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
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.
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
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
"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
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
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
Excerpted from an
interview by Mark A.
& 12 String Guitar
The Driving of the Year
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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? --
Used by permission.