116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A single person can make a dramatic difference in a musician's life.
If it weren't for Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison never would have considered fronting the iconic Doors. Jerry Cantrell would never have added singing to his repertoire if his former bandmate, the late Layne Staley, failed to encourage him during the early days of Alice in Chains.
The most significant player in then-guitar wunderkind Leo Kottke's life was John Fahey. Kottke sent a copy of his 1970 album, “Circle ’Round the Sun,” to Fahey, an innovative guitarist who changed the face of acoustic guitar performance.
If Fahey didn't give Kottke the thumbs-up and recommend his manager, Denny Bruce, to sign the Athens, Ga., native, who knows what would have happened to the distinctive fingerpicker?
Where: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17, 2021
Tickets: $33.50 to $53.50, englert.org/events/
COVID protocols: Face coverings required; vaccine card or present a 72-hour (or less) negative COVID-19 test; details at englert.org/covid/
Artist’s information: leokottke.com/
Kottke, now 76, has been playing guitar as a recording artist for 52 years.
“(Fahey) gave me my whole adult life,” Kottke said. “He told me to give him a record.
“Without John, I'd be waiting tables. I might be able to handle that job if I didn't see too many customers like me. It's hard to imagine today how very anomalous John was in the ’60s. You had to be there and you had to be playing a guitar.”
Thanks to Bruce, Kottke signed a major label deal with Capitol and attracted a fan base, while crafting some challenging propulsive fingerpicking material and changing the game in the world of progressive folk.
“I wanted what the piano has — but without a piano,” Kottke said while explaining his unique guitar technique. “I didn't want to play horn lines, which is the only way to play in a band, so I consigned myself to a solo life before the fact. I can play with others, but it takes some doing.”
Kottke, who will perform Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, tried to play with rock bands during the ’60s before he went folk, but that didn't work out.
“What happened when I played in rock bands,” he said. “They fired me. They said I didn't dress right. They were being polite.”
However, Kottke can play with other musicians. He and Phish bassist Mike Gordon released their third album, “Noon,” in 2020.
“It’s friendship,“ Kottke said. ”A lot of music happens that way. Also, it’s Mike. He's completely fluent (with music) — that can be a problem because I'm not. But we keep trying to get what we get when we're face-to-face in a room.“
“Noon” is a wonderfully idiosyncratic and funky album that features Kottke’s entertaining picking patterns and Gordon's dexterity. Nine of the 11 songs feature vocals. Kottke’s take on The Byrd’s classic “Eight Miles High” is terrific.
“I had questions about singing for a lot of years, but I've answered them,” Kottke said. “Singing was all I did on stage in the beginning, but the guitar took me over for a long time. It has always had my back, so I paid attention.”
Kottke enjoyed the “Noon” sessions, which were intense.
“Recording is chaos,” he said. “You just begin, and hope something happens. Mike had a (yen) for New Orleans, so we worked there. The studio had a charm all its own — huge room, good people, good tech.”
Kottke has somehow overcome painful tendinitis and a hearing deficit.
“When I was little, I could follow one grain of sand in a wheel well, with my ears of course,” he said. “I could hear snowfall. (Composer) Charles Ives once answered a question — somebody liked his music but said it didn't sound very good, did it — with this. He said, ‘What's sound got to do with music?’”
The off-the-wall responses Kottke delivers are similar to his surprising banter between songs. He is an original who carves his own path, which has led him to Eastern Iowa a number of times during his long career.
“Dear friends of mine live in Iowa City,” he said. “And I remember looking for my cousin Dave’s teddy bear, Googly Goo, in a vacant lot one day. That was a few years ago in Cedar Rapids.”
And now he’s back, to reopen the Englert, bringing lively music to live and lively audiences.