Organic Tracks Interviews
Leo Kottke is considered one of the premiere 6 and 12 string acoustic guitarists in the world. A native Minnesotan, Kottke has been recording and touring since the early 1970's.
ORGANIC TRACKS: You've been a road warrior for over 30 years, performing concerts all over the world, but you've got a family back home. What keeps you going?
KOTTKE: Well, the first thing is, it's a privilege to play and it's good for you to play, so it really adds up. It is very isolating, and to try and moderate that I try travelling with a tour manager, but you need to have a minimum of three people on the road because one of them is going to be the jerk every day, and it just gets too close. So , yeah that's the downside, you really do live your life in a motel, but something happens when you play and it's like we're all in the audience. It's very nice.
OT: As you've evolved as a performer, it seems you've become even more comfortable on stage, and an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative emerges between songs.
KOTTKE: I feel much more comfortable on stage, whether that translates I would only suspect that it does. But I try very hard not to open my mouth so much. I'm not sure I've succeeded at that. If I try to figure out ahead of time what I'm going to say or the music I'm playing, I'm in big trouble. About all a solo act has going for it is risk. And if you go out with a plan, it's going to blow up in your face. So, yeah, if I'm having a bad night I'll deliberately get myself in as much trouble as I possibly can. Because if nothing else is working, you might as well get yourself in a bind and try to get out of it. Every night is different, that's what keeps it fresh. That's why I'm having more fun now than I've ever had.
OT: What do you think of when you're playing music? Do you feel it's good self-therapy?
KOTTKE: I'm convinced that music is non-human and we have to have it. In some ways, it's the better part of us. Anything out of the imagination is, and I think we follow it rather than we determine it. The reason I play the guitar is because the guitar itself is amenable to a lot of different personalities. There are actually regional forms of guitar playing and they're very distinct. I haven't heard that with the saxophone or the piano, but it's obvious on a guitar and that's a huge part of its appeal.
OT: How did you first get into the guitar?
KOTTKE: I remember the day, I remember where I was, I remember the weather. I'd been sick for a couple of months and getting sicker. I wasn't supposed to sit up and my mother brought me a toy guitar cause you can't play trombone on your back. And I made up what turned out later to be an E-chord, and that was it. I sat up, I was out of bed in a week, I was cured and I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life. It was instant. It was one of those really bright blue days with a lot of cumulus clouds, it was in Oklahoma, I was about 11 and I had no idea that it would ever be a job. I didn't care what my job was, because I'd found out what I wanted to do.
OT: So it was an epiphany.
KOTTKE: It was all those things that we hear about, it was a really amazing gift that something or someone or someplace gave me. If I hear one thing more than any other from people who listen to my music, it's how lucky I am to know what I want to do. I hear from countless other people who say they haven't figured out yet what they want to do. It's not about figuring out, it comes and gets you and if you're lucky you're there to meet up with it.
OT: As you were influenced by guitarists before you such as John Fahey, younger acoustic guitarists have been inspired by you, including the late Michael Hedges.
OT: Yeah, another great friend. I miss him every day. He was a real innovator. They don't come along very often, but he was a real inventor. He's done some things that people will be using for a long time. I miss him a lot.
OT: Your guitar playing could be described as almost lyrical. Where do think your creative nature comes from when it's just you and the guitar?
I think Charlie Mingus said if you wanna play you have to read words. A lot of musicians have said that. I get a lot of music that way.
OT: By not reading musical notes, but reading text as an exercise in imagination?
KOTTKE: Yeah, fiction, non-fiction. You know all of this stuff comes from the same place, I believe, whether you paint or dance, it's imagination. It just kind of keeps your motor running, and if you do it, you'll be knocked out by any number of things, you don't have to stick to your own neighborhood.