Movies: Leo Kottke – Home & Away Revisited (2007)

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by Mark Saleski

The music starts playing and every little bit of you pays attention. This is a musical connection.

The listener-artist connection can go much further than that. Years of record purchases, concert attendance, magazine articles, and television appearances can fill a person’s head and ears with all sorts of information. You “know” a lot of facts about the artist but … do you really know him?

One one level, the answer is an obvious “No.” I’ve never met Leo Kottke, much less had a single conversation with him so, of course, I don’t know him. On the other hand, all of the lyrics and stories told at shows — even those Prairie Home Companion apperances — have me convinced that, were I to bump into Leo in a hotel lobby, we might actually have something to talk about. The re-release of Kottke’s concert video Home and Away Revisited served as a huge reminder of our “friendship.”

That, and the fact that Kottke’s guitar playing pretty much defines its own genre.

Shot at Bathurst St. Theater in Toronto, Home and Away shows Leo at his most self-deprecating, funny, and virtuosic best. In addition to a selection of tunes from early in his career (“Vaseline Machine Gun,” in particular), several “new” songs (new in 1988, that is) are played that have gone on to become Kottke standards: “Jack Fig,” “Pamela Brown,” “Regards From Chuck Pink.”

If you’ve never heard Leo Kottke’s guitar playing (and “folk” is a totally inadequate word here), then this video would be a perfect introduction. You’ll hear the Midwestern-ish ballad of “Ojo,” the acoustic blues-on-acid that is “Air Proofing Two,” the spooky and foreboding “The Ice Fields,” a beautiful cover of the Allmans’ chiming “Little Martha,” and the weird angularity of “I Yell at Traffic.”

It’s with the inter-song stories where you get to know Leo Kottke the person: a trip to Leo’s basement to visit the “bad” guitars, Kottke’s boat (which sits on the lawn facing the woods), the story of an old girlfriend (sort of) who used to expose herself to moving freight trains, Leo’s failed (sort of) attempts at home auto repair, the recounting of the drool-on-guitar during a live show incident, the Gene Pitney one-handed bassist story, the visit to Lawrence Bros. Records & Souvenirs in Nashville. Kottke may be an elite guitar player, but he remains one down to earth guy.

Home and Away contains some inspiring bonus material including a backstage jam with the late Michael Hedges and a meeting (with guitars!) between Leo, Chet Atkins and Doc Watson, they tear up “Last Steam Engine Train.”

My favorite moment on this video, one that connects me to Leo Kottke more than any other, is his short walk down a row of guitars at Gruhn Guitars in Nashville. As he’s about to proceed, surrounded by guitars on both sides, Kottke turns back to the camera and says:

When I go down this row
all I’m gonna do is breathe
There’s a special smell …

Now that is my kind of musician.

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