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Leo Kottke

Innovative acoustic guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke was born September 11, 1945, in Athens, GA. Raised in 12 different states, he absorbed a variety of musical influences as a child, flirting with both violin and trombone before trying his hand at the guitar at age 11. After developing a love for the country-blues of Mississippi John Hurt, Kottke lost much of the hearing in his left ear as a result of a mishap with a firecracker; during a later tenure in the Naval Reserve, his right ear suffered permanent damage during firing practice.

Discharged due to his impairment, Kottke entered college, dropping out after several years to hitchhike across the country as an itinerant musician. After settling in the Twin Cities area and becoming a fixture on the city's folk club circuit, he issued his 1969 debut LP, Twelve String Blues, recorded live at Minneapolis' Scholar Coffee House, on the tiny Oblivion label. After sending 1970's Circle 'Round the Sun to guitarist John Fahey, Kottke was signed by Fahey's manager Denny Bruce, who soon secured a deal with Capitol.

Kottke's 1971 major-label debut, Mudlark, positioned him somewhat uneasily in the singer/songwriter vein, despite his own wishes to remain an instrumental performer; in the liner notes to 1972's 6- and 12-String Guitar, issued on Fahey's Takoma label, he even described his own voice as "geese f*rts on a muggy day." Still, despite battles with label heads as well as with Bruce, Kottke flourished during his tenure on Capitol, as records like 1972's Greenhouse and 1973's live My Feet Are Smiling and Ice Water found him branching out with guest musicians and unusual song covers drawing on folk, rock, jazz, and bluegrass, all the while honing his propulsive fingerpicking mastery.

With 1975's Chewing Pine, Kottke reached the U.S. Top 50 for the first time; he also gained an international cult following thanks to his performances at folk festivals the world over. With his 1976 self-titled release, he moved to the Chrysalis label, although sales diminished for LPs including 1978's Burnt Lips, 1979's Balance, and 1980's Live in Europe. After 1983's T-Bone Burnett-produced Time Step, Kottke's contract with Chrysalis ended, and he moved over to the independent Private Music label.

Kottke's powerful technique, combined with his prolific output and extensive touring schedule, resulted in a lingering pain in his hands that began to hamper his playing in the middle of the 1980s. Consequently, the beginning of his tenure on Private Music coincided with the beginnings of a shift in technique closer to classical guitar performance; he also slowed his productivity, and after 1986's reflective A Shout Toward Noon, he did not re-enter the studio before recording Regards from Chuck Pink in 1988.

Simultaneously, Kottke cut back dramatically on his live schedule, settling comfortably into his role as a cult figure. He released an album annually from 1989 to 1991, following My Father's Face with That's What and finally Great Big Boy, which featured a guest appearance from Lyle Lovett. Two years later, Kottke returned with Peculiaroso, which featured production by Rickie Lee Jones. The solo One Guitar, No Vocals followed in 1999, but it was his collaboration with Phish bassist Mike Gordon, Clone, that caught audiences' attention in 2002. Kottke returned to the solo realm with 2004's Try and Stop Me, released on Bluebird. In 2005, Kottke collaborated with Phish bassist Mike Gordon on Sixty Six Steps. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Somebody mentioned that Leo Kottke and Danny Gatton weren't on RS magazine's list of top 100 guitarists. And that is why RS magazine is irrelevant as are their lists. About as relevant as the R&R HoF, which is a joke too.
Just wanted to say how much I love this man and his guitar, again!
Soo Beautiful
Makes me feel like I'm on a journey in the blue sky
1st date with my wife was Leo Kottke at Mountain View Winery in California. The wine and full moon under the stars in no way competed with Leo's magic.
It's true, Leo Kottke is the real deal. Without hours/days/m o n t h s of trying to say it correctly, it is difficult to share the many happy hours of listening, and the admiration for his artistry and guitar playing. I have seen him many times, from The Wort Hotel in Jackson Hole to the first time I saw him at the St. Louis Opera House, he warmed up for Stephen Stills. I asked my friend where the rest of the band was because I could not believe all that music could come from one guitar.
Just beautiful and awe inspiring
Takes me on a rollorcoaste r ride
wow!!! From the Heart!!! Awsome.....
This man is the reason I changed from guitar to bass in the 70's!
The reason that they don't play Leo's vocals is because they sound like, in Leo's own words, geese f*rts on a muggy day.
I saw Kottke play a beautiful song at a memorial service for a friend who died a few months ago. It was at an American Legion, where they were having a bingo game in the next room. Every few seconds, during this very quiet and moving song, there came a voice over the PA, B-TWELVE!!!! (Quiet guitar song...) O-SEVENTY-TH R E E ! ! ! !
Are you ever going to put some of Leo's vocals on Pandora? Why must I switch to Slacker to hear sing?????
Leo and John Prine have have been my favorites for years. It'd be grand if they could get together on some songs.
Very fond memories decades ago, of a performance in OKC on May avenue in an old movie theater. He sat solemnly on stag with multiple guitars around him and he just played. Played without hype or drama, and very little talking. He played the best guitar I have ever been privileged to hear. Thank you for that wonderful experience and memory.
mccnumber2so n
Heard 6 & 12 String LP in early `1971: wondered if it was 1 or 2 guys playing. Changed my definition of fingerstyle guitar forever.
I first heard of Leo when I was an exchange student in West Germany in 1974. He was much loved there! I still have one of his LP's someplace too!
They never play Jesus joy of mans desiring WHY? Religious P C ? Saw Carlos Montoya live in Oakland. Leo would have given him a run for his money. Or they could have done a duiet together Carlos on the Flaminco and Leo on the Dobro what an imaginary dream. The joy of my desiring.
Listening to Girl from North Country .....what a wonderful interpretati o n of this Dylan classic ...
Leo Kottke gave a fabulous concert in Sandpoint, ID last night
Why do you NEVER play Leo's vocals? He can't sing (said himself that his voice sounds like geese f*rts on a cloudy day), but he still did some great songs you guys are ignoring. A bit elitist, I think!
Pretty much sat at his feet in Marin CA. early 1970. Enthralled. Still has that effect on me.
An original thinker who just loves sounds, songs, and melodies, sometimes sounding like a machine slightly out of control... A true American hero.

