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T H E " A R M A D I L L O " A L B U M
L e o K o t t k e ' s big break in music came with a rave review of his second album 6 and 12 String Guitar in Rolling Stone magazine in 1970. The album with a stark black and white cover featuring an armadillo (hence it's affectionate alias) and an ant took the fingerstyle guitar world by storm. At a time when Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck were storming around the world bending notes to high heaven, Kottke showed guitar players a different side of guitar playing. A testament to this entrance into the music world at large, the album remains a top seller today, 30 years after it's release.
Guitarist John Fahey founded the Takoma label and kicked off an industry of acoustic fingerstyle guitarists. Of the guitarists that recorded for Takoma, Fahey included, Kottke is the most successful with the longest, most productive career. It could be said that 6- And 12-String Guitar made the Takoma label a success for it's brief history (it was taken over by Chrysalis, then Allegiance before being rescued by Fantasy Records). 6- And 12-String Guitar has been around since 1969 in various shapes and forms and is sometimes given a place in revisionist history as to it's impact on acoustic guitar playing. Glowing reviews outweigh the lackluster reviews.
With the exception of an arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by J. S. Bach, all the album's cuts are Kottke originals. Of the 14, three have apparently weathered the ensuing years to remain in Leo's performance repertoire. Vaseline Machine Gun and Ojo were re-worked and re-recorded and Jack Fig (in various shapes and forms) is still the odds-on favorite to be an encore at a Kottke live show. The medley of Jesu, Crow River Waltz, and Jack Fig was once a staple in the 70's.
Kottke sent a demo tape to John Fahey who has been much quoted about the circumstances of deciding to cut a record with Leo. "This cheap cassette by Leo Kottke, with a lot of distortion, came to us, and I listened to it and said, 'Wow, that's great! It's beautiful music, and I bet it would sell.' Everyone else in the Takoma Records office said, 'Oh, no, he just plays like you. It'll never sell.' But I was running things, so we put it out."
Denny Bruce, Kottke's first producer and "the man who made Leo Kottke a cult hero", puts a slightly different spin on things in his liner notes for the 1997 release Takoma Eclectic Sampler - a retrospective of Takoma releases. Bruce met Fahey in 1969. Fahey asked Bruce if he would like to hear "a really good guitar player" and produced a reel-to-reel tape. When asked who the artist was, Fahey replied "...it's some guy from Minnesota that sent me this tape eight months ago." When Bruce mentioned that eight months was a long time to have a tape and not make a decision, Fahey replied, "I like it, I just don't want the guy to think I'm overanxious." Fahey offered Leo a job in Takoma's stock room and a contract. Denny Bruce became Kottke's full-time manager after 6 & 12 String Guitar started getting attention and eventually moved Kottke to the Capitol label.
David Pelletier, a former sound manager for Procol Harum, claims the honor of getting the first airplay for the album. As Takoma's South Bay distributor, he listened to the album and "hopped into a car and drove it over to the NPR station in Pasadena and dictated 'you have to play this, now'. That was Leo's first airplay according to his manager at the time, Denny Bruce."
"The 6- And 12-String Takoma record took three hours. The way [the songs] appeared on the album is the order that I played them in during the recording, because we didn't know about sequencing. It was recorded at Empire Photo-Sound [in Minneapolis]. There was no studio; they hung up some sheets in a warehouse. I played inside the sheets. And I still love that sound on the original vinyl.
Annie Elliot had drawn an armadillo logo on the calendar for one of my appearances at the Scholar [in Minneapolis], and I asked her if we could use that for the cover [of the album]. She'd used the armadillo because I complained about having one inside my guitar [a Gibson B-45 12-string]. Some days that guitar could sound awful, and one night I mentioned, "There's an armadillo in my guitar." That's where the cover came from. I love that cover. Somebody at Takoma put the scroll stuff around it.
That record came out in '69, and it wasn't long until things started happening. It got a rave review in Rolling Stone, and I remember finding out from a club owner that WLS-FM was playing it in Chicago. That was back when you had open formats. WLS was a big station, so other stations picked it up. They played the usual breadwinners like "Machine Gun." I think "Watermelon" got played a lot. "Busted Bicycle" got played a lot, as I recall. These stations were so much more wide open then, they had room for stuff like me."
Excerpted from an interview by Mark A. Humphrey
Six & 12 String Guitar
The Driving of the Year Nail
From an old Etruscan drawing of a sperm cell.
The Last of the Arkansas Greyhounds
A terror-filled escape on a bus from a man fired from Beaumont Ranch.
Ojo Caliente, where the Zuni hid from Estaban, the Moor, and the Spaniards.
Crow River Waltz
A prayer for the demise of the canoe and the radar trap without which Federal prisons will have to be rebuilt to accommodate prepubescence.
The Sailor's Grave on the Prairie
Originally written to commemorate Nedicks and a Minneapolis musician's contempt for the three A.M. cheeseburger with a nickel slice of raw.
Vaseline Machine Gun
1) for waking up nude in a sleeping bag on the shore of the Atlantic surrounded by a volley ball game at high noon, and 2) for the end of the volley ball game.
