An evening with Leo Kottke
Local guitar player and teacher Doug McMickle comments on last weekend's Leo Kottke concert at Pacific University.
McMickle graduated from Pacific with a degree in music education and currently teaches at Pacific. He also plays occasionally in the area, most frequently at El Torrero Mexican Restaurant.
When were you first introduced to Leo Kottke's music?
When I was younger, I wasn't a huge fan. In college my friends had his CDs, and then all of a sudden he was coming to Pacific. I'm just aware of him from his concerts and reputation. Leo Kottke is a huge name and hugely important player if you're a guitar fan. He's got the musical stature of Chet Atkins.
What other Kottke shows have you been to?
He first came to Pacific in 1971 and played in the gym and shared the bill with two rock bands, Joy of Cooking and Joyous Noise.
Then he didn't come again until 1999 (also for the Performing Arts Series).
Between 1971 and 1999, I increased my guitar awareness a great deal. When he came again in 1999, I wasn't sure how impressed I would be. If anything I was more impressed. He is amongst the world's best acoustic players.
How was this show different from others?
After the performances this weekend, he's also one of the world's best comedians. If his physical skills ever give out, I think he has a side career. He didn't talk nearly as much the last two times, but half the show was jokes and humorous recollections of his days trying to learn trombone as well as pokes at his voice.
In 1999 it seemed like he incorporated all kinds of things: jazz and South American music… He transcended any one particular style of finger picking.
He came to his roots this weekend. It's like he returned to his earlier blues. His music had a bass line with a syncopated melody - sort of a cross between ragtime in a general sense with folk and blues forms.
Where do you think Kottke draws most of his audience?
I wouldn't say nostalgia. It's not like he's known because of his Top 10 hits. He's largely known in guitar circles for his virtuosity on the guitar. Guitar is no doubt the most popular instrument in the world. People are always interested in someone who plays by themselves without a band. It's not like he had a lineup of studio musicians behind him. To do that in front of an audience takes a lot of guts. There's nothing to hide behind.
What do you admire about him?
Overall, I respect his artistry. He's obviously 98 percent self-taught. You can certainly rise to a very high height being self taught. He must have evolved his own technique. He's just an example of that there is no one right way of doing things. He's obviously survived the pitfalls that other musicians succumb to. Just being a survivor in the music business is amazing.
Also, at one point in the 80s, he had tendon problems. So, he changed his style to accommodate that. In his very early days, he also overcame some partial deafness. He's definitely overcome some barriers to be where he is. Like a lot of people he's mixed hard work with God-given talent.
What do you like about him as a songwriter?
To me, his songs express those feelings from the late 60s and early 70s. He reminds me of writers like Jack Kerouac and Kurt Vonnegut - both somewhat countercultural, offbeat individuals. His songs talk about certain people that don't have the right middle-class agenda. Not that I fit that description, but I look back at that with affinity.