The Best

Release Date: 1976
Label: Capitol
Catalog Number: 11867
Reissued by BGO Records
in 1995 (BGO CD277)

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Leo Kottke, Bill Barber, Bill Peterson, Bill Berg, Jack Smith


Denny Bruce

Track List


  1. Machine No. 2. (Kottke), 1978
  2. Cripple Creek (Trad. arr. Kottke), 1978
  3. Bouree (Bach arr. Kottke), 1978
  4. When Shrimps Learn to Whistle (Kottke), 1974
  5. Bill Cheatham (Trad. arr. Kottke), 1974
  6. The Song of the Swamp (Kottke), 1978
  7. Last Steam Engine Train (Fahey), 1978


  1. Bean Time (Kottke), 1978
  2. The Spanish Entomologist (Kottke), 1978
  3. Short Stories (Kottke/Hand), 1974
  4. Hole in the Day (Kottke), 1974
  5. Mona Roy (Kottke), 1974
  6. Venezuela, There You Go (Kottke), 1975
  7. Monkey Lust (Kottke/Fowley), 1975


  1. Busted Bicycle (Kottke), 1973
  2. June Bug (Kottke), 1973
  3. Eggtooth (Johnson/Kottke), 1973
  4. Stealing (Kottke), 1973
  5. Living in the Country (Seeger), 1973
  6. Medley: a) Crow River Waltz (Kottke), 1973
    b) Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Bach arr. Kottke), 1973
    c) Jack Fig (Kottke), 1973


  1. Standing in My Shoes (Kottke/Bruce), 1978
  2. Bumblebee (Kottke), 1978
  3. Eight Miles High (McGuinn/Crosby/Clark), 1978
  4. Tilt Billings and The Student Prince
    (Kottke/Nagle), 1974
  5. Pamela Brown (Hall), 1974
  6. Standing on the Outside (Kottke/Kottke), 1974
  7. Power Failure (Brooker/Reid), 1974


All Songs by Leo Kottke except Eight Miles High by McGuinn, Crosby & Clark, Bouree by Mario Giuliani, Last Steam Engine Train by Sam McGee, The Spanish Entomologist (Traditional), Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by J. S. Bach, Living in the Country by Pete Seeger, Pamela Brown by Tom T. Hall, Tilt Billings and the Student Prince by Leo Kottke & Ron Nagle, Short Stories by Leo Kottke & Cal Hand , Bill Cheatham (Traditional), Standing on the Outside by Leo Kottke & M. Kottke, Cripple Creek (Traditional), Standing in My Shoes by Leo Kottke & Denny Bruce, Power Failure by G. Booker & K. Reid

Remastered at Sound Recording Technology, Cambridge 1995

Reprographics by CLE Repotronics (tel: 01480 465233)

All copyright in this sound recording is owned by Capital Records Inc. ©1995 BGO Records.