deafness is interesting
First met Leo in 1972 on 6 & 12 string Guitar (on vinyl, no less) while making love all night to a beautiful nymph at U of ILL. What music, what a night! His voice leaves something to be desired, but so did Dylan's. He also came to Cornell College in '73 for a live gig and I sat 30 feet away and hoped all night he would play Watermelon but no cigar. He must have been having an off night 'cause he kinda sucked. But, maybe his hands were hurting, in any case, great guy and funny live. Bought lots
I wish there was a way to like this artist a hundred times. Kottke is the real deal.
My little brother turned me onto Leo K. in the 70's and i have loved him ( Leo ) every since

Love my bro too.. ha ha
@fishsqzr7 -- If you want specific songs featuring Leo Kotke's voice, type in the title of the song in the search box. If that still isn't enough, consider Rhapsody, which will allow you to customize your music choices.

Having said that, Pandora is FREE with commercials; it is $36 per year without any commercials, and a great value for the money.

Rhapsody is $120 per year... Enough said.
I adore Leo Kottke!
Do you fools ever play Leo Kottke SINGING??? Yeah, his voice sucks but his lyrics are often quite interesting, and his spoken stories are hilarious. I have yet to hear anything but Leo's guitar (which is great) and I am getting a bit upset. My first day on Pandora is less impressive than I hoped.
Super Nice Guy with great sense of humor; somewhat reserved/qui e t . Oh yes, he can play the guitar!
I first heard Leo when I lived in Ketchikan back in the late 70's. I've seen Leo several times. Everytime I am amazed by the amount of music he produces. On my top 5 list.
I've seen 3 shows spanning 75-95 and since I've been in the sticks it's not likely I'll get a chance to see him again unless he plays Indian Casinos in Northern NM, lol. Favorite venue was a friend's bar in Grass Valley,CA. during the days of Machine Gun. jbheme is so right about GreenHouse a classic. Favorite TV appearance was in the mid 70s, home with the flu and watching daytime shows. Merv Griffin was on and Leo was the guest musician. What fun, he and the audience dug each.
Can you believe Leo Kottke and Danny Gatton aren't on Rolling Stones top 100 guitarists? WTF
One of the best accoustic guitarists ever. His description of his voice being akin to geese f*rts on a foggy morning is ok but I listen with my heart. Louise is a classic.
lifeamongsav a g e s
so beautiful.
Pandora needs to include tracks from Chewing Pine, an album I still have on vinal -- and no way to play it!
This is a beautiful collection of music, I'm glad to see the number of positive comments.
Under rated, under appreciated. Cleanest guitarist absolutely zero imperfection s . Perfect with a glass of red wine, cigar, and my beautiful wife by the outdoor fire pit! Love you Leo!
I've never heard this version of Little Martha (from the Leo Kottke Instrumental s album). Interesting.
been listenin to him since day one, still in awe. I git tickled just listenin to him pick
Just saw him tonite in Bend Oregon - if he's playing near you GO!!
is great going to see a concert of his this friday best guitarist ever
I first saw him at Stephen F. Austin State College in Nacogdoches in 1975. I was into only hard rock, but he was fantastic. I didn't know an acoustical guitar could make all those sounds from 2 hands.
Saw him live last night in Cincinnati-- t h i r d time. He plays his sense of humor almost as intricately and relaxed as his guitar. A fantastic show--again.
I discovered Leo Kottke in a chuch basement near Dinkytown, by the University of Minnesota. It was 1967 or 68. We paid 25 cents to see him play. My girlfriend and I were hooked and were regulars at the Scholar Coffeehouse where the price went up to 50 cents to see him play. Great musician. Great guitarist.
leo goes way back with myself! I can tell you all right now this is the first and most positive forum Ive read! Keep it positive
one of my favorites... J u s t saw leo live this summer at the small outdoor venue at the NC Musem of Art..the show was fantastic
My favourite acoustic guitar player of all 3rd favourite overal player next to Hendrix and Mark Knopfler.Had the chance to meet him 3 times.What A wonderful sincere man and A great sense of humor!He's not even on Rolling Stone's top100 guitarists.S h a m e ! If you need proof;Listen to Busted bicycle and or Mona Ray.You will be convinced that if that is all he ever recorded,He would be A legend on that alone.Live long and do not retire.This is one person you have made very happy.I believe tha
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