Going to see guitarist/songwriter Leo Kottke perform live is a lot like walking downstairs on Christmas morning and seeing all of the brightly wrapped presents under the tree - you'll receive several gifts you expected, some flat-out surprises and a few more that make everyone in the room glance at each other with beaming smiles. Kottke, whose personal life is as ambiguous as his chord phrasings, doesn't give many interviews, but he talked to the Source via e-mail about his long career and his recent exposure to a younger audience.
Has performing live always been more attractive to you than making and marketing recordings?
Yes. Recording is like being interrogated. I don't like the red light.
There were not many people making a living in the US playing finger-style guitar when you began in the '60s; why was the listening audience ready for it in 1967?
They were ready for it in 1915. It was called "parlor guitar" then, and some of it was pretty interesting. There were a lot of women players then as well.
Your original fans came to your music via LP records and live shows, but some new listeners have just recently discovered your music via the Internet. Do you have any control over what they see or what is put out?
None, but I like that, sort of. I always wish I could delete the garbage but why bother? I did it. I also did the good stuff. I prefer artists who screw up now and then. That's my excuse
You made a record with Phish bass player Mike Gordon, introducing you to a younger audience. Twenty or 30 years ago you recorded with Los Lobos, and also with Lyle Lovett. What leads to you pairing up with such a variety of musicians?
It's all the same music, including Balinese gong bands. The distinctions are arbitrary - the sources aren't. I'm not a session player, so I get to play only with music and people I like. I first heard Lyle through a dressing room wall and Mike and I met at a show. Los Lobos, I think I met before we were born. It's really friendship, kinship, that makes it happen. Mike and I have made two records and are threatening to make another one. It's hard to have more fun than that. It's a good way to forget the red light.
Until you've seen Rickie Lee Jones on the floor of the vocal booth, laughing too hard to get up, you have not lived. Musicians are wonderful people, but they're always leaving town.
Los Angeles, New York and Nashville are the big centers for the music industry, and it seems like not many working musicians live in Minnesota, like you do. What is it like living so far from the commercial mainstream?
The commercial mainstream is concerts. You're referring to industry centers, the mainstream for the labels. Prince and Dylan and Brett Favre and Brian Setzer live in Minnesota. Some of Bad Plus live here.
How do you approach writing new material? Chord progression first? How do you work through getting "stuck" during the songwriting process?
Writing is like running full speed into a wall. You do it again and again, expecting not to get hurt. It's the only thing I know where that approach actually works ... sometimes.
7pm Saturday, October 17.
Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., $40/$51 reserved seats. Visit towertheatre.org or call 317-0700 for tickets.