Sonny Landreth and friends let the music do the talking



By Steve Newton

Fans of Louisiana slide-guitar ace Sonny Landreth have reason to be thrilled about his latest album, Elemental Journey. It’s totally instrumental, which means there’s no pesky vocals getting in the way of the 61-year-old picker’s shimmering bottleneck licks. Turns out Landreth has yearned to go wordless for a while now.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says, on the line from his home outside of Lafayette. “It goes back to earlier days of learning to play and a lot of the great instrumental music of the time—growing up hearing Chet Atkins, the Ventures, my jazz heroes like Wes Montgomery. But I’ve had at least one instrumental even on the vocal albums, for the most part, so I decided to go ahead and do a whole project like that.”

Not having any singing on Elemental Journey left lots of room for famous guest guitarists, of course, and Landreth didn’t skimp on those, asking Bay Area shredder Joe Satriani and Texas tonemaster Eric Johnson to solo on one track each.

“They’re both amazing and complete musicians,” raves Landreth. “Joe has the full package, and that goes for E.J. too. I mean, Eric—his vision of guitar and where he’s taking it is so unique. You always hope, working with someone on that level, that some of that mojo rubs off on you. But when you get to be friends, that makes it that much more special.”

Landreth’s Vancouver fans may be treated to some Elemental Journey material when he plays here with local six-string ace Steve Dawson and his band. The two first met when they were booked to lead a workshop at the 2010 Winnipeg Folk Festival.

“We had such a chemistry,” Landreth recalls, “and I was really admiring his musicianship. He’s an extraordinary player, and I think the fact that we clicked so well there left a spark that led to the idea of doing this show.”

After the gig here Landreth will continue on a tour that takes him to New York’s Madison Square Garden in April for Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. That event—which raises funds for a drug-treatment centre in Antigua—features a who’s who of guitar stars, including Jeff BeckBuddy Guy, Albert Lee, Allan Holdsworth, Robert Cray, and Jimmie Vaughan.

It will be Landreth’s fourth time opening the festival, which has previously been held in Dallas (in 2004) and Chicago (in 2007 and 2010). So how does that work, exactly? Does Slowhand just call up and say, “Hey, Sonny, wanna jam again?”

“Pretty much,” Landreth replies with a chuckle. “I played all of ’em, you know, and it’s a great honour. And when he comes out and plays with us, the whole thing goes up to another level. He’s one of my original heroes, so it’s the ultimate gig for me.”

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