Q&A with Leo Kottke

Guitar Players Hall of Famer Leo Kottke will be making his Ellensburg debut on Sept. 27 and took time to answer a few questions by the Daily Record.

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Leo Kottke forged his place in American music history with a finger-style acoustic style took him around the world more than once before landing him in the Guitar Player Hall of Fame in 1978 and earned him a couple of Grammy nominations in 1988 and 1991. Through sheer durability and genius, he single-handedly inspired generations to take up the steel-string acoustic guitar.

The Daily Record caught up with Kottke to talk about his career and upcoming debut in Ellensburg Sept. 27 at the Wayne S. Hertz Concert Hall at Central Washington University. Tickets are available at www.lmmo.org

Daily Record: Thanks for your time Leo. Let’s just start with longevity. One, how does a guy keep the creative juices flowing over time? And two, a lot of people come and go in a hurry in the business, here you are still playing for the people 50 years later. How's it been?

Kottke: If you don’t need to play, this is a terrible job. It will wear you down and you’ll find something else to do. But the guitar saved my life when I was about 12 years old and it’s owned me ever since. It’s a privilege to play. And the more I do it the more I want to do it. When I write a tune, I’m just getting a glimpse of a larger world. It’s a sense of place. The job could end, but the guitar won’t.

Daily Record: You started in a generation of guitarists where louder was better, but you brought a unique element. How did you establish your niche among guitar heroes?

Kottke: I have a niche? Cool. 

Daily Record: One of the things that separates you from other finger-style guitarists is a long-form, right-hand pattern where you frequently play eight measures before repeating any right-hand idea. How does that translate into the Leo Kottke sound?

Kottke: Well, there’s no pattern any more. I took typing lessons the year I got a guitar and I truly think that’s why I play the way I do - finger independence - that, and never being interested in horn lines. These days I love horn lines, but I’m from the baroque. It’s probably some kind of German throwback that wants to piano-ize the guitar.

I was stammering at John McLaughlin one day when I was opening for his band on a long tour, trying to tell him how much I loved what he did. He stopped me and said, ‘I like your right hand as much as you like my right hand.’ ” Imagine that. 

Daily Record: How instrumental was English classical guitar teacher Stanley Watson and his London jazz-swing influence to where you are today?

Kottke: He had an eight fret guitar made out of a guitarrón that I still hear in my head. Stanley died when he was walking a road near Mt. Juliet and got hit from behind by a poultry truck. He was a beautiful player, taught students under a pear tree in his backyard, and had crippling stage fright. So we can’t hear him now. But I can still hear him on that guitarrón.

Daily Record: Last question, I always thought you'd of fit right in with the Rolling Thunder Review, then come to find out Dylan asked you to go out. Any regrets?

Kottke: Bob’s brother asked me. I think he was managing Bob at the time. I’d have gone, but I was booked. I was also clueless, poor social skills, and likely would have fallen flat and apart.

T-Bone (Burnett) once played me a tune he’d written about a Chinese prisoner in a Chinese prison in some distant century. I think he played it on that tour. I’d have probably spent all my time listening to that thing and spent the rest wondering who I was. I’m a solo because I can’t do anything else.


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