Leo Kottke is a fingerstyle institution, and an inspiration to guitarists across the globe.
His unique blend of folk, blues and jazz and his distinctive syncopated, polyphonic melodies have earned him accolades and followers galore. And, his battles with adversity – he’s overcome partial hearing loss and a near career-ending bout with tendonitis – are testament to his dedication to his craft.
We’re big Leo Kottke fans here at Thalia; he’s on regular rotation on the Thalia HQ playlist. And, in the past few weeks, we’ve been trading notes on some of our top Kottke live performances that we’ve found through the audiovisual goldmine that is YouTube.
For today’s post, we’ve picked out three of our favorites. They’re all full performances, and they’re all proof – as if proof was needed – to why Kottke is such a hero to us all.
Let’s dive in!
Cologne, Germany, 11th January 1977
This performance, recorded live for German network WDR’s legendary Rockpalast show, this near-90 minute performance finds Kottke on top form. He’s playing in support of his eponymous 1976 record here – the first he released on Chrysalis. Highlights include a rousing version of “Hear The Wind Howl / Busted Bicycle” second song in. Kottke’s previously been dismissive of his vocal abilities – he once infamously described his singing voice as "geese farts on a muggy day" – but, his distinctive baritone compliments his playing wonderfully here.
Night Times Variety, Twin Cities Public Television November 28th 1981 (with Michael Johnson)
There’s something thrilling about watching two guitar greats riffing off each-other. Here, Kottke is paired with country/folk singer-songwriter Michael Johnson – he of “Bluer Than Blue” fame – for a half-hour performance on Twin Cities Public Television.
Kottke and Johnson’s tender take on “Mona Ray”, which kicks off the show, is a real delight, as is Kottke’s solo rendition of “Pamela Brown,” which kicks off around the 14-minute mark.
The true highlight of the performance, though, is beautiful version of “Old Fashioned Love” that rounds out the show. The synchronicity between the two players on this rendition – with Michael on six-string nylon and Leo on 12-string – is something really special.
Bottom Line, 1990
Finally, rounding out our list is this show, recorded for TV show “Bottom Line” in 1990. One YouTube commenter simply describes this as “picking porn” and we’re hard pressed to argue with that. Showcasing the classical picking style that he adopted after his battle with tendonitis, his burgeoning jazz influences really shine through on tracks like exhilarating opener “William Powell (Does Anyone Know His Name?).” The version of “Airproofing 2,” meanwhile, is mesmerizing, and a testament to Kottke’s phenomenal, pendulum-like right-hand playing.
So which of these Leo Kottke moments was your favorite? Have you ever seen him live? And what do you think of his distinctive singing voice? As always, share your stories in the comments below. Oh, and if there’s a particular guitarist you’d like to see us cover, then let us know. Suggestions are always welcome!
Guitar lessons eventually followed. But, classical guitar didn’t grab me in the same way that my own freeform compositions had. Firstly, I didn’t know any of the songs I was supposed to be learning. Secondly, it required the kind of co-ordination and finger dexterity that I was – at that time at least – far too impatient to master. “I read somewhere that there are these things you can use to hit the strings so you don’t have to use your fingers. I think they began with a P,” I once told my guitar teacher. “The thing that begins with a P is called practice,” he replied. He was right, of course, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear it.
This week, to satisfy my yearning for live music, I’ve taken a deep dive into my record collection and rediscovered some live favourites. Given how much joy I’ve got out of these records, I thought I’d share them with you today. Putting together this list, I’ve tried to take the road less travelled. I didn’t want to put together a list of classic live albums that everyone already knows like the back of their hand. Instead, my three picks serve as alternatives to some of those classic albums, offering a new look at some legendary bands.
The Fab Four didn’t just revolutionize popular music; they changed the way we thought about musicians as personalities. The way they interacted with the press – their presence humour – ripped up the rulebook and set a precedent for generations of musicians to come. Needless to say, Messrs Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr’s correspondences with reporters have resulted in many a memorable quip over the years. And for this post, I thought it’d be fun to collect some of the best quotes – everything from zingers to profound words of wisdom – uttered by the Beatles.