Leo Kottke Weighs in On Life, Literature and Guitar (Part Three)

Leo Kottke Weighs in On Life, Literature and Guitar (Part Three)

You’re right, to get back the start of your question though, labels always had an opinion, and have an opinion about what they want me to do. I’m one of those butt-lucky people that never got interfered with much. The biggest - and probably not a smart thing to do – interference was Capitol. It was that first contract telling me to sing. And I hadn’t figured out how I wanted to sing yet and I wasn’t interested in singing. Now all of this is filtered through my producer at the time – for all I know, it was just the producer saying it – they said we can’t get it on the radio. So I sang. I would have been more interested, since it was one of those early records, if all I had done was instrumental shit.  But it didn’t work out that way. Other than that, I’ve been pretty much able to do whatever I want.

The Takoma record was the first studio record you released, but there’s a live recording [12-String Blues, 1969] that dates before that and you sang on that one.

It was on a label called Oblivion. I sang on that one and in the beginning that is all I did. I went quite a while before I ever made a record, working jobs in Illinois and Minnesota, places like that. I first heard John Fahey, who owned Takoma Records, after a job I played in Chicago with a friend of mine. But I was singing back then because – I don’t know. It was that thing that kicked in, just hadn’t quite happened yet.

I was playing the way that I play, pretty much. There’s a kind of voice that you get early on, if you’re ever gonna get one. That was happening on the guitar, but it hadn’t developed yet. I was playing some instrumentals, there was a tune, a title I can’t live with now, but I still get requests for it called “Vaseline Machine Gun”.

That’s actually my favorite title of any of your songs. Where’d that name come from?

It has all kinds of meanings for me. I was actually diving in a quarry and the first guy went in and came out and said it stunk down there. ‘Cause if you go down deep enough in a quarry, it’s filled with gasses – noxious, sulfurous shit. I end up going down and that’s when I thought of the title for the tune.  (CONT)