How To Pick a Fight With y2karl
June 28, 2007 9:27 PM   Subscribe

While some people like their Kottkes all modern & full of links, I'll take mine old skool. Ladies & gentlemen, the greatest 12 string slide guitarist that ever lived.
posted by jonson (46 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Man, don't put "lived" in the past tense like that. I near to shat my pants.
posted by cortex at 9:33 PM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

whoops! Yes, sorry about that, Leo is alive & well, hopefully for many years to come.
posted by jonson at 9:43 PM on June 28, 2007

How does this inflame y2karl?
posted by kisch mokusch at 9:46 PM on June 28, 2007

kisch, that was mostly a joke - y2karl has, I would imagine from his posting history here, a distinct opinion about who the greatest 12 string slide guitarist of all time is, so I was kinda kidding about putting such a bold statement into a post.
posted by jonson at 9:56 PM on June 28, 2007

guitarists - study the "12 string" link closely ... what his left hand is doing is pretty simple

it's his right hand that will take you years to master and you probably won't ever do it as well as he does ... i can't
posted by pyramid termite at 9:59 PM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's taken me years to master what I do with my right hand.
posted by Tube at 10:04 PM on June 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

I was privileged to see him in concert with Mike Gordon a few years back.

What a great guitar player. And that guy has a serious discography. He's been around for a while.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:10 PM on June 28, 2007

...the greatest 12 string slide guitarist that ever lived...

...the greatest 12 string slide guitarist alive...?
posted by taosbat at 10:12 PM on June 28, 2007

Alive OR Dead!!! How you like THEM apples??!?!?
posted by jonson at 10:14 PM on June 28, 2007

Tasty apples is what you brought & thankyouverymuch. He's a really good player & I'm glad he's playing. ;)
posted by taosbat at 10:28 PM on June 28, 2007

I also saw him with Mike Gordon, at Bonnaroo. The two albums they did together are very nice. eTree has a couple of shows available; there's a digital sounboard recording from 2002 that looks tasty. Their sensibilities seemed to mesh really well.

These videos are great, too. Thank you jonson.
posted by muckster at 10:30 PM on June 28, 2007

Jesus Christ, you had me thinking he died. Careful with verb tenses!

I second muckster - the Kottke/Gordon albums are lovely little musical hangouts, and though Gordon's not the once-in-a-lifetime player Gordon is, he's an extraordinarily empathetic player (fresh off 20+ years of group improv in Phish) and quirky, enjoyable composer. The warmth and mutual respect on display on those two albums is remarkable.
posted by waxbanks at 10:43 PM on June 28, 2007

Oh my god, that 12 String link made me crap my pants.
posted by fusinski at 10:48 PM on June 28, 2007

I saw one of his first shows out after recording Great Big Boy and it just blew me away.

My favorite Leo Kottke story happened to a friend of my brothers: he was on a plane to Canada and asked the girl in the next seat if she was planning to attend the Winnipeg Folk Festival. She snapped back "my father is Leo Kottke. My fucking life is the Winnipeg Folk Festival." Of course I cannot verify the veracity of this, so don't sue me, Sarah.

This link... he kept that baby face so long you started to think he would never get old. But the man is showing his sixties. Still has it, though. Hmm, maybe time to make another Thanksgiving concert at the State...
posted by nanojath at 11:27 PM on June 28, 2007

posted by Alex404 at 11:29 PM on June 28, 2007

Thumbs up on this link. I love playing 12-string but I ain't never gonna get that far on it... mebbe I ought dig out my slide and take a whack at it tho.

