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Kottke blends guitar virtuosity, storytelling in show

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Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 11:00 pm | Updated: 2:30 pm, Wed Jan 30, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - Storytelling is as natural for Leo Kottke as breathing. In fact, you have to wonder when the guitar virtuoso finds time to breathe as he moves swiftly from such topics as misheard lyrics to John Philip Sousa’s influence on his music to what he thinks about seeing videos of himself on YouTube.

It’s not much different from his live shows. Kottke is an acoustic guitarist known for his rhythmic fingerpicking style and blues, jazz and folk-tinged music, interspersing his songs with often-funny monologues.

“I have to talk or I don’t know what to play next,” he said. “I don’t have a setlist, so it’s a good way to avoid having played something 20 minutes earlier that you need to play now. When you talk, it seems to connect better.”

He is performing in Fairbanks tonight, marking his third appearance here. The show is sold out.

Since his start in a Minneapolis coffeehouse in the mid-1960s, Kottke has recorded 40 albums and twice been nominated for a Grammy Award. His career has taken him around much of North America, Western Europe and Australia.

He said he even gave up going to Europe for awhile because he was always so heavily booked there.

“It’s a very pleasant sort of thing to be complaining about,” he said. “It’s always nice that you can get paid to do this. I haven’t yet gotten used to that.”

Decades on the road have given him a deep well of stories from which to draw. He relates a conversation he had on the last night of a 23-city tour with the Eagles in the mid-’70s.

“I was talking, I forget to whom,” Kottke said. “I told him I really liked this one tune they did, ‘dreams and all that stuff.’

“He said, ‘we don’t have a tune called ‘dreams and all that stuff.’”

What the Eagles had was a song written by Tom Waits called “Ol 55,” which included the lyrics “freeways, cars and trucks.”

Nevertheless, Kottke said he liked his title better than Waits’ lyrics, so he named his next album “Dreams and All That Stuff.”

Among his myriad musical influences, Kottke also counts John Philip Sousa, the conductor and composer known for his patriotic marches. Kottke played trombone for a decade, marching in parades and listening to Sousa’s music when he was growing up.

“That stuff goes in and doesn’t leave,” Kottke said. “I loved marching. I think you learn a lot from marching.”

Although he released two albums with Phish bassist Mike Gordon in the past decade, Kottke hasn’t recorded in a few years. He said he has some new music ready to go, but he likely won’t be playing it Friday.

“I’m trying to get it recorded before it goes on YouTube,” he said.

He has an ambiguous relationship with the video website. He said he’s seen a lot of “really terrible” recordings of live performances. Not many of his, though.

“I couldn’t look at the stuff about me,” he said. “It was too creepy. It’s almost like going to your own funeral.”

On the other hand, YouTube contains a kind of career retrospective.

“There’s something very nice about that, that I am there represented by some guy with my name at my worst, and I hope, somewhere at my best,” he said.

Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.

IF YOU GO

What: An Evening with Leo Kottke

When: 8 p.m. tonight

Where: Pioneer Park Theatre

Tickets: sold out

Info: http://www.acousticadventures.com/acts.html

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