Sometime in the early seventies I began reading in Guitar Player magazine about a group of acoustic guitarists. Their music drew upon the traditions of folk, ragtime and blues but often would also incorporate other elements such as Indian raga. They played what is known in guitar geek land as fingerstyle guitar, a technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking which plays notes with a plectrum (aka a “pick”). For a solo guitarist, playing fingerstyle offers the possibility of sounding like more that one guitar by playing multiple parts. The right hand thumb play a bass part while the index, middle and ring fingers pluck out the melody and flesh out the harmony.
The spiritual father of this school of guitarist was John Fahey, whose recordings from the late 1950s to the mid 1960s inspired many guitarists who wound up furthering the music. The most well known of these is Leo Kottke, who made his debut recording of “6- and 12-String Guitar” on Fahey’s Takoma label in 1969. Kottke primarily focuses on instrumental composition and playing though he also sings occasionally in a baritone voice described by himself as sounding like “geese farts on a muggy day”. He would make comments like that during the funny and bizarre monologues that would intersperse his concerts between playing solo tunes on 6- and 12-string guitars.
Finally I was able to get a copy of “6- and 12-String Guitar” (also known as the “Armadillo album”, after the animal pictured on its cover) and it did not disappoint. The tunes have a driving, syncopated pulse that draw upon on blues, jazz, and folk music and will not fall into the background the way more “new age” solo guitar music does.
Below are the audio only clips of three tunes off that album including the epic Vaseline Machine Gun (gotta love that title). Check it out.
Leo Kottke – Watermelon
Leo Kottke – Busted Bicycle
Leo Kottke – Vaseline Machine Gun