Sonny Landreth hoped some of Albert King’s cosmic dust would rub off on him



By Steve Newton

Unless your an avid follower of guitar players–and slide-guitar specialists, in particular–you may not have heard of Sonny Landreth. According to Eric Clapton, he is “probably the most underestimated musician on the planet”. But that didn’t stop Landreth from earning a Grammy nomination for his 2003 release, The Road We’re On. It was tough competition in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category, though, and the recognition that comes with one of those shiny statuettes still eludes the Louisiana bottleneck ace.

“You always wanna win,” notes Landreth from his home in Lafayette, “but I never expected to. I knew Etta James would win.”

Unlike the highly respected Queen of the Blues, Landreth actually attended the posh Grammy Awards ceremony (“at least we showed up,” he jokes), hoping to rub shoulders with some of his better-known peers.

And besides, he likes getting out and about. This past summer he showed up at Fenway Park in Boston (where he sat in with Jimmy Buffett), the prestigious Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, and Clapton’s Crossroads Festival, which was definitely the big event of the year as far as rock- and blues-guitar freaks are concerned.

The three-day Slowhand show in Dallas benefitted the Crossroads Centre, a chemical addiction treatment and education centre that the British guitar god founded in 1997, and it included performances by an awesome array of famed pickers, including Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson, Otis Rush, and Steve Vai. Also on hand was Clapton himself.

“He’s a sweetheart,” says Landreth, who plays the Yale Hotel next Thursday (December 2). “He was there for our set and brought his family to meet me. It’s so great being able to meet people like him, heroes that you’ve been listening to for so long.”

When it comes to slide players, Landreth’s main heroes include Clapton’s old jammin’ buddy in Derek & the Dominos, Duane Allman, as well as blues pioneers Robert Johnson and Elmore James. And being raised in the musical melting pot of Louisiana meant that guitarists weren’t his only influences; his biggest musical inspiration was actually accordionist and zydeco legend Clifton Chenier.

“There’s a great culture here,” he says, “in the music and the food and the way people dance–their whole outlook is all part of it, you know. So I got to hear a lotta different kinds of music growin’ up, and there’s a lot of instruments that influenced me as well.

“Early on I recognized the potential for slide guitar as having more of a vocal quality about it, so I just kept experimenting away, being influenced by trumpet, accordion, fiddle, saxophone, the rub board–ha! Triangle. Everything, man. It’s kind of like the gumbo–you throw it all in there.”

The smorgasbord of sounds that Landreth manages to coax from his instrument will be served up in style this January when he releases his first live album, named after the Lafayette venue where he honed his chops, Grant Street.

“I played there opening night back in 1980,” he relates, “and over the years I opened for a lot of the blues greats that would come through here–everybody from Muddy Waters to B.B. King to Albert King.

“One of the owners was a good friend of mine,” Landreth continues, “so I had my own key to the back door and everything. I got to meet all those great players and hang out with ’em backstage and hope some of the cosmic dust would rub off on me.”

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