A Fan's Notes: Sonny Landreth: Lettin' It Slide Print
Sunday, 01 April 2007 14:04
Image By Chip Lovitt
My Telecaster-toting buddy, Frank, made me an offer I could not refuse.

The offer consisted of a free ticket to see one of the best, and most original, slide guitar players on the planet, Sonny Landreth, and a free ride down to the show. It would be a two-hour drive from Connecticut to the Boulton Center in Bay Shore, NY, on the eastern edge of Long Island, but I knew it would be worth it.

Sonny Landreth, if you