Thursday, August 6, 2009


In the Old West, they used to say there was always a gunslinger better than you somewhere. The analogy is imperfect, since guitar-playing requires more than just speed and accuracy--it demands taste, musicality, timbre, rhythm--and when things go well nobody is left lying dead in the ditch. Still, with those caveats, Leo Kottke is the better gunslinger. Watch the fingers. There was a time any self-respecting music fan played Greenhouse incessantly, or 6- and 12-String Guitar (the one with the armadillo on the cover). Many a sunny morning was filled with Leo's phenomenal fingerpicking as the coffee brewed and someone made blueberry pancakes in the next room. Many a night's revelries ended with Leo's distinctive tones, his own impossible compositions or wonderful covers of "Tiny Island" or "Eight Miles High" or "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." On the whole, he probably inspired more guitar players to play than to bash their instruments into kindling, and for that we salute him. Leo Kottke!

Medley: Part Two/June Bug/Train And The Gate (from German TV, early 80s)

Listen. Once in a while he even sings, though he doesn't much care for his voice and on one occasion compared it to the sound of a goose farting on a muggy day. Even so, it's an expressive counterpoint to his lyrical, syncopated guitar playing. On this second piece, he sings the blues--in his own unique style--about the passing of time and how you can't go back because things have changed--a cold sharp feeling for most of us now and then--but what is surprising in this clip is how he smiles when he performs it. Like any good bluesman, he takes this painful realization and makes it bearable, if not joyful. Watch his face when he sings the second verse, the part that begins with "You can't go back." Priceless.

"Hear the Wind Howl"

Some cloudy day the sun won't shine my blues away
And all I've lived for seems far away
Some cloudy day

Hear the wind howl
Hear the wind howl

You can't go back, it's not the same
Things have changed
While I counted hours and you remained
And you remained

Leo Kottke looking down the barrel of a gun

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