Don’t Fret

Leo Kottke moved often as a child and was raised in a dozen different states, where he was exposed to a range of musical styles, from marching band brass to Mississippi blues.

Many are those virtuosic players who, regardless of genre, expand the possibilities of their instruments. Fewer and more far between are those who completely redefine their instruments. These are the likes of John Coltrane and the sax, Miles Davis and the trumpet, Bela Fleck and the banjo, Jake Shimabukuro and the ukulele, and the two-handed fretboard tapping technique pioneered by both jazz bassists Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Jordan and rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen.

Add to that list the guitar fingerpicking techniques of both Chet Atkins back in the day and the more contemporary Australian Tommy Emmanuel. But often overlooked are the pioneering acoustic guitar innovations of Leo Kottke.

Kottke revolutionized the six – and especially the 12-string acoustic guitar via his use of open tunings, whereby the instrument is tuned differently than is typical. It is not uncommon for Kottke to tune a full step or even two steps lower than the instrument’s standard E-A-D-G-B-E tuning. This allows the use of the bottom strings of the instrument as a deep, dirge-like background sound, not unlike the drone of the East Indian sitar.

As a youngster, Kottke flirted briefly with violin and trombone before abandoning both for the guitar when he was 11. He moved frequently, absorbing musical inspiration along the way and eventually cemented a style incorporating many musical influences.

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In concert, the longtime Minneapolis-based player is a date with not only acoustic guitar mastery, but also a sojourn into Kottke’s wry and often self-deprecating sense of humor. Asked in 1994 why he doesn’t sing more often, Kottke described his singing voice as sounding like “geese farts on a muggy day, that’s why!”

LEO KOTTKE 8pm Saturday, Oct. 12. Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $35-$55. 620-2048,

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