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
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
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.