An Interview With The Acclaimed Musician, SONNY LANDRETH!
Posted On 29 Jun 2017
After a dozen acclaimed albums, virtuoso slide guitarist and bandleader Sonny Landreth found himself at an artistic crossroads. He finally wanted to create the full-length acoustic collection his fans had long requested, but he was also itching to capture the sound of his stalwart electric trio augmented by a couple of his favorite collaborators. And the time was certainly right for an elastic, career-spanning double-live album.
So Landreth and his longtime friends decided to do it all. ‘Recorded Live in Lafayette’ is a 16-song opus that covers more musical ground than any single album ever could, as the singer and songwriter’s work stretches and twists across 93 minutes of full-band acoustic and electric bottleneck lightning.
The double CD and vinyl release on Provogue, which includes the most extensive acoustic set ever recorded by Landreth, opens with acoustic arrangements of the artist’s tunes dating back to the 1981 title cut of his debut album, ‘Blues Attack.’ “It gives you a chance to explore those songs in a different way,” Landreth says, describing the textures created by the intersection of Dave Ranson’s ukulele bass, Brian Brignac’s cajón, Steve Conn’s accordion and Sam Broussard’s acoustic guitar. “The familiarity is there,” he adds, “but I also wanted to turn those guys loose as much as possible.”
The double album arrives on the heels of the Grammy nominee’s back-to-back Blues Music Awards for Best Guitarist and Best Blues Album for ‘Bound by the Blues.’ Live favorites “Hell at Home” and “U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile” also get the unplugged treatment, alongside a rare rendition of “Creole Angel” and an evergreen 6:47 amble through “Key to the Highway.” “If I’ve ever had a theme song, that would be it,” Landreth explains. “All of my heroes have done it, and it’s still to me one of the greatest blues tunes ever written. It’s kind of like coming home.”
Sonny Landreth Online
Learn more about Sonny in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! What are some words you would use to describe 2016 for you and your music? How has 2017 been treating you?
Busy and grateful! Though I traveled a lot playing gigs with my band, much of last year was about making plans to record this year. Next thing I knew, January 2017 rolled around and we were on stage and in the midst of full production to do the deed. After all the mixing, mastering and festival gigs since then, I kinda feel like I just jumped off of a long running freight train at full speed. But the new album is about to be released and I’m very happy with how it came out.
Where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it?
I’m actually at home which is in between Lafayette and Breaux Bridge, LA. I’ve been having fun blasting away with some of my fave guitars that I don’t normally get to take out on the road. And earlier, I was listening to a new album by my friend, Carl Weingarten, called “An Endless Premonition.” He’s a compelling guitarist/composer who creates imagery with gorgeous textures and soundscapes. I’m blessed to have a lot of talented friends and I always find inspiration in their work.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? How did your very artistic parents influence you and your music passion?
When I was a little kid in Mississippi, my grandparents ran a bar & burger joint called “The Pig Stand”. It had a jukebox that was always pumping out popular songs of the day and I was mesmerized by that thing. I heard Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” so many times that I knew all the lyrics before I could write a complete sentence. After they gave that place up, my grandfather became a greens keeper for a golf course where I’d hear some of the black workers singing country blues songs. By the time I was 5 or 6, Elvis hit and I became totally enamored with the guitar, especially when I noticed Scotty Moore playing in Elvis’ band on tv. From that point on, I knew I wanted to become a musician. My parents always encouraged music in the house even when my older brother, Steve, started buying rock and roll records with his allowance. After we moved to Louisiana, he started playing the trumpet and encouraged me to do the same. By the time I was 10 years old, my folks bought a cornet so I could play in the school band. Three years later, I begged them to let me play the guitar too and then I caught my dad trying to sneak a brand new Kay flat top acoustic into my bedroom on my 13th birthday. That was the beginning of my journey on six strings.
If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing?
I really can’t imagine doing anything else but if I did, I would hope to be spending less time going through airport security.
Later this month, you will be releasing your double live album called “Record Live in Lafayette.” I understand that your fans have been requesting this kind of an acoustic album from you. Can you talk about what it was like making this collection? Why did you decide to put this kind of an album together? How did it give you a chance to explore these songs in a different way?
Yeah, over the years, a lot of fans have asked me to do an acoustic album so that’s been in the back of my mind for quite a while. But this time around, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to do that or another live electric album with my trio or have a few guests or should I do a retrospective collection of my songs? Then I thought, what the hell, let’s do it all and see what happens. It was encouraging when the 2 different sets-one all acoustic and one electric-started taking shape on the gigs that led up to the recording dates. I especially liked the contrast in dynamics that this concept brought to the shows. For example, an older song like “Creole Angel”, that was originally amped up, actually spoke better and had a smoother, catchier groove with the new acoustic arrangement. And I knew the addition of my old friends, Steve Conn on keys and Sam Broussard on guitars, would add their magic to everything they played on like “Back To Bayou Teche ” and “Walking Blues”. In the big picture, I was hoping this approach would give long time fans a richer experience and also be a good introduction for folks who had never heard any of my music before.
What are some stand-out songs on this collection? Can you even begin to pick a couple favorites?
That’s a tough call but I will say that “A World Away” has two of the greatest solos I’ve
ever heard in my life thanks to Steve Conn on accordion and Sam Broussard on his vintage Martin parlor guitar. Deeply soulful and totally spontaneous, we captured the stuff of pure inspiration on that one. Another highlight has to be “Bound By The Blues”. I do love the steel drum-like sound we got with my metal bodied reso guitar and I think my voice and the impact of the story song tradition came through stronger on this version.
How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?
Well, I’d sure like to think I’ve evolved both as a writer and as a player to become a better musician in my own right. I’ve certainly discovered techniques and concepts with the slide in particular that I could never have imagined when I first started out. But the truly great thing is that I still feel as excited as I was way back then every time I pick up a guitar, plug into an amp and fire it up.
Who are some of your very favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
I do try to keep up with some of my favorites whenever they release a new project. Mark Knopfler, Eric Johnson, Robben Ford, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band to name a few. I would love to play on a track for Robbie Robertson as he is one of the greatest songwriters/musicians of all time and has had a huge influence on me. I also have a fantasy in which I amass the chops to play on a project for Winton Marsalis even though I’m not sure he likes the guitar.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
I hope my songs continue to resonate with people and make a positive difference that is significant to them. It’s a great affirmation when folks not only appreciate the craft involved but also the content. If I have a message, it stems from my belief that art and culture enriches our lives and there is no limit to the creativity we can experience.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started on this music path? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
You never know who may be out there listening, so, woodshed, develop a thick skin but keep an open mind and learn to communicate clearly. Don’t expect gold and glory but
never underestimate the probability that one thing can lead to another if you let it. Learn something from everyone you can but find your own voice. Stay true to your self and, in spite of the ups and downs you will surely sustain in the heartbreak that is the music business, try to hold on to some of that magic you felt when you first fell in love with the music itself.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
Now that I’ve been on the road for 46 years, I feel the bumps more than I used to but I still love to play the shows and meet people from all over. If y’all keep coming back, then, as long as I am able, so will I.