A reluctant lament.
While at Watermelon Park Music Festival I had the opportunity to play banjo in the middle of the night for a wandering drunk. When I finished he vomited -- an astute comment on my playing. Made me feel very distinguished.
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
The engineer called this the ancient joy of man's desire. (Bach had twenty children because his organ didn't have any stops).
This is about the mad fishermen of the North whose ice fishing spots resemble national shrines.
The Tennessee Toad
Who made an epic journey from Ohio to Tennessee.
The Brain of Purple Mountain
From A.L. Tennyson.
While rising from the sink, cupboard doors opened and engulfed his head; while turning to the right to avoid the whole incident he walked into a refrigerator -- which afforded a good chin rest for staring at some bananas in a basket.
All selections written by Leo Kottke, except "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" by J.S. Bach, arranged by Leo Kottke; published by Overdrive Music (ASCAP), administered by Bug Music.
Cover Design: Annie Elliot
Leo Kottke was born in Athens, Georgia on the morning of September 11, 1867. Beyond that point his history is unclear. He first turned up in East St. Louis where he tended bar for 15 minutes and played his guitar -- his first 12-string, a Mexican cheapy with a nail behind the 12th fret -- for 5 minutes. He left in terror of constant requests for "Your Smile is Like a Melody" and many more requests for his departure. (Three years later in 1965, while languishing in the indolent splendor of the Warrenton Country Music Festival in the jungles of Virginia, Kottke was heard to comment, "'Your Smile is Like a Melody' is obviously one of the finest songs ever written." His face was still pale.).
When he was pre-school age his favorite songs were the "Red River Valley," the "Washington Post March" and "The Blue Tango." He obviously had not changed by the time of his interment as a 10-year-old in Wyoming when he declared his love for "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", Gene Autry and The Songs of the Pioneers) and Floyd Perkins. Yet this was the year, his eleventh or so, that sealed his fate and wrenched him from a course obviously headed for the immortality of a bathroom wall. It was the year he squashed his hand in a car door, second-degree burned his nose while shagging golf balls in Lincoln, Nebraska, fell out of a treehouse, and beat up Herby Stipe. These are, of course, ordinary events in any boy's life; but for a lad who only 2 years before had gotten lost in a ravine while trying to learn how to whistle, they were harbingers of reality.
Luckily, these events were followed by a move to Muskogee, Oklahoma where Kottke, due to the hostile reaction of the natives when confronted by strangers, became a recluse, gave up the trombone (the trombone was a major reason for Kottke's hostile reception) and took up the guitar. His first has a cowboy stenciled on the front.
Being a recluse, nothing more after this point can be seen of his development. Until the disturbance in East St. Louise, Kottke is for all intents and purposes nowhere and nothing. (He was the first to admit this when confronted by interviewers in Fort William, Canada after his abortive attempt to stowaway on a boat leaving to tour Lake Superior.) It may seem odd, with hindsight, that after being aroused by reality in Wyoming, Kottke should retreat from it in Oklahoma. But consider Oklahoma, and the consider Kottke's trombone. Finally, consider Kottke's voice which sounds like geese farts on a muggy day.
All that is left to be said is that Kottke's voice does not appear on this album. His guitar does.
6 & 12 String Guitar: Rolling Stone Review (1970)
With all the shit that has been released recently, it was a distinct pleasure to come across this album. No doubt you won't be able to find it in your local record store, but any hardships you must endure to obtain a copy are well worth the pure enjoyment this album provides. If all else fails, write directly to Takoma Records, P.O. Box 5403, Santa Monica, Ca 90405.
Kottke isn't a new addition to the Page-Beck school of grating, hypertensive guitarists, as if you were expecting that. He's an acoustic guitarist from Minneapolis whose music can invoke your most subliminal reflections or transmit you to the highest reaches of joy. "Vaseline Machine Gun" is an example of the latter quality. Beginning with a bottleneck version of "Taps," the piece develops into a tour de force which is guaranteed to relieve any doldrums you might have. "Crow River Waltz" exemplifies the former, its serene passages conjuring up images of a peaceful evening around a fireplace or campfire with the flames licking the logs.
There are no other instruments on the album nor are there any vocals because, as Kottke says in his liner notes, his voice sounds like geese farts on a muggy day. Besides, anything in addition to his guitar would be superfluous. This isn't to say the music is simple. A listen to the opening track, "The Driving of the Year Nail," will dispel that notion. It's just that any augmentation would tend to muddy up the full impact.
It's only natural to want to compare his style with that of John Fahey. Kottke's more tranquil passages are similar, but his fingerpicking is more intricate and inventive; he radiates energy, whereas Fahey is more subtle. Add Kottke's creative use of the bottleneck on four of the tracks, and it can be seen that he is a further extension of the Fahey school.
With a technique as brilliant as Kottke's, one can easily become engrossed in just this aspect of his music, but as with all good music, it is the emotional projection which gives it its essence. However, if the music itself isn't enough to make you buy the record, then buy it to be the first one of your block with the only black and white album cover picturing an armadillo and an ant. What more could you ask for? -- Carl Brauer
Used by permission.