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Kottke’s 1971 major-label debut, Mudlark, positioned him somewhat uneasily in the singer/songwriter vein, despite his own wishes to remain an instrumental performer. Still, despite arguments with label heads as well as with Bruce, Kottke flourished during his tenure on Capitol, as records such as 1972’s Greenhouse and 1973’s My Feet Are Smiling (recorded live) and Ice Water found him branching out with guest musicians and honing his guitar technique.
With 1975’s Chewing Pine, Kottke reached the US Top 30 for the second time; he also gained an international following thanks to his continuing tours in Europe and Australia.
Clone, his collaboration with Phish bassist Mike Gordon, caught audiences’ attention in 2002. Kottke and Gordon followed with a recording in the Bahamas called Sixty Six Steps, produced by Kottke’s old friend and Prince producer David Z.
Kottke has received two Grammy nominations; a doctorate in music performance from the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee; and, humorously, a Certificate of Significant Achievement in Not Playing the Trombone from the University of Texas at Brownsville, with Texas Southmost College.
Kottke is one of the few guitarists in the world with an instantly recognizable sound, and he engages the audience right from the start with his inimitable playing and humorous narratives.
It really sounded like two guitarists, as if someone else were playing the bright melody against the riff. His fingerpicking became a beautiful machine, full of syncopation, sliding and open-string voicings, with small dissonances and backward-sounding phrases.
—New York Times