As far as 12-string players go, Ralph Towner doesn't suck, but he doesn't use a slide. :)

Speaking of outlandish right-hand pickin' skillz, this here's a lot o' fun.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:45 PM on June 28, 2007

zoogleplex - great link! Man, Foggy Mountain Breakdown is to me what Surrender is to jonmc. I love that song so much it almost aches. But it was kinda annoying to see Paul Schaeffer mugging his way through the tune, and the solo sure didn't help.
posted by jonson at 11:52 PM on June 28, 2007

Heaven. Love that acoustic plucking. Bliss! Never heard of him before your post. and a quietly sexy, handsome rascal too, real heartbreak material. What a treat. ah Jonson, your posts are so amazingly good.
posted by nickyskye at 12:20 AM on June 29, 2007

Whenever I want to get goosebumps, all I have to do is take listen to "Vaseline Machine Gun", my favorite track of Kottke's. It's kind of mindbending that he can make all those sounds and melodies come out of that one instrument in just a couple of minutes.
posted by zardoz at 12:31 AM on June 29, 2007

Never heard of him before your post

posted by gtr at 1:36 AM on June 29, 2007

I found a load of this stuff last week thanks to y2karl's post about John Fahey. I went looking for the Kottke stuff because I thought "This Fahey's not bad*, but he's no Leo Kottke."

Then I got distracted and didn't post any of it for anyone else to enjoy. I'm a bit like that. Thanks for the post, jonson. If we're having a Kottke vs. Fahey debate, count my vote for Kottke.

*At the risk of causing more fainting, I'd never heard of Fahey until I saw the post.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 2:04 AM on June 29, 2007

I'll take one John Fahey over a bag of Leo Kottkes.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:17 AM on June 29, 2007

What a treat. ah Jonson, your posts are so amazingly good.

I agree except for the misleading and uninformative mefi insider post title and the post's A-lister name check.

[I like the leo. I'm even a micropatron.]
posted by srboisvert at 2:40 AM on June 29, 2007

I saw Leo Kottke when he toured Australia, he puts on a great show. Part story teller, part virtuoso.

Tells a great story of staying in a friends basement flat (apartment) in Sydney when one of Sydney's ubiquitous thunderstorms bought flooding rain.

Kottke's room began to flood, so he grabbed his guitar and sat on hid bed. The flood disturbed a nest of spiders, which started to circle the bed. Kottke was in certain that they were the Sydney funnel web. There he was, on an island surrounded by deadly arachnids.

He tells it better than I type.
posted by mattoxic at 2:45 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

12-strings are difficult, dangerous beasts at the best of times. Leo rides them like Johnny Loftus rode Man-o-War.
posted by jfuller at 3:29 AM on June 29, 2007

Awesome player and storyteller. I've had the pleasure to see Leo Kottke twice in the last few years. He performed at the South Portland High School, of all places. Looks a wee bit older than in the linked youtube videos, though. Still touring, too.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:37 AM on June 29, 2007

I had no idea why this was all so impressive until I read about how hard it is to pick a 12 string.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:20 AM on June 29, 2007

I do love Leo, especially "Tilt Billings and the Student Prince." But best ever? Bob may not agree.

He was out there early.
posted by daniel9223 at 5:42 AM on June 29, 2007

Awesome. Thanks.

(But, for the record, if we have to rumble, I roll with the Fahey's Fuckers.)
posted by OmieWise at 6:21 AM on June 29, 2007

Gordon's not the once-in-a-lifetime player Gordon is

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and disagree, asserting that Mike Gordon is, in fact, the once-in-a-lifetime player that he, himself, is.

Obey Mike
posted by solipsophistocracy at 6:38 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I chased Leo down backstage at a little show at WPI, maybe nine years ago now, after seeing him play live for the first time, and got him to sign my beater-ass acoustic guitar. It was a weird impulsive moment—I'm not big on signatures or getting in people's faces—but he was a slightly bewildered sport about it.
posted by cortex at 6:38 AM on June 29, 2007

I wonder if Jason tunes his code to DADGAD. His links rarely sound the same, so probably not.

Also, I heard that Leo is related to the author of the Star Spangled Banner!

Is it too early for corny humor?
posted by metacurious at 7:23 AM on June 29, 2007

Wow, thanks for this post. I dug out 6- and 12-String Guitar recently and have been listening to it fairly exclusively (Watermelon and the the Tennessee Toad being two of my favorite songs of all time), so this was especially timely.

