The Magic of Sonny Landreth

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Sonny Landreth
Sonny Landreth

Sonny Landreth will be the first to tell you that his style of playing is heavily influenced by his mentor, Chet Atkins. His popularity is such that many notable musicians such as Jimmy Buffett, John Hiatt, Dolly Parton, Junior Wells, Shelby Lynn, Marshall Crenshaw, John Mayall, Mark Knopfler, Dr. John, and others have called him to play on more than a hundred studio albums. He has developed over time from not just an extremely competent conventional guitarist but to someone who has mastered a technique with the slide that nobody else seems to be able to touch as far as harmonics, tremolo and chording is concerned.

Landreth, who was originally born in Mississippi, moved to the Lafayette, Louisiana area and uses this home base to re-charge his batteries after extensive tour dates and meeting the extensive requirements that being a musician in demand has placed on him.

Times have changed since he began playing publicly with Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band and now, after releasing eleven albums, he has his own label Landreth Records. “From The Reach” was Sonny’s first effort on his own with the help from long-time friend and production associate, Tony Daigle. Work has been going on for a soon to be released second double album from Landreth Records. This will include some of the material from the 2000 release “Levee Town” plus other tunes that will sure to inspire and please the ears.

In March 2009, Sonny was invited to play in New York’s Beacon Theatre with the Allman Brothers Reunion performance. “It was a blast,” he says. “When Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top came out to do “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and all the players on stage put on long fake beards…it was a special moment in time. I’d love to make an album with Derek Trucks. That would be a highlight for me.”

In 2007, Sonny and his band opened Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago, Illinois. When asked if there is someone that he hasn’t played on stage with that he would like to, his answer is simple… “Jeff Beck”.

Dave Ranson is Sonny’s longtime bass player. “You know, we grew up listening to the same music so it is easy for us to know where a tune is going and how we think it should sound.” Mike Burch has played with Sonny on tour and on his albums. “He’s a great guy and I love playing with him.” Mike has very recently stepped away from the drum chair and is to be replaced by another proficient musician, Brian Brignac.

When asked what gear he takes on tour he enthuses about his Ultimate Attenuator. He also prefers a Matchless Chieftain head and Matchless 4×12 cab. For pedals he uses a Hermida Audio Zendrive pedal, a Keeley Compressor and a T-Rex Replica Delay. What this gifted musician can do to make his three piece band sound like an orchestra, is staggering.

“We’ve had some amazing experiences traveling and playing all over the globe,” Sonny chuckles recalling the espresso coffee in Italy that inspired his instrumental “Oberesso”. “I’m so happy that the folks really enjoy what we’re doing. Looking back, I realize that all along, the thing I tried to achieve the most was to learn to ‘sing’ the guitar.”

There are few times when I have been totally mesmerized by extraordinary artists. There are those with amazing talent and “feel”….a term that we use in the business to describe if a performer really plays ‘in the moment’…with his/her heart and soul. Such a night was this, when I was fortunate enough to be stage-side taking in the SONNY LANDRETH BAND. My goodness, it did my heart good to be watching and listening to some real Southern gentleman, who actually play as a unit! Every tune was a seamless performance. Bassist, DAVE RANSON long-time member of the band, and drummer, MIKE BURCH, originally from “River Road”, supplied the heartbeat and bottom end to what has been described as the “tightest, best band that is out there today.”….

There have been more than enough highfalutin adjectives used to describe what the ears hear and the eyes see with this trio. As one musician friend said that night, (the place was full of them); “This isn’t just a trio. It is an orchestra!”.

It is the touching of the heart that matters. It is the emotion of the music as it swells, drips, soars, and sometimes takes your breath away, that tells all within the circle that has been drawn around the walls of the venue, that you have been given a taste of nirvana.

Sonny’s release, “from the REACH”, is on his own label. It contains some heartfelt tunes that speak volumes of the man, and our times. From “BLUE TARP BLUES”, to “UNIVERSE”…we are treated to every range of emotion, from there and back, with artists like Jimmy Buffett, Eric Clapton, Robben Ford, Vince Gill, Dr. John, Eric Johnson, Mark Knopfler, and Nadirah Shakoor, adding their distinctive touch into the mix.

Those of us who have never stopped loving ‘Levee Town”, released in 2000, are in for a treat here and eagerly look forward to Sonny’s next release, which I am told he has been recording. In addition, he is playing with ANA POPOVIC on her latest project to be released soon.

“Oberesso”, an homage piece dedicated to one of our favorite beverages, is an example of what a true artist can create using harmonics, dynamic use of slide, fingering, “ghost notes”, and special vibrations and tremolo that only Sonny seems to be able to achieve. Mike and Dave drive this piece to perfection so that we are all left gasping for air when the last note resonates.

In the tune, “Howlin’ Moon”, with b/g’s by Dr. John, & Jimmy Buffett, Sonny’s lyrics say it all:

Heavenly bodies
Illuminate
Feel the pull
Gravitate
Make you loosen a tie
At the drop of a hat
Make you weak in the knees
Knock you flat on your back.

Yes Sir, I was made weak in the knees and knocked flat on my back, and most thankful for the privilege of it. Moreover being able to photograph this group in action… yet again! Just call me a puddle on the floor. (I’m smiling here). Trust me; this is one marvellous adventure that I shall never forget!

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