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Guitar legend Leo Kottke set to stop in Olympia

Leo Kottke is a hard man to pin down.

The Grammy-nominated guitarist, playing Saturday night in Olympia, is known for his quirky sense of humor and – at least among music writers – his reluctance to do interviews.

He does do e-mail interviews sometimes, but this time around, Kottke proved elusive. To quote one of his song titles: “Oh Well.”

Could a man who’s been playing guitar in front of audiences for 40 years — a man Entertainment Weekly dubbed “a national treasure” – be shy? “One of the reasons I prefer e-mail interviews is so I don’t forget that tone of voice doesn’t work in print,” Kottke wrote to us a few years back. He has partial hearing loss, likely another factor.

Interview or not, Kottke’s stop here is being hailed by guitar geeks and music lovers from as far away as Seattle, where he’s not stopping on this swing. So we’re going to tell you about him through some of his song titles, with quotes from our interview with him back “Then.”

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“Constant Traveler.” Kottke tours incessantly, so far as we can tell. He was around in February, when he played a Seattle show with Loudon Wainwright III (who, as the man behind the immortal “Dead Skunk,” makes Kottke seem downright mainstream).

“I’ve always liked Paul McCartney saying the Beatles should stay together, stay on the road, because that’s what bands are supposed to do,” Kottke said.

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“Oddball.” The guitarist doesn’t think he’s all that quirky. “The fans are quirkier than I am,” he said. “I could use a few more quirks.”

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“When Shrimps Learn to Whistle.” That’s approximately when Kottke will spend some time on rest and relaxation. Asked if there’s anything he’d like to do while in the Pacific Northwest, the guitarist (who also has a song called “Snorkel”) said: “One of these days I’m going to dive Puget Sound. I understand it’s one of the more dangerous dives you can make, currents and cold, but it would be fun. It’ll also never happen. I never do a damn thing, except to play. Maybe some pie now and then. I do love to play.”

After all, “A Virtuoso Is His Own Reward.” We suspect he fishes, though (“A Trout Toward Noon” and “The Fisherman”).

The pie is a story in itself, since Kottke’s Web site (www.leokottke.com) features clip art of a piece of cherry pie. And when asked about that, he launched into a story about a truck stop in Kaycee, Wyo., (in “Cherry County”?) where he first saw the clip art.

“I asked the woman behind the counter for a cheese sandwich, and she pointed to an order form next to the menu taped to the counter, the menu with the magnificent image of pie on it, and stared at me. She wanted me to fill out a form. So I filled out the form: one cheese sandwich, which as far as I was concerned I had already ordered, and she said, ‘Hmmm, cheese …’ A nasty woman, one tumbleweed away from Kafka.” (Semi-appropriate song title: “Bringing a Sandwich to a Feast.”)

Still if you’re tempted to read too much into Kottke’s own words, remember this: When asked about men and their guitars, Kottke quipped, “Sometimes a guitar is just a guitar.”

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