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Jeff Moehlis: Acoustic Guitar Virtuoso Leo Kottke Reveals His Range

Leo Kottke is an extraordinary acoustic guitar player, with a style that draws on folk, blues, and jazz, but comes together in a way all his own. His musical career took off with his 1969 album 6 and 12 String Guitar, and since then he has released dozens of albums and entertained countless audiences with his guitar prowess, singing and hilarious stories between songs.

Kottke will be returning the Lobero Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 8. Click here to purchase tickets online.

After a wide-ranging phone interview with Kottke before his concert at the Lobero three years ago,  this time Kottke more succinctly answered Noozhawk’s email questions about cover songs and other guitarists who he has crossed paths with.

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Jeff Moehlis: In addition to your original songs, you’ve done a number of wonderful covers, my favorites being “Eight Miles High,” “Embryonic Journey” and “Sleepwalk.” What drew you to those songs?

Leo Kottke​: There are many tunes I’d love to cover but can’t. They just won’t fit inside my head, or on top of it. It’s like Robert Goulet doing Son House, or vice versa. (I do wish I’d heard Mr. House doing Robert Goulet.) But the three you mention have major thirds in them. I am not afraid of a major third.

JM: You’ve also recorded a couple of pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, namely “​Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “​Bourree.” It’s been claimed that Bach’s music is so exquisitely beautiful that it is proof of the existence of God. Comments?

LK: Bach is God.

JM: When I interviewed you before, you told me a great story about John Fahey working as the turtle catcher for the Swami Satchidananda Society. Are there any other John Fahey stories that you’re willing to share?

LK: Many, but I feel anymore like I’m milking him when I do. I’d rather just say I’d be a beggar if it weren’t for John.

JM: Another guitarist on Fahey’​s Takoma label was Robbie Basho. Can you tell me a bit about him, both as a guitarist and as a person?

LK: There were two of him. I knew the guy in DC who was into Japanese movies and wore cowboy outfits, drank a lot, sang “Hey Joe,” and “One Grain of Sand.” An amazing blues voice. The second Robbie, who I spoke to on the phone a couple times, insisted that the first did not and had never existed. I really believe that he believed that. Fahey knew the first Robbie but would only countenance the second Robbie ... who kinda bugged him. The first Robbie was pretty amazing on the 12.

JM: Any other guitarists who made a particular impact on you? Sandy Bull? Davy Graham? Peter Lang? ...

LK: All guitarists do. Sounds glib but that’s it. A guitar sounds good if you drop it on the floor. I’ve never wanted to be another guitarist but I wish I could play like a lot of other guitarists. That’s a very long list.

JM: What are your views on nature versus nurture when it comes to musical talent?

LK: It’s not nature or nurture. It’s luck. After that, if you have either, you’re a step ahead. Having said that, there is something ineffable about it. My son has a sense of time I can’t come close to. It was in him by the time he was about 4 years old. He was apparently born with an understanding that none of his relatives have.

JM: It’s been a while since you’ve released a new studio album. Is another one in the works, or are you happy to keep the focus on live performance these days?

LK: It’s always the live stuff. There are two records in the works but I can’t really talk about them yet. It’s too soon.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, The opinions expressed are his own.

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