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Epic Album of the Week – Leo Kottke “6 & 12 String Guitar”

Written by Ian Gerber for The Soda Shop

I must admit that my first intent for this week’s Epic Album was for something a little heavier.  However, as true to form, inspiration hits you at unexpected times.  I wonder how many of our readers have listened to this record.  This record’s story is one of radical independence at a time when there weren’t many “independent” record lables, or not at least as we know them today.  Released on the eccentric genius John Fahey’s Takoma record.  Fahey himself is a guitar virtuoso known for combining what we call today “Americana” with improvisational tendencies accented by modal ideas similar to Indian ragas.  Apparently he had an eye for talent.  Leo’s blazing fingerpicking style is something that even seasoned musicians have trouble copping.  With an obstinately dry sense of humor and instantly recognizable sound, “6 and 12 string Guitars” is one virtuoso performance after another.  Personally, I feel that this album is just as much as an anti-thesis to folk as an electric Dylan set at Newport, but there is no doubt that many folkie’s ear was turned to deep tones and percussive attack that blended Rev. Gary Davis’s piedmont blues, Ralph Stanleys rapid fire banjo rolls, Neil Young’s dark mood, and the dexterity of an Andres Segovia performance all worked into a record with with an armadillo on the cover.

If it weren’t for underground FM radio stations broadcasting to campuses around the US in 1969, the world may have never heard the finger cramping, downt-tuned to”The Driving of the Year Nail” (pretty sharp for being the first tune he composed using a slide)  or the pull-off riff that drives “Busted Bicycle” that could give Kim Thayil a run for his money in the sludge department.  At a time that is more know for large amplifiers and psychedelic production, Leo Kottke sat in a room with his guitar and some microphones and proved that guitar virtuosity wasn’t limited to the Hendrix’s and Clapton’s of the world and sent many a college student running to the nearest Sears and Roebuck for an acoustic guitar.

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