Leo Kottke

Leo Kottke at Tarrytown Music Hall

Send to Kindle

I’ve written quite a bit about acoustic guitarists in this space over the past year. In addition to listening to tons of acoustic guitar on my iPod, we have also seen quite a number of the current great ones live.

In my Acoustic Guitar Update post, I mentioned one of the current (and for a long time) greats, Leo Kottke. The preceding link goes directly to Leo’s Tour Date page. Here is a link to his bio on Wikipedia.

Last night he was playing at Tarrytown Music Hall. Very exciting for us since we live less than four miles away. We bought tickets in the 11th row, left orchestra, aisle and one in (similar to the seats we had for Joan Baez on Monday, with the exception that the Paramount Theater is larger than Tarrytown Music Hall).

Show time was 8pm. We got to the theater at 7:50pm and couldn’t believe how many people were strolling on Main Street. The weather was perfect (70 degrees) and people rightfully couldn’t resist being out and about. Even though Tarrytown is infinitely friendlier about street parking than Peekskill is (see my Joan Baez review for that complaint), given the number of people on the street, we were nervous that we might end up cutting it close to park and be seated.

Luck was wildly on our side, as we found a spot half a block from the theater and we were in our seats three minutes later. It was clear that the show wouldn’t start on time, but that’s been true the past two times we were at this beautiful theater as well…

Leo came out at 8:11pm to thunderous applause. While there were a reasonable number of empty seats, the place was nearly full, and it seemed that the majority of the people in the audience were there because they love Leo, not because it was an interesting local event.

Leo is famous both for his six and 12 string guitar playing. In fact, in my Acoustic Guitar Update post, I mentioned that his album called 6-and-12-String Guitar (released in 1969!) was on the 100 best acoustic guitar albums list at DigitalDreamDoor. I bought a copy (downloaded from Amazong.com MP3), it’s awesome.

He began with the 12 string guitar. He played a few songs before saying much. Then he started to tell some stories or introductions to some of the songs. He has a self-deprecating, soft-spoken style when speaking to the audience. At times, he seems to trail off not actually finishing a story, or even if he finishes it, the original point of telling it seems lost on the crowd.

Leo Kottke

While I own two of his CD’s, and love them both, I was not aware that he also sings (at times). He has a very deep voice. It’s pleasant, but I doubt anyone would go to see him just for his singing prowess. I think he sang four songs (max five) last night.

After nearly 40 minutes of 12 string guitar, he switched to a six string. He was magical on the six string guitar. The difference (last night) was breathtaking. I love the sound of a 12 string, so it’s not that I have a bias against it (I even used to own a 12 string in my teens). It could easily be his particular selection in the first set as I will note later on that he also dazzled when he returned to the 12 string.

Essentially, the selection in the first set bordered on repetitive. There was nothing wrong with any one song, but there wasn’t enough variety between them either, that it almost felt like a loop. When coupled with his trailing-off stories, there wasn’t as much energy in the room as one could have hoped for.

That all changed when he picked up the six string. To me, the tunes were livelier, and his fingers created a much cleaner sound as they flew around the frets. The 12 string has a gorgeous sound, and is really rich, but it’s a little harder to hear the crispness of his amazing leads with so many strings vibrating at the same time.

For the last song (before the encore) he returned to the 12 string guitar and played one of his famous numbers, Jack Fig. Here’s a YouTube video of him playing it (also on a 12-string guitar) from a very long time ago. As you can see, his fingers fly even on a 12 string, and he’s extremely crisp as well.

Leo Kottke Standing

When he came back out for the one-song encore, he also stuck with the 12 string, and was brilliant again on it. That’s why I am chalking up the first 40 minutes to selection rather than skill.

In total he was on stage for 100 minutes. As mentioned before, he spoke quite a bit, so it wasn’t all playing. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed his tales. I found him to be charming and quite amusing. I chuckled an awful lot of times. Many people did as well. That said, it was definitely not unanimous. A number of people were clearly uncomfortable with the amount of talking. A few occasionally yelled out Play when he paused for a breath during a long story.

Lois was in the second camp. She was unfamiliar with any of Leo’s music before last night, so the repetitiveness of the first set caught her off guard. Coupled with the banter, she was on the bored side. She too changed her mind when he picked up the six string. She didn’t enjoy the stories any more in the second half, but she at least was anxiously awaiting his next number, knowing that she would enjoy it when he got to it. 😉

There’s little doubt that in general, the crowd loved the performance on balance, and there were a reasonable number of people who gave Leo a standing ovation (us included). Clearly, this type of show wasn’t for everyone, and it’s understandable. It’s somewhat difficult for a solo guitarist to hold the audience in the palm of his hand for nearly two hours. For many of us, Leo came close.

Acoustic Guitar Update

Send to Kindle

This is another long post, so bail now, while you can, or grab a cup of coffee (to keep you awake). 😉 Actually, the post itself isn’t insanely long, but if you watch each of the videos that I’ve linked it, the entire trip will take a while…

I’ve gone on and on in a number of posts about my long-time love for acoustic guitar music, and my recent discovery of some masters of the genre. I could link to those posts, but if you have an interest, it’s simple enough to type the word “acoustic” in the search box and see the titles and decide for yourself.

