On The Oblivion Label . . .

Originally posted December 3, 2007

In the early 1970s, one of the verities of an academic year at St. Cloud State was a concert by Leo Kottke.

The guitar virtuoso had spent some time as a student in St. Cloud – according to local lore, lore confirmed by the liner notes to his 1971 album, Mudlark – and returned to the St. Cloud campus regularly for several years after his recording career got underway.

There are few guitarists, I would guess, who have a sound as distinctive as Kottke’s, and it’s a sound that’s remained consistent for more than thirty years. Cue up one of his albums – whether on LP or on CD – and the sound of Kottke and his twelve-string guitar is instantly recognizable. The first time I heard it was, I think, on Mudlark, Kottke’s major label debut, an album that my sister owned and took with her when she left home. In the years since I’ve been collecting vinyl seriously, I’ve never seen another copy. (The album is out on CD, remastered in 2005, I believe, and I may have to go that route.)

At about the same time as I was listening to Mudlark, Kottke played St. Cloud State in early 1972 as half of one of the more odd double-bills I’ve ever seen. Kottke was the second act of the night, following an hour-long performance by comic George Carlin, whose act climaxed with his current “hit” from his Class Clown album, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” (For some reason, I can still recite those seven words in order, even not having heard the routine for years. By my count, two of them are no strangers to broadcast these days, leaving five still verboten.)

Following the rowdiness of Carlin’s act with an hour of acoustic music was a tough job, but Kottke quieted the crowd and pulled us in. Much of the performance was pulled from Mudlark and from the 1972 release Greenhouse. Some of the songs, however, came from Kottke’s earlier recordings: 1969’s mostly live 12 String Blues; his first studio album, Circle ’Round The Sun, a 1970 recording which had for the most part the same songs; and 6- and 12-String Guitar, released in 1971 on fellow virtuoso John Fahey’s Takoma label.

The Takoma album – which I have on vinyl – is available on CD, but the first two are not. Of the two, the more rare is the first, 12 String Blues, which was released on the Oblivion label, a label name that’s evidently Kottke’s witticism, according to a piece by Bruce Muckala at a Kottke fan site. I have neither of the first two in my vinyl collection (along with Mudlark, my sister took away her copy of Circle ’Round The Sun, and I assume she still has it) but I was pleased to run across a rip of 12 String Blues not all that long ago at Grown So Ugly, a blog well worth visiting regularly.*

Except for three instrumentals, as Muckala notes, the album was recorded live at the Scholar Coffeehouse, a well-known locale for folk musicians near the University of Minnesota. At the time Kottke performed there, the coffeehouse was located on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. During one of its earlier incarnations, the Scholar had been located in the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis on the East Bank and was the site of some of the earliest performances by a young Bob Dylan.

If Momma Knew
So Cold In China
Furry Jane
Circle ’Round The Sun
Sweet Louise
The Prodigal Grave
Easter And The Sargasso Sea
Living In The Country
Sail Away Ladies
The Last Steam Engine Train
You Left Me Standing
Mary Mary

Leo Kottke – 12 String Blues [1969]

*Happily, in the years since this was posted, friends have presented me with vinyl copies of both Circle ’Round The Sun and Mudlark. [Note added May 23, 2011.]


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