Leo Kottke

Leo Kottke is an acclaimed instrumental performer who began his career

as a finger-picking virtuoso, but has since relied more on a classical

technique because of lingering pain in his hands.

Kottke was born 54 years ago today in Athens, Ga. His family moved

frequently — he was raised in 12 different states. Kottke learned

violin and trombone before picking up guitar when he was 11.

As a youth, Kottke lost most of the hearing in his left ear in an

accident with a firecracker. Later, while in the Navy Reserve,

Kottke's right ear was damaged during firing practice.

Following his discharge due to hearing problems, Kottke went to

college, but dropped out before graduating. After hitchhiking across

the United States, he settled in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and

became a regular performer at local folk clubs.

In 1969 Kottke recorded his first album, Twelve String Blues,

live at Minneapolis' Scholar Coffee House and issued it on Oblivion

Records. Guitarist John Fahey sent Kottke's second record,

Circle 'Round the Sun (1970), to his manager, who got Kottke a

contract with Capitol Records.

Mudlark (1971) was Kottke's major-label debut. It received

critical attention, but Kottke grew frustrated at Capitol's attempts

to categorize him in the then-hot singer/songwriter slot. Preferring

to be known as an instrumental artist, Kottke wrote that his voice

sounded like "geese farts on a foggy day" in the liner notes to

Six and Twelve-String Guitar (1972).

Kottke was at the peak of his popularity in the early '70s with LPs

such as Greenhouse and Ice Water, which featured his

finger-picking to folk, rock, jazz and bluegrass music.

Chewing Pine (1975) reached top-50 territory on the

Billboard 200 albums chart, as Kottke performed at folk

festivals worldwide. In the late '70s, however, Kottke's sales

declined. T-Bone Burnett produced Time Step (1983) on Chrysalis

Records, after which Kottke switched to the independent Private Music

label.

In the mid-'80s, Kottke's propulsive finger-picking and lengthy

touring schedule began to cause pain in his hands. In succeeding

years, he began playing in a more classical-guitar style and cut back

on touring. His albums of this period included A Shout Towards

Noon (1986) and Regards From Chuck Pink (1988).

Great Big Boy (1991) included "Running Up the Stairs" and

contributions by Lyle Lovett. Rickie Lee Jones produced Peculiaroso (1993),

with a guest appearance by Van Dyke Parks. In 1993 Kottke played on

Big Head Todd & the Monsters' Sister Sweetly.

Rhino Records released the two-disc The Leo Kottke Anthology

in 1997.

This year Kottke released One Guitar No Vocals, containing

"Snorkel" (RealAudio excerpt)

and "Morning Is the Long Way Home."

Other birthdays: Bernie Dwyer (Freddie & the Dreamers), 59;

Mickey Hart, 56; Dennis Tufano (Buckinghams), 53; Tommy Shaw (Styx),

46; Jon Moss (Culture Club), 42; Mick Talbot (Style Council, Dexy's

Midnight Runners), 41; Moby (born Richard Melville Hall), 34;

Harry Connick, Jr., 32; Bart Van Der Zeeuw (K's Choice), 31; and Mr.

Black, 22.