Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Steel: Leo Kotke

purchase [ Leo Kotke 6 & 12 String Guitar ]

The only 12-string guitars I have ever seen (or played) were steel stringed. Probably something about the tension/configuration. The one I owned had serious bridge problems - 12 strings of metal pulling against a wooden bridge had bowed the whole thing into contortions, making it almost impossible to fret/play.

It was back about the time I picked up this instrument that I was listening to Gordon Lightfoot, maybe a bit of Simon and Garfunkle, John Fahey and Leo Kotke.

There is a full-ness to the sound of a 12-string that - even with today's options of pedal effects and studio editing - is tough to replicate. The instrument rings like nothing else. (But, for some reason, brings to mind Doublemint gum - double the sound, double the effort) The richer sound comes about from the configuration of pairs of strings that are an octave apart: you're hitting an A, but there are two of them and they are an octave apart (one a higher/lower sound than the other). As a player, (if you are right handed) your left finger needs to depress both strings together and your right hand needs to figure out if you want to hit the higher or lower sound first. Maybe not quite as complex as a pedal steel style, but presenting more complexity than the standard 6-string version.

I came across Kotke's 1969 <6 and 12 String Guitar> album about the same time I found Lightfoot's <Sit Down Young Stranger>. They are both from about the same year (69/70). Lightfoot struck me as more romantic. Kotke as the more accomplished guitar player. (Check out his version of Bach's <Jesu>, which I still perform in my own variation.)

a selection of other Kotke performances:

(above 6 strings, but it's Allman Brothers!! Little Martha)
(above <8 Miles High>one of his signature tunes - but as he says :I haven't done this in a long time. However, it is fairly recent - showing that he still does his thing)
listen to the 12 strings on this version of Deep River Blues.

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