The Last Steam Engine Train (Issue 992)

In which we are reminded that rising up a level often involves breaking things down to bits.

“How does he do that?”

Silver tongued, my friend, one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met, smoothly guiding  clients or colleagues through conversations – framing, transitioning, reframing, and adapting ideas to agreeable outcomes.  When we’ve debriefed afterward and asked, “How did you do that?”, he’s just smiled and offered one idea or another. And we think, “yeah, but, when we do it, it doesn’t come out like  that.” He’s so efficient and smooth that his technique is almost invisible. You can hear it and it’s hard to replicate.

I have long admired a guitar solo called “The Last Steam Engine Train” recorded by Leo Kotke,  one of the best and most popular acoustic guitar players of his generation, on his 1972 album, “Greenhouse”. I can play a decent interpretation of “…Steam Engine…”  that sounds a lot like Kotke’s version… but it isn’t Kotke.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to learn the song HIS way.

The chords are simple – E, E7, A, A7, B7 – with some ornamentation. The progression is simple. His left hand on the fret board is (with one exception) simple.  It’s what he does with his right hand, the finger picking, that’s challenging,  so efficient that his technique becomes almost invisible.  You can hear it but it’s hard to replicate (as I’ve learned by listening to  many YouTube postings of others playing the song).

I’ve dozens of times listened to his recording and watched video of his performances, breaking them down phrase by phrase, imitating them in my practice. And the more I’ve listened, the more differences I’ve heard between my interpretation and his original.  They’re subtle and (with repeated practice) learnable … and the difference between playing the piece like Kotke and not.

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at .

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