Photo by Tom
Leo encounter of the third kind
In the winter of 1974 Leo Kottke played at
Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. This is the college
that I attended and at which my future wife Sue was still
ensconced. At that time I was in graduate school and Sue was
Bowdoin is a small school, about
1000 students total at that time. Typical of colleges at the
time, they had a "Winter's" event, to keep us from going
nuts in the endless Maine winter. Actually, I can't complain
because I am from northern New Hampshire so actually
Brunswick was down south for me. As at least one of you may
know, Brunswick is or at least was also the site of a major
Naval air station. That is about the only other thing in
town of significance.
Leo played a set in the large
gymnasium, with Cal Hand, and although I am hard put to give
a set list now, it certainly concentrated on the Ice Water
tunes. At the time I was listening to Armadillo, as well as
Fahey/Kottke/Lang. The sound of his 12 string coming through
fully amplified blew me away, and unlike some of the
performers who made it up to Maine, he clearly gave it his
all and it showed. I wish I could give you a set list, but I
can't, other than to say that they did play "Short Stories"
and Cal was right on. He also played "A Child Should Be a
Fish", which in my opinion is one of his pieces that
transcends the guitar as we knew it. Of course "Morning is
the Long Way Home" was also there, and some standards like
"Blue Dot". This was only my second time seeing Leo live,
the first time was in Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, like all good things
the concert ended. I decided to try to meet him, so we went
to the back door outside of the gym, figuring that
eventually he would have to come out. It took quite a while,
but eventually he came out the back door. We said hi and
asked him for an autograph. We gave him a page from a spiral
notebook, on which he wrote:
What determination you have
I love autographs
Thank you for the opportunity
He wrote "what
determination you have" not only because we had waited quite
a while, but also because it was pretty cold, probably
around 0F or less. Not a big deal to me, but he knew we were
serious to stand out there.
Leo sort of asked what was going on,
was there anyplace we could go. We told him we could go over
to one of the fraternities, there were some parties going
on. I was in the minority at that college in never having
joined a frat, but we knew people at this one place, Psi
Upsilon I believe.
Leo said basically, sure, let's see
what is going on. We piled into his rented car and directed
him over to the fraternity. I think we had the guitars, but
at that time I didn't play and didn't have any sensitivity
to what he was playing.
After reaching the frat, we went
upstairs and went into a room of some acquaintances. The
party was typical, with people dropping in and out for quite
a while. If only had known what I know now, I could have
asked a million questions, but for me then guitar was a
There happened to be an electric
guitar in the room, and Leo picked it up and played a little
(unamplified). Noodled around for quite a while, is what Sue
remembers. All I remember is that he was basically goofing
with the instrument. Cal stayed pretty steady, maintaining a
conversation, whereas Leo got pretty lost for a while.
Eventually Leo said that they were
hungry and needed to get supper. He asked if we knew where
to go, and at that point it was getting late and there
weren't too many choices in Brunswick. We suggested the
"Chuck Wagon", (one could make some Chuck inferences here),
which was out by the naval base and near his motel. He
invited us to go along. Needless to say, we were amazed at
the invitation, and happily agreed to go along. You've got
to realize that we were 19 years old, and this whole event
was pretty amazing to us.
We drove out to the Chuck Wagon, and
had a late supper. He offered to buy food for us, as I
remember, and we had some quiet conversation. They invited
us to come over to the Holiday Inn but we were pretty tired
at that point, and felt that Leo was just continuing to be
polite when in fact he was pretty tired. He offered to drive
us back to the college, and we did not want him to go to the
trouble. He insisted, and then gave me $5 to get a taxi, and
then left. After he left we found some college friends and
got a ride back. I kept the $5 bill for a number of years,
until at one point I got stuck and had to spend it. Sue
remembers that I objected strongly to spending my "Leo
dollars" which I had kept for many years, but did it.
That's all I remember, and I'll
never forget it in this life.
- David Morse
Used by permission. Thank you, David.
Copyright © 1999 by David Morse. This article may not
be reproduced without the author's permission.