Fingerstyle guitar ace Leo Kottke is deeply attracted to sloth



By Steve Newton

Ever since he blasted onto the music scene with his 1969 debut on John Fahey’s tiny Takoma label, 6 and 12-String Guitar, Leo Kottke has been acknowledged as one of the greats of fingerstyle acoustic guitar. But that wasn’t his first instrument—or “victim”, as the self-deprecating picker puts it. As a kid, he spent three years scratching away at a violin, then put in 12 years with the lowly trombone. But as he relates over the phone from a Minnesota airport, he didn’t make the move to guitar just to get chicks.

“Oh god no!” exclaims the 56-year-old musician. “You tell me how we can do that; I’ll be grateful. It just got me. I didn’t even think of it as a musical instrument. I made up an E chord one day, and that was it. It was unforgettable.”

Nowadays, Kottke’s proficiency on six- and 12-string guitar is such that his music doesn’t even need singing—check out his latest album, One Guitar, No Vocals. A member of Guitar Player magazine’s Hall of Fame, he’s the calibre of performer who gets called on to lead guitar workshops and clinics—whether he likes it or not. “I hate those,” he confesses. “I just detest ’em, because I have nothing to offer at those things. If you’re self-taught, you’re a moron—that’s just how it is. I’ve been roped into a couple, and I always feel like the supreme fraud up there.”

Fortunately for him, and his Vancouver followers, Kottke’s coming here to put on an actual concert—a solo gig at the Vogue Theatre on Friday (June 14). He points out that 90 percent of the show will be instrumental, but that’s about all he’s promising. “I really never know what I’m gonna be doin’,” he says. “I just go up there and play what I can remember, and whatever it seems like oughta come next.”

While a virtuosic player, Kottke—who is recording a “largely vocal” album with Phish bassist Mike Gordon—didn’t get to where he’s at on guitar through diligent practice sessions. “I’m a continuing result of appetite,” he relates. “There’s a difference between practice and appetite, and if I could practice I would. But my temperament is far too sloppy. I’m deeply attracted to sloth.”

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