What's interesting about his right hand (and pyramid termite nails it, because any guitarist who thinks the left hand is the difficult one hasn't been playing long enough) is that, with the exception of his inward-bent wrist, his fingers are a lot closer to classical position than most fingerstyle players', with the thumb sticking out towards the neck of the guitar and the fingers pointing downwards, slightly angled. I don't know that it really makes a bit of difference on a steel-string, especially because he's using the finger plectrums, but interesting nonetheless.

posted by invitapriore at 7:36 AM on June 29, 2007

Also, I just found something unbelievable: Leo Kottke and Doc Watson duet.

These are basically two of my biggest idols. Hot damn!
posted by invitapriore at 7:45 AM on June 29, 2007

I'll take a bag of Kottkes and a bag of Faheys. Thanks for the post. Love this guy.
posted by bukharin at 8:23 AM on June 29, 2007

One of my very favorite musicians ever, and one of my father's as well, so I grew up with Kottke records playing in the house. Having seen him in a variety of contexts, I have to agree that the Kottke/Gordon duo is very special. "Rings," especially with the additional warmth from Gordon, is absolutely gorgeous.
posted by kosem at 8:33 AM on June 29, 2007

That is some mean micro slay-ment on that axe
posted by fire&wings at 9:29 AM on June 29, 2007

I love his guitar hacks almost as much as I enjoyed these vids. Thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:53 PM on June 29, 2007

Little Martha is really good. Even with the crappy YouTube audio, you can hear him waving the guitar around in the air. Like he just don't care.
posted by Area Control at 4:48 PM on June 29, 2007

Bless his heart, he can pick more notes than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill, but Kottke has always struck me as more of an edgy technician than an artist.

But that’s probably just me. Ever since I first heard him 40 years ago I’ve been plagued by nameless forebodings that people who like Leo Kottke wouldn’t like me. Anyway I felt better after I listened to Son House.
posted by Huplescat at 5:04 PM on June 29, 2007

Mm hm Son sure can preach.
posted by Area Control at 5:42 PM on June 29, 2007

Great post, johnson. I've been a fan for 20 years now and never thought to check youtube. What a treat!
posted by puddinghead at 10:20 PM on June 29, 2007

I guess everyone's got to have their gimmick, right? 12-string slide? Yeah, that's OK. But how about Saint-Saëns' Rondo and Capricioso played on a balalaika? Now that's what I call finger-picking good!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:27 AM on June 30, 2007

For something more pedestrian (and 12-stringed), John Butler does a pretty pickin'.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:23 AM on June 30, 2007

Civil_Disobedient, thanks for the terrific video link. That gal would give a certain contemporary four string player a run for his money for sure!
Please note the difference between a balalaika and a domra though.
posted by metacurious at 1:26 PM on July 2, 2007

Truly a worthy subject for a FPP; thanks jonson. Just a terrific guy as well as great musician — I always loved when he’d say, in concert, ”I’m going to take this lovely little tune and run it into the ground.” Also, as a few have mentioned, one of the all-time great storytellers on stage, completely at home and wildly funny. (Check out this transcript of his ”How to Kill a Chicken” story.)

My music writing career started in 1971, the year Kottke switched from Takoma to Capitol Records and started getting more (well-deserved) publicity, and he was the first musician I really started reporting on. I've seen him six or seven times over the years, interviewed him twice in the 1970s for print and at length on my radio show late in the 1990s. (If you want to get Kottke going, ask him to tell you about the various ways finger-picking guitarists obsess over their fingernails.)

One of the great concerts ever was a triple bill at the Nassau Coliseum, Long Island on May 18, 1973, which somehow linked together Kottke, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Frank Zappa — all enormous talents in their own way. I also loved a moment backstage in Pennsylvania, sometime in the early 1980s I guess, when this guy was badgering him about how the (then-new) compact discs were going to change the world. Kottke (politely) said he preferred vinyl, but the guy kept insisting, until finally Leo told him, "Hey, at least I'm not like Leon Redbone. He thinks we should all go back to the hand-wound gramophone."

p.s. Another cool thing about Leo — back sometime in the 1980s, during his second appearance on Austin City Limits, he gave up some of his time to help introduce Lyle Lovett to a national audience.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:37 PM on July 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

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