which was on an extended hiatus) collaborated on Clone, an album featuring instrumental
Instrumental
An instrumental is a musical composition or recording without lyrics or singing, although it might include some non-articulate vocal input; the music is primarily or exclusively produced by musical instruments....

 work and vocals from both musicians. A second album from the pair, Sixty Six Steps
Sixty Six Steps
Sixty Six Steps is the second studio album from Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon. It was released on August 23, 2005.-History:Although the album was recorded in just a few months, it has been an idea in Gordon's mind for decades. Since Gordon went on a trip to the Bahamas with his family in his...

, followed in 2005. The duo has toured in support of both albums. In between these two duet albums, Kottke released a solo album, 2004's Try and Stop Me
Try And Stop Me
Try And Stop Me is a 2004 album by guitarist Leo Kottke. It contains some of Kottke's first forays into improvisation. All songs are unaccompanied guitar solos with the exception of "Banks of Marble" in which Kottke is supported by the band Los Lobos....

.

Leo Kottke received an honorary Doctorate in Music Performance from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee on May 18, 2008, where he gave the commencement address.

Tunings


Kottke's guitars are often tuned unconventionally; early in his career he heavily used open tuning, while in recent years he has used more traditional settings but often tunes his guitars as many as two full steps below standard tuning.

Orchestral works, re-recordings and other collaborations


In 1976, Kottke collaborated with arranger Jack Nitzsche
Jack Nitzsche
Bernard Alfred "Jack" Nitzsche was an arranger, producer, songwriter, and film score composer. He first came to prominence in the late 1950s as the right-hand-man of producer Phil Spector, and went on to work with the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and others...

 on the release Leo Kottke which featured Kottke backed by a small orchestral section on a number of the tracks.

In the later part of his career Kottke has begun reworking and re-recording tunes he wrote and recorded in the early 1970s. For example, 1999's One Guitar No Vocals
One Guitar No Vocals
One Guitar No Vocals is an instrumental album by American guitarist Leo Kottke, released in 1999.-History:"Morning is the Long Way Home" is a re-recorded version of the instrumental break that first appeared on Ice Water. The shortened version first appeared on 1971-1976...

offered a new instrumental version of 1974's "Morning Is The Long Way Home", with the countermelody opened up from behind the vocal line, stripped of its original trippy lyrics. Kottke has also combined previously-recorded tunes into new compositions, notably the mini-suite "Bigger Situation", also released on One Guitar No Vocals.

In 1990 Kottke and composer Stephen Paulus
Stephen Paulus
Stephen Paulus is an American composer, best known for his operas and choral music. His best-known piece is his 1982 opera The Postman Always Rings Twice, one of several operas he has written for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, which prompted The New York Times to call him "a young man on the road...

 created Ice Fields, a work for amplified acoustic guitar and orchestra in a concerto
Concerto
A concerto is a musical work usually composed in three parts or movements, in which one solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra.The etymology is uncertain, but the word seems to have originated from the conjunction of the two Latin words...

 format. Ice Fields featured five movements, each based on an existing Kottke composition, with orchestral backing and interlude sections. It was premiered by Paulus' Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is an American orchestra based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Robert Spano has been its music director since 2001...

 and has been performed occasionally since but has not been released on record, partly due to the high cost of producing a recording with a full orchestra.

Kottke has also collaborated on his records with his mentor John Fahey, as well as with Chet Atkins
Chet Atkins
Chester Burton Atkins , known as Chet Atkins, was an American guitarist and record producer who, along with Owen Bradley, created the smoother country music style known as the Nashville sound, which expanded country's appeal to adult pop music fans as well.Atkins's picking style, inspired by Merle...

, Lyle Lovett
Lyle Lovett
Lyle Pearce Lovett is an American singer-songwriter and actor. Active since 1980, he has recorded thirteen albums and released 21 singles to date, including his highest entry, the number 10 chart hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, "Cowboy Man"...

, Margo Timmins
Margo Timmins
Margo Timmins is the lead vocalist of the Canadian band Cowboy Junkies. She is the sister of Michael Timmins, the band's lead guitarist and Peter Timmins, the band's drummer...

, Mike Gordon
Mike Gordon
Mike Gordon is a bass guitar player and vocalist most noted for his work with the rock band Phish. Gordon is also an accomplished banjo player, and is proficient at piano, guitar, harmonica and percussion...

, and Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones is an American vocalist, musician, songwriter, and producer. Over the course of a three-decade career, Jones has recorded in various musical styles including rock, R&B, blues, pop, soul, and jazz standards.-Childhood:...

. He has recorded tunes by Tom T. Hall
Tom T. Hall
Thomas "Tom T." Hall is an American country music singer-songwriter. He has written 11 #1 hit songs, with 26 more that reached the Top 10, including the pop crossover hit "I Love", which reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100...

, Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash
John R. "Johnny" Cash was an American singer-songwriter, actor, and author, who has been called one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century...

, Carla Bley
Carla Bley
Carla Bley, née Borg, is an American jazz composer, pianist, organist and band leader. An important figure in the Free Jazz movement of the 1960s, she is perhaps best known for her jazz opera Escalator Over The Hill , as well as a book of compositions that have been performed by many other...

, Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac are a British–American rock band formed in 1967 in London.The only original member present in the band is its eponymous drummer, Mick Fleetwood...

, The Byrds
The Byrds
The Byrds were an American rock band, formed in Los Angeles, California in 1964. The band underwent multiple line-up changes throughout its existence, with frontman Roger McGuinn remaining the sole consistent member until the group disbanded in 1973...

, Jorma Kaukonen
Jorma Kaukonen
Jorma Ludwik Kaukonen Jr. is an American blues, folk, and rock guitarist, best known for his work with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna.-Biography:...

, Kris Kristofferson
Kris Kristofferson
Kristoffer "Kris" Kristofferson is an American musician, actor, and writer. He is known for hits such as "Me and Bobby McGee", "For the Good Times", "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", and "Help Me Make It Through the Night"...

, Randall Hylton, and many others.

He has toured with other guitarists playing both solo and ensemble pieces; notably he toured as part of the "Guitar Summit" with jazz guitarist Joe Pass
Joe Pass
Joe Pass was an Italian-American jazz guitarist of Sicilian descent. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest jazz guitarists of the 20th century...

, flamenco
Flamenco
Flamenco is a genre of music and dance which has its foundation in Andalusian music and dance and in whose evolution Andalusian Gypsies played an important part....

 guitarist Paco Peña
Paco Peña
Paco Peña is a Spanish flamenco guitarist. He is regarded as one of the world's foremost traditional Flamenco players.Born in Córdoba, Spain as Francisco Peña Pérez, Paco Peña began learning to play the guitar from his brother at age 6 and made his first professional appearance at 12...

, and classical guitarist Pepe Romero
Pepé Romero
Pepe Romero is a world-renowned classical and flamenco guitarist. He is particularly famous for his outstanding technique and colorful musical interpretations on the instrument....

. He is also a frequent guest on the radio variety program A Prairie Home Companion
A Prairie Home Companion
A Prairie Home Companion is a live radio variety show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor. The show runs on Saturdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Central Time, and usually originates from the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota, although it is frequently taken on the road...

.

External links