Music Is Good For You
Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon Discuss Their Clone

Listen to Clone while you read!

Comfort and respect is never an easy thing when it comes to music, particularly for duos, because it isn't anything that can be accomplished or learned. Mostly, it just has to be automatic. So when the comfort comes naturally, and the respect is mutual, it is truly something to behold. A collective mind is germinated, nurtured and celebrated.

It took acoustic guitar legend Leo Kottke and Phish bassist Mike Gordon exactly one jam session to click and lock in. This is evident watching them play off of each other, communicating on so many different levels. They are essentially new friends. But it's hard to imagine one is a bigger fan of the other. "This is like an extension of friendship," Kottke says. "For me, [the comfort came] right away. And all you have is this little moment, and maybe a bar or two. But now you know it happens. And that's what convinced us."

Seems easy enough, right? That part might have been. But, if not for Gordon's presence of mind, gumption, and, well…balls, this might never have happened. Legend has it that Gordon had a minor epiphany one day about three years ago while listening to Kottke on the radio. "I just had this instantaneous realization that I thought we would hit it off," Gordon explains. "And right then, I got one of his CDs and I wrote this bass part, which is pretty intricate." The song Gordon chose was the groundbreaking "The Driving of the Year Nail," a rambunctious, acoustic tour-de-force ripped from Leo Kottke's landmark 1969 debut, 6 & 12 String Guitar.

After meeting Kottke backstage one night in 1999, Gordon presented him his version of the augmented "Nail," a CD of Phish's Story of the Ghost, and a copy of his whimsical-rant book, Mike's Corner. There's no doubt this was an altogether flattering move by Gordon, but he's lucky Kottke understood the compliment. "Oh, I was horrified that he selected that tune," Kottke moans. "Because I had grown to despise that tune." While the enhanced track brought Kottke "back to the pit" as he puts it, he also quickly reasoned it was also laudable.

It was only after Kottke flipped through Mike's Corner, however, that he realized Gordon was someone he just had to find out more about. After all, Kottke figured anyone who can actually use the word eleemosynary (which means supported by charity) in his writing has got to be a fascinating guy. "I decided that Mike was the only other English speaker that I could name who knows that word. And that's what really convinced me that I ought to get to know this guy. Because if you have such a useless piece of information stored away somewhere, and not only that, but you actually use it! That means tons to me."

So now that each musician was completely taken with the other, the only thing left was to play music. And play they did. Here and there. Off and on. In their respective hometowns of Minneapolis and Burlington. The first bunch of jam sessions left little doubt that a collaboration of some kind would develop. Phish's hiatus presented the ideal opportunity. If not for that, the world might never know what these two are capable of achieving.

The debut Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon brainchild, Clone, is an obvious collaborative effort. Even though Gordon showed up on two separate occasions with nearly fifty songs each time, Kottke was armed with his own ideas and uncanny ability to create a song in a jiffy. "He just comes up with creative, unique-sounding stuff on the fly," Gordon admires. The album name was taken from a song title. "Clone" marks the first tune the two ever recorded. Gordon called it a "from-scratch" collaboration. And in true Kottke fashion, it was done in the most low-maintenance way possible. "We had a jam. We recorded the jam. And then we sang over it," Gordon says matter-of-factly.

Clone is definitely borne of the Kottke school of thought, however. Built upon aggressive acoustic playing in a twisted, ragtime style, some of the tunes evoke The Statler Brothers on acid. It's riddled with plenty of far-out invention, like "kitchen percussion." Swiped directly from producer Paul duGre's home-studio kitchen, Kottke revealed that the various "plates and pans and cake pans and stuff" is truly the only percussion happening on the recording. Kottke's rare synthesized "Condor" guitar and Gordon's simple skull flute also make brief, yet impressionable appearances.

As should be expected, the album has loads of tongue-in-cheek whimsy in all its various forms. Many of the lyrics are off-kilter enough to know that Kottke had more than a hand in writing them. But others are so way out and lucid that the listener knows Gordon was definitely here. "I was well aware that Mike was willing to do stuff that breaks the rules," Kottke reasons. One listen to Gordon's darkly comedic "Collins Missile" proves Kottke's theory perfectly. In fact, both men cite it as a current standout among all the other favorites. Written in such a quirky meter, the oddball tune succeeds with an irresistible, yet perfectly impossible pop hook. Jaw-dropping harmony by both men gives the sometimes-heavy and off-kilter subject a flawlessly framed presentation

Gordon could not have been more accurate when he figured they'd work well together. These song creations could only have come to fruition through these two minds. Kottke has been so taken with the whole Gordon experience; he seems almost refreshed with a newfound energy after thirty solo years. "It reminds you that music is good for you. And the more you can get, the luckier you are." Gordon echoed that sentiment with his own reverential observation. "There is part of my consciousness that's still reserved for while we're playing for thinking 'Oh, this is one of my guitar heroes.' And now I get to be on the same stage."

Both Clone and the upcoming November tour promise to reveal some truly wonderful and peerless moments. For instance, both men excel at wit. A certain magical interplay is exuded through their songs and peculiar peeks at bizarre slices of life. If you don't already know, Kottke's other forte is American storyteller. Spontaneous banter about song origins and life's cruel yet ironic joke, all told in his signature matter-of-fact delivery, comes directly from witnessing the wacky side of life. Working almost like a trusted foil, Gordon's pistol-quick one-liners take a very brief moment to sink in; but once sunk, he gets a raucous reaction.

Perhaps the best revelation is that they will indeed be digging into each other's massive canons. "We're going to do both," Kottke says. "Mike has already covered a bunch of my stuff and that's pretty much a done deal. I'm going to do some Phish. Right now I'm working on 'Weigh,' which I love. If you want to get your head stretched, that is another way to do it."

Stretch your own head when Clone hits stores on October 8th.

Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon Clone Tour Dates:
Nov 4
- Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, MA
Nov 5 - Ira Allen Chapel (UVM), Burlington, VT
Nov 6 - Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, MA
Nov 8 - Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY
Nov 9 - Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Nov 10 - 9:30 Club, Washington, DC
Nov 12 - Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA
Nov 13 - Park West, Chicago, IL
Nov 15 - Mississippi Nights, St. Louis, MO
Nov 16 - The Roxy, Los Angeles, CA
Nov 17 - The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
Nov 19 - Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO

Scott Caffrey
JamBase | East Coast
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[Published on: 10/7/02]

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