Underheralded Guitar Wiz Leo Kottke Comes To The Area

Much musical significance was born in Athens, GA.  R.E.M., The B-52s and the late, lamented singer-songwriter Vic Chestnutt, emerged out of the celebrated college town.
Leo Kottke was born in Athens 65-years ago. The guitar virtuoso, who will perform Friday at the Colonial Theatre,  grew up living in a variety of states but the innovative axe hero is a sonic maverick, just like such aforementioned Athens icons.
Kottke became one of the most lionized axemen, despite suffering hearing deficits while a youth and during a stint in the naval reserve. When explaining how he has dealt with his handicap, Kottke likes to mention the classic Charles Ives’ line, ‘what’s sound got to do with music.’
“Music is primarily fundamental,” Kottke said. “You can be a lot deafer than me and still play.”
However, good luck playing as well as Kottke, who despite his impairment, turned music on its ear since emerging in 1969.
The progressive folk finger-picker has flourished thanks to his sophisticated guitar style, which has earned him a worldwide cult figure status.
There’s nobody that plays the acoustic guitar quite like the quirky Kottke. “I love to play,” Kottke said. “Playing is my life.”
After performing countless gigs and releasing many albums, the prolific Kottke almost had to consider another life thanks to tendon problems during the ‘80s.
“It wasn’t easy to deal with,” Kottke said. “I had some rough years but I changed my technique and it worked out. I was lucky. I don’t know what I would have done if I weren’t able to play anymore. I never really did much except play. I think this is what I was meant to do.”
Kottke isn’t always solo. He has worked on albums with Rickee Lee Jones and Phish bassist Mike Gordon.
“That was just getting involved with someone else,” Kottke said. “Those were social events, which were good for me. I’m not stopping what I do solo. At times, I’ll just do other things.”
The acolyte of country-blues legend Mississippi John Hurt has released a number of exceptional albums during his long career, which commenced more than 40 years ago.
1981’s ‘Guitar Music,’ which is filled with a dozen diverse guitar-driven instrumentals, 1988’s ‘Regards From Chuck Pink,’ which features some tremendous rhythmic grooves and 1991’s ‘Great Big Boy, ‘which features Kottke singing a few songs, are some of his best efforts.
However, Kottke’s ‘Leo Live,’ perhaps best represents this underheralded guitarist. The best way to experience the challenging musician is live. The unpredictable player’s material runs from country to folk. No one else plays like Kottke, who is a good yarn spinner. He may not be mentioned along with such lionized guitar heroes as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. But after catching Kottke in concert, it’s hard not to place him along with the finest guitarists of our time.


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