Born in Georgia, but raised in Oklahoma, the award-winning musician started his musical journey with the violin and trombone, before picking up the guitar when he was 11.
Kottke served in the U.S. Naval Reserve and attended St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and dropped out to hitchhike and busk around the country.
He stopped his travels in Minnesota and became a regular performer at the Scholar Coffeehouse, known for its connection with Bob Dylan and John Koerner.
From there, Kottke started his nearly 50-year musical career, which includes a Ph.D in music performance from the Peck School of Music at the University of Wisconsin.
Kottke will show Park City audiences why he is a two-time Grammy Award nominee, when he performs at the Egyptian Theatre from Friday, May 30, to Sunday, June 1.
The Park Record caught up with the good-natured Kottke via email at the beginning of Memorial Day weekend and this is what he had to say.
Park Record: With a plethora of songs to choose from in your catalog, how do you go about selecting which to perform any given night, especially when you have ones you want to play and your audience has songs they want to hear?
Leo Kottke: Truth is, I don't select. Each night seems to have a kind of curve and I just follow that. It's not good to think about it too much. I know what I'll play first because you can't spend the first five minutes wondering what to do with yourself. I've tried that.
P.R.: What was it about the guitar that steered you away from the other instruments? (I see that you have taken time to reminisce about your trombone lessons on your website www.leokottke.com.)
L.K.: An E chord. That was it. Nothing's been the same since. I've said this before, but a guitar sounds good if you drop it on the floor. A trombone is different.
P.R.: Was there any inkling in your mind back then to play rock music, or did you always want to play acoustically? Why or why not?
L.K.: Rock was acoustic in the beginning. Anyhow, all these terms come out of marketing, not out of musicians. I guess somebody had to call it something but I don't. Music's just one big mess with places where you wouldn't want to get stuck — and places you'd like to find again. It gets really difficult sometimes.
P.R.: One of the many unique aspects of your music is the tuning. Was it through experimentation that you began tuning your guitar the way you do, or was it just more comfortable to play in those lower settings?
L.K.: The 12 string can't open up properly if it's not tuned down. It'll sound like a big and dorky mandolin: a mouse sounding like Johnny Cash — not good for John, not good for the mouse.
P.R.: Throughout your career, many artists, including Margo Timmins from Cowboy Junkies, Mike Gordon from Phish, and both Lyle Lovett and Chet Atkins, have collaborated with you. Do collaborations and performing in ensembles inspire you to experiment more, or do you just enjoy working with other gifted artists such as yourself?
L.K.: It's basically friendship. And if you play that's what you'll do with your friends. It really does work that way. Music may have put you in proximity but friendship is what makes you play. It's a great privilege when it happens. It's why the smiles happen.
P.R.: You have performed everything from folk, classical, jazz and flamenco. Is there a style of music you haven't tried on the guitar that you would like?
L.K.: It's all "tunes" to me. I often feel that we're all playing something we've forgotten — a place, a dream.
P.R.: Speaking of the future, what is the next step, a future idea or goal you would like to obtain?
L.K.: If I see a goal I run like a scalded ape. A goal is something you want that you deliberately put out of reach. Why would I do that?
Leo Kottke will perform at the Egyptian Theatre from Friday, May 30, to Sunday, June 1. Evening curtain for Friday and Saturday is 8 p.m. Sunday's concert will start at 6 p.m. Kottke draws influences from blues, jazz and folk music, and has created his own syncopated, polyphonic melodies. Tickets range from $39 to $70 and are available by visiting www.parkcityshows.com.