This post has been rattling around in my head for over a week, begging to be set free. I was waiting for one of two things to happen before writing it. Neither has happened, but a third (unexpected) event occurred last night, finally pushing me over the edge to get this on paper. 😉

This new adventure was officially kicked off when I saw Bill Cooley live accompanying Kathy Mattea. I wrote that he might be the best acoustic guitarist I’d ever heard. Eric Sink commented that those were fighting words (not really!) 😉 and pointed me to Phil Keaggy. When I reviewed The Master and The Musician by Phil Keaggy, Eric commented that I should check out Michael Hedges and possibly (only if I dare!) Kaki King.

Like I’ve said before, anyone who doesn’t pay attention when Eric Sink speaks is likely a dummy. I try hard not to be a dummy (not always successful), so I checked both of them out. What, exactly, does that mean?

When I was growing up, one discovered music mostly on the radio. Word of mouth was probably second, but then the circle of mouths was relatively small. Third was TV, with shows like Ed Sullivan showcasing some musical group every week. All of that is different today. I’ve had a specific post about Pandora and Last.fm rattling around in my head for months now, and I’ll birth that sometime in the next few weeks (and therefore ignore it for now).

Today, with the Internet (you’ve heard of it, right?), one can purposely or accidentally discover music to the extent that one cares, with extremely little effort and time invested, with little risk of purchasing music that will eventually disappoint. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of sites to listen to music on, but for me, the two juiciest targets are MySpace and YouTube.

An incredible number of bands have MySpace pages, with the vast majority of those offering at least four songs for immediate streaming. If someone mentions a band to you, see if they are on MySpace, and check out whether you like their music or not. For my personal quintessential example (no surprise to anyone who has visited here before), I learned in 30 seconds that I would love Girlyman from their MySpace page.

All that said, lately, I am much more hooked on YouTube. It has boggled my mind how many clips (many of them of reasonabe quality) are available for an amazing number of artists. Since I love live music, YouTube gives much more of a feel of the performance in addition to just the music. With some of the incredible styles that today’s acoustic guitarists have, the video is much more powerful (to me) than just listening to the music.

So, after watching quite a number of YouTube videos (I’ll link at least one to each artist’s name in the coming paragraphs), I have purchased a bunch of new albums, mostly downloaded on Amazon’s MP3 service, with the rest on real CDs.

Following Eric’s advice, I ordered two Michael Hedges CDs. He’s not available for download on Amazon 🙁 so I have to wait for them to show up. Since his CDs haven’t shown up yet, he was one of the reasons that I was waiting on this post.

Also following Eric’s advice, I checked out Kaki King. He was correct, as some of her stuff is out there. Still, even that stuff, when seen, is amazing. The rest of her music is gorgeous. I downloaded both of her albums that were available on Amazon. I can’t tell you how hard it was to boil her down to two videos for this paragraph. The selection is very broad, and most of them are truly entertaining. Check her out!

Bill Cooley himself (yes, he’s kind enough to respond when I email him!) suggested that I check out Phil Keaggy’s Beyond Nature CD. It wasn’t available for download at Amazon (though many others are, including Acoustic Sketches, which I’ve downloaded and really enjoy). I had intended to purchase Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II from Amazon, but on PhilKeaggy.com they had a special bundle.

Three CD’s, Beyond Nature, Acoustic Sketches, and Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II, for a very good price. Unfortunately, I already bought Acoustic Sketches. I bought the bundle anyway, since Beyond Nature was only available on that site, and the price was great, and I’ll give Acoustic Sketches as a gift to some lucky person! 🙂 They haven’t arrived yet, so I can’t review Beyond Nature. That was reason number two for holding off on this post…

On Phil’s site, they mentioned that Beyond Nature was ranked #3 on the DigitalDreamDoor list of the 100 Greatest Acoustic Guitar Albums. In addition, Acoustic Sketches and Freehand are both in the top 100 as well (hence, their idea for the bundle!).

On that list, in number one is Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges. Cool, it’s one of the two of his that I ordered. Number two is 6 & 12 String Guitar by Leo Kottke. I remembered at that moment that I had a CD of his that I hadn’t listened to in 20 years, and hadn’t ripped on to my iPod. I ran downstairs and found it immediately (my CDs are filed alphabetically), it’s called Guitar Music from 1981, and it’s fantastic. I also downloaded 6 & 12 String Guitar from Amazon. Also fantastic!

So, while I owned Leo Kottke already, without the list at DigitalDreamDoor, I wouldn’t have looked for it. I then noticed that the guy in number five, Adrian Legg, had three other top 100 albums listed. I bought two of his albums on Amazon Downloads as well.

What prompted me to finally write this post when I’m still waiting for the Michael Hedges and Phil Keaggy CDs? Yesterday evening, Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation, the portfolio company that I spend the majority of my time with/on) IM’ed me this video of Andy Mckee. It’s the first time he’s recommended any music to me, so, to humor him, I bought all three of Andy Mckee’s albums that were available on Amazon Downloads. 😉

I wasn’t a very careful consumer though. While I think Andy is wonderful, there are four songs that are on both his Art Of Motion and Dreamcatcher albums, so I now own two copies of each of those…

Whew, I think that’s most of what’s been screaming in my head on this topic. One last thing though. I need to contact Bill Cooley one last time in 2007, and ask him (or beg him) to put his music up for sale at Amazon.com, and iTunes as well. It’s very hard to promote him to others when it’s difficult to buy his stuff online. At the very least, his new album (coming sometime in 2008) better be available for download! Now, if I could twist his arm to put up a YouTube video or two… 😉