YouTube Live: Leo Kottke’s “Vaseline Machine Gun”

To be a guitar hero you have to do more than shred at high volumes, you have to reinvent a part of the game. The usual suspects who’ve done so get name dropped left and right and are mostly household names by this point, even soccer moms know who Jack White is. There’s one man though that most people miss during these discussions, a man with unmatched precision and a picking speed that will have you doing double takes. So why does Leo Kottke get hung out to dry during bar room shouting matches over whose mastery of the frets reigns supreme?

The obvious answer is that unless you know your traditional blues and folk, you probably missed him. The not so obvious answer is that he has always kept a low profile, and rarely tours. Since 1969 though, Kottke has been strumming, flicking, and bending his way through the decades with nearly forty records to his credit.

Why is he a hero? He reinvented how you play the 12-string. In his prime he was able to play rhythm, lead, and bass lines interchangeably, and often together with out breaking a sweat. That style could also be brought over to the six string with the same intensity.

Kottke set the gold standard of technical bravado early in his career with “Vaseline Machine Gun”, from his second record Six and Twelve String Guitar. It was old school blues with balls that combined plucking with a smooth slide section. Luckily the video, probably taped for local access television in 1970, gives us a four-way view of the performance so you can watch his hands at work, and that young dazed face that smiles when he knows he just nailed the hard part. This video is also a look back to before the arthritis set on by his fast style of playing. If you’re into fancy guitar work the way they used to do it, then enjoy, and if you haven’t heard of this man before, you’re welcome.


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