MINNEAPOLIS — Numbers don't mean much to Leo Kottke, Minnesota's forever guitar hero, until he starts to think about them.
For example, this year would have marked his 40th annual Thanksgiving-time Twin Cities concert if not for COVID-19.
"The 40th year? I have no calendar recall," said Kottke. "It's what Minneapolis/St. Paul is for me (concert-wise). I hate to think of these dark stages. These stages are irreplaceable."
He threw out another number — 52. Because, before the current pandemic, never in the past 52 years had the road warrior been in one place longer than two months.
"I've fantasized what it must be like to be in one place again," said Kottke, who settled in Minnesota in the 1960s after attending St. Cloud State University. "And I'm finding out that I had no idea how many airports I was carrying around on my back."
So these days Kottke spends a lot of time in his Minneapolis apartment playing the instrument that made him world-famous. In fact, he picks up a guitar before he even gets out of bed. He also reads books and listens to podcasts, especially about books. But a guitar is never far away. "If I can't see the guitar, I don't feel right. Let alone playing it."
Here's another number — 15. That's how many years have passed between albums for Kottke, who is finally celebrating a new one, "Noon," with collaborator Mike Gordon.
The Minnesotan, who was inducted in the Guitar Player Hall of Fame in 1978, didn't even think he'd be making albums anymore even though he released more than 30 (including live records and soundtracks) between 1969 and 2005. But Gordon, the Phish bassist who had made two previous albums with Kottke, never gave up.
"There was still some business for us to conduct," Gordon said last weekend from his Vermont home. "So we talked about it for 10 years and, for about four or five years, we worked on it — slowly."
"It all revolves around friendship," said Kottke, who traveled to Vermont, New Orleans and Burbank, California, for the sessions.