Playbill

When guitarist John Fahey passed away last month, Leo Kottke lost a friend and mentor. An iconoclast, Fahey blurred the lines between folk, country and blues. His style had a haunting quality that has never been adequately defined or categorized. It was as if he sensed the darker undertones of his surroundings. Fahey could solo for 20 minutes, jump from idea to idea, style to style, and make sense of it all. He made his first recording in '59, and in '64 started his own label, Takoma, which he later sold to Chrysalis. Respected by folkies and guitar freaks alike, Fahey became quite ill in his later years, and at one point was almost destitute. At the very end, Fahey couldn't see, speak or move. It was a hard ending for a man whose music typified rugged Americana living.

Though only six years Fahey's junior, Kottke was part of another generation. In 1970, when Kottke was still wet behind the ears, he sent Fahey a copy of his record Circle 'Round the Sun. So impressed was Fahey that he took the younger guitarist under his wing and became his most ardent supporter and mentor. Fahey recorded Kottke and even helped him get signed to Capitol.

In some ways, Fahey and Kottke were/are kindred spirits. Both fingerpickers have been hailed as virtuosic geniuses, incorporating a wide variety of styles at will. Though Kottke has developed his own voice, a decidedly less aggressive one that includes touches of jazz and pop (and later, more classical stylings), Fahey's influence is rarely absent from his music. Like Fahey, Kottke takes a decidedly off-kilter view of life and music.

If it's true that grief inspires artists to greater heights, then Kottke's performance on Wednesday should be something extraordinary. After all, the iconoclastic torch has been passed.

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