Liner Notes by Dr. Demento

Where were you when you first heard the music of Leo Kottke? Who was with you? I won't ask you when it was...but I'll bet you remember the rest of the details quite clearly.
     I guess I was one of the first people outside of Minnesota to hear Leo. For me it happened when John Fahey, himself one of the first guitarists to begin doing inventive, non-traditional things with traditional folk-blues guitar technique, invited me up to the Santa Monica, Calif. home office of Takoma Records to hear a tape he'd just gotten in the mail from Minnesota.
     I sat down upon a short stack of unsold Takoma records - the place was really more warehouse than office. At one end of the room, though, was a beat-up desk with an equally decrepit tape machine on it.
     John Fahey is not an effusive man, but from the glances and asides he threw in my direction as he threaded the tape, I could easily discern that Fahey felt this Minnesota tape was something special.
     With the first notes I felt a burst of regional pride - I was brought up in Minnesota myself, you see. Here was a twelve-string guitar, surely one of the world's most intractable instruments, and it was being ridden like Cauthen rode Affirmed.
     It was, of course, 1970, not 1978, so instead of thinking that, I thought of what Fahey had told me about the American finger-picking tradition - the Mississippi John Hurts, the Merle Travises, Libba Cottens, Leadbellies -- and how it could be the fountainhead of a whole new realm of music. Fahey was looking for musicians who could take that sound an expand its vocabulary - much as Bach expanded the vocabulary of German sacred music, or Armstrong that of New Orleans jazz.
     Here was a Minnesota musician Fahey had never heard of before, doing just that, and with technique that made Fahey (himself the recognised master of the genre) hit the rewind button again and again for an instant replay ("How the fuck did he do that?").
     When Leo Kottke's Takoma album was released a short while later, without a picture of the artist, people accused Fahey of cloning some sort of Frankenstein megaguitarist.
     But then the real Leo Kottke showed up in L.A., and he didn't talk like Fahey, he certainly didn't look like Fahey, and when you get down to it he didn't really play like Fahey either. He's obviously listened to a lot of the same root music learned from the same masters, but what he did with the instrument was, and is, his own inspiration altogether.
     Leo played all his tunes, often even better than on the record, and told the most amazingly droll stories about where he and his music came from. Eventually we all found out that he'd been born in Athens, Georgia on Sept. 11, 1945, that's he'd lived in Wyoming, Oklahoma and Virginia before enrolling in college in St. Cloud, Minn., and that for some time he'd commuted from there to Minneapolis to play at University of Minnesota student dives like the Ten O'Clock Scholar, whose tiny stage had ten years earlier helped launch the career of Bob Dylan, and had also felt many a foot stomp from renowned blues innovators Koerner, Ray & Glover. We even found out about the LP that a Twin Cities entrepreneur had pressed up from some tapes of Leo on stage at the Scholar, and we discovered that he had sent his new tapes to several major labels before finally locating sympathetic ears at Takoma.
     I always did prefer, however, Leo's own story about how his recording career got started: "Four years ago in Minnesota I froze my feet solid as a rock and spent some weeks in a St. Cloud hospital being squirted by a malformed ten year old with a syringe full of water and having my 'feet' stared at by assorted appendectomies who wanted some excitement in their lives. So as soon as I could meander I got my own syringe, doused the kid, and went down to the chapel (it was a Catholic hospital) with a tape recorder. Sitting beside two nuns in the balcony, I dangled my microphone over the edge and waited for something to happen. The nuns got worried so I was left alone with my fruity feet, my Magnavox, and an empty room. For all that bother, and a chapel full or empty isn't very thrilling, I would up with a tape of a cleaning lady performing on her Hoover. That's when I decided to record my own stuff."
     The only thing Leo needed in order to conquer the world was a manager. It was my lot to introduce him to Denny Bruce. Denny was already managing several top blues artists such as the late Magic Sam and Earl Hooker. He'd also been a drummer with the Mothers of Invention. With that sort of experience, I figured Denny was ready for anything.
     Meanwhile, that Takoma office warehouse was so full of orders for Leo's album that Fahey couldn't get at the tape deck anymore. Even John realised that the services of a major record label were called for. More sympathetic ears were located at Capitol, and thus began the series of six Capitol albums here anthologised, all of them produced by Denny Bruce.
     Mudlark was the first - the album with the photo of Leo rising through L.A. smog. (This cover, along with three more Kottke albums later on, was designed and/or photographed by the noted L.A. graphic artist John Van Hamersveld).
     There was general agreement that Kottke should try recording with some backup musicians. It was quite an experiment indeed, for it developed that Leo had never worked with other musicians before...not any kind of band, ever, not even jamming.
     How well the experiment turned out can be heard from the earliest recording included here. It's "Eight Miles High" which features Leo with bassist Roy Estrada (of Mothers and Little Feat fame) and Kaleidoscope drummer Paul Lagos. This session was co-produced by Fahey and Bruce.
     Then it was off to Nashville for sessions with Area Code 615 musicians Wayne Moss (bass), Kenneth Buttrey (drums), and John Harris (piano). Bruce, with Wane Moss engineering and playing the bass at the same time, produced "Cripple Creek," "Standing in My Shoes" and "Bumblebee" at Cinderella Studio in Nashville. Then back to L.A. and The Sound Factory for the solo "Bouree" and the most curious Kottke recording ever: "Monkey Lust" featuring bassist Larry Taylor (of Canned Heat/John Mayall fame), Paul Lagos, and vocal by the "Juke Box Phantom." (Now it can be told -- behind the Phantom's mask is the incredible Kim Fowley).
     A good time was had by all, despite the lout who stole Leo's lifetime 12-string. He resolved then and there to do his subsequent recording in Minneapolis, where the crime rate is lower because it's easy to track burglars' footprints through the snow.
     After borrowing a pair of galoshes from me, Denny Bruce set out in 1972 for the Land o' Lakes to produce album No. 2, Greenhouse. Basically a solo effort, this LP included a rare Kottke recording of a Fahey composition, "Last Steam Engine Train," plus Kottke originals "The Song of the Swamp," "Bean Time" and "The Spanish Entomologist." Kottke described the latter as "A medley made up of a children's song and my two favourite songs when I was a kid."
     On December 19 and 20, 1972, Leo was recorded live in concert at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, an ultramodern hall designed for classic drama. Tracks 15-20 of The Best [are] from these tapes, which originally appeared on an LP called My Feet Are Smiling (Kottke juggles oranges on the cover of that one, shot by Norman Seeff).
    1974 found Leo back in Sound 80, Minneapolis' premier recording studio, and working with the Twin Towns' top studio musicians: drummer Bill Berg, bassist Bill Peterson, pianist Bill Barber and steel guitarist Cal Hand. Album No. 4, Ice Water, is represented here by "Short Stories," Tom T. Hall's "Pamela Brown" and the moving "Tilt Billings And The Student Prince" which Kottke co-wrote with Ron Nagle, the San Francisco ceramic artist and musical adventurer who has also written for artists as diverse as Barbra Streisand and The Tubes.
    The same forces prevailed on album No. 5, Dreams And All That Stuff, whose cover pictures a considerably altered Denny Bruce in animated conversation with Leo. The title of "When Shrimps Learn To Whistle" is from a U.N. speech by Nikita Khrushchev. In Leo's words, "Hole In The Day" commemorates "a place in Minnesota I have never seen." Also from Dreams are "Mona Roy" and the old fiddle tune "Bill Cheatham."
     The most recent recordings on The Best are "Venezuela, There You Go," "Standing On The Outside" and "Power Failure." These first appear on Chewing Pine, yet another Sound 80 session with Berg, Peterson and Barber playing and Bruce producing.
     Leo Kottke. The Best. An American original. I'll prescribe Leo's music for almost anything.

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