Two for Tuesday: Leo Kottke

I’ve been listening to a lot of fingerstyle guitar music of late, and any discussion of fingerstyle guitar has to include Leo Kottke. Born in Athens, Georgia and raised in twelve different states, he absorbed and synthesized folk, blues and jazz and came up with a distinctive polyphonic style on the 6- and 12-string guitars. He studied the trombone and violin before taking up the guitar. He released 6- and 12-String Guitar, also known as “the armadillo album,” in 1969, on the Takomah label, then was signed to Capitol Records in 1971, who released Mudlark later that year.

He was forced to stop playing during the early Eighties due to tendinitis and nerve damage in his right hand, which he attributed to the the use of fingerpicks for years. He learned a more classical playing style, using the flesh and nails of his right hand and repositioning his wrist. He returned to recording with 1986’s A Shout Towards Noon on the Private label. (The full list of his albums can be found on his website.) Since 2002, he has been working with bassist Mike Gordon from the band Phish.

Our first tune today is “Vaseline Machine Gun,” from 6- and 12-String Guitar. I first heard Leo on the old Midnight Special TV show when I was in high school, and this was one of the tunes he played. This is from a live performance in 2008.

Leo was encouraged by Capitol Records to be a “singer-songwriter” in the early Seventies, when everyone seemed to be a singer-songwriter. Leo characterizes his singing style as “geese farts on a muggy day,” though it’s not as bad as all that. Here is his cover of Tom T. Hall’s “Pamela Brown,” from 1975’s Ice Water.

Leo Kottke: your Two for Tuesday, January 7, 2014. (First one of the year!)