Story last updated at 1:44 p.m. Thursday, April 18, 2002

Finger-picking master at Mariner on Sunday
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: entertainment
  Photo supplied
Guitarist Leo Kottke has recorded 25 albums  
After 30 years, 25 albums and several saunters around the planet, acoustic guitar player and singer-songwriter Leo Kottke hasn't tired of the stage, or the experience of making music.

"My first record feels like it happened yesterday," Kottke wrote in a promotional announcement. "But I don't have any control over my career. I don't premeditate anything. It just sort of happens."

Modest words from a man who has hammered out a rhythmic finger-picking style few can imitate. Kottke plays a sold-out show at the Mariner Theatre on Sunday at 8 p.m.

In his latest release, "One Guitar, No Vocals," which came out in 1999, Kottke takes his music back to the basics after three decades of experimentation. The album includes several reinterpretations of pieces Kottke wrote and performed in the past.

"Tunes have a life of their own," explained Kottke. "They change. Every once in a while, I'll discover much later what a tune was all about, and then I re-record it."

In the liner notes of "One Guitar, No Vocals," Kottke sheds light on the origins of his musical career at a Spike Jones concert in Cheyenne, Wyo.

"I was a violin player and had never heard of Spike Jones; Spike was a stuffed and grinning head, atop a tablecloth suit, who conducted a virtuoso novelty band that played plumbing fixtures, elbow pipes and so forth," Kottke said. "But I was offended. I was mortified. I was a violin player ... and an 8-year-old snob ... in Cheyenne."

Then a guy came out of nowhere, Kottke said, and ran across the stage with a clarinet through his head. "I had only one thought in mine; 'I want to be him,'" he said.

When Kottke discovered the guitar, the marriage was also as immediate as it had been to entertainment.

"When it came along, I suddenly belonged to it," he said. "I knew I'd be playing the guitar, in some form, for the rest of my life."

Kottke's first album came out in 1968, and the next year, "6- and 12-String Guitar" catapulted the musician into the world of acoustic guitar soloists.

These days, Kottke revels in playing with fellow guitar masters such as during a series of concerts in the early '90s with Joe Pass, Paco Pena and Pepe Romero.

"Joe would come off stage and frequently say, 'What a great night for the guitar,'" Kottke said.

As for the future, the musician says simplicity is the key.

"The biggest dream I get," he said, "is for another tune to come along. That's what got me into this in the beginning, and what continues to be the heart of it today."