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Leo Kottke

Leo Kottke (born September 11, 1945) is a legendary acoustic guitar virtuoso who has developed a cult following of fellow guitarists and fans over the span of a 30-year career of recording and performing. Blending folk, jazz, and blues influences into a signature finger- picked style of syncopated, polyphonic music, Kottke's work pre-dated and predicted much of the New Age instrumental music movement, and is often considered part of the American Primitivism movement, partly because he was signed to John Fahey's Takoma Records label. Kottke has overcome a series of personal obstacles including partial deafness and a nearly career-ending bout with tendon damage to emerge as a widely- recognized master of his instrument.


As a youth Kottke played trombone and violin before moving to the guitar and developing his own unconventional picking style. A mishap with a firecracker permanently damaged his hearing in one ear, a condition that would be exacerbated during firing practice during his service in the United States Naval Reserve.

After being discharged from the Naval Reserve, Kottke attended St. Cloud State University in central Minnesota where he was known for skipping class and instead going to the auditorium and playing his guitar for hours on end.

Focusing primarily on instrumental composition and playing, Kottke has sporadically moved in a vocal direction, singing in an unconventional yet expressive baritone famously self-described as sounding like "geese farts on a muggy day". In concert, Kottke intersperses humorous and often bizarre monologues with vocal and instrumental selections from throughout his career, played solo on his signature 6-and 12 string guitars. Kottke's guitars are often tuned unconventionally; early in his career he heavily utilized open tunings, while in recent years he has used more traditional voicings but often detunes his guitars as many as two full steps below standard tuning.

Kottke's most well-known album continues to be 1969's instrumental 6 and 12-String Guitar, also known as the Armadillo album after the animal pictured on its cover. Pressured in the early 1970s to be a folk singer-songwriter rather than an instrumentalist, he recorded with backing musicians on albums such as Mudlark, Ice Water and Chewing Pine. Some of this production sounds dated now, and in recent years Kottke has begun re-recording tunes he wrote and recorded in the early 1970s. 1999's One Guitar No Vocals offered a new instrumental version of 1974's "Morning Is The Long Way Home", for example, with the countermelody opened up from behind the vocal line, stripped of its original trippy lyrics.

Constant touring and recording caught up with Kottke in the early 1980s and he suffered from painful tendonitis and related nerve damage that threatened to end his career. He changed his picking style from a folk-based approach (using fingerpicks) to a more classical style (using the flesh of his fingertips and increasingly small amounts of fingernail, rather than picks and changing the positioning of the right hand) which places less stress on the tendons. Simultaneously Kottke moved from his relationship with major labels Capitol and Chrysalis to the smaller Private Music label and his music reflected a gradually more lyrical and less flashy style. Due to this change and the relationship with Private Music, Kottke's work during this phase was often grouped with New Age music in the Windham Hill style, though his music remained too eclectic and angular to fit into that category.

Kottke has collaborated on his records with his mentor John Fahey, Chet Atkins, Lyle Lovett, Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, and Rickie Lee Jones. He has recorded tunes by Tom T. Hall, Johnny Cash, Carla Bley, Fleetwood Mac, The Byrds, Jorma Kaukonen, Kris Kristofferson, Randall Hylton and many others. He is also a frequent guest on the radio variety program A Prairie Home Companion.

In 2002 Kottke and Mike Gordon (bassist from the band Phish) collaborated on Clone, an album featuring instrumental work and vocals from both musicians. A second album from the pair, Sixty-six Steps, followed in 2005, and the duo has toured in support of both discs.


  1. 12-String Blues (1968)
  2. 6- and 12-String Guitar (1969)
  3. Circle Round The Sun (1970)
  4. Mudlark (1971)
  5. Greenhouse (1972)
  6. My Feet Are Smiling (1973)
  7. Dreams And All That Stuff (1974)
  8. Ice Water (1974)
  9. Leo Kottke, John Fahey & Peter Lang (1974)
  10. Chewing Pine (1975)
  11. Leo Kottke (1976)
  12. Burnt Lips (1978)
  13. Balance (1979)
  14. Live In Europe (1980)
  15. Guitar Music (1981)
  16. Time Step (1983)
  17. Voluntary Target (1983)
  18. A Shout Towards Noon (1986)
  19. Regards From Chuck Pink (1988)
  20. My Father's Face (1989)
  21. That's What (1990)
  22. Great Big Boy (1991)
  23. Peculiaroso (1994)
  24. Live (1995)
  25. Standing In My Shoes (1997)
  26. One Guitar No Vocals (1999)
  27. Clone (with Mike Gordon, formerly of Phish) (2002)
  28. Try And Stop Me (2004)
  29. Sixty Six Steps (with Mike Gordon) (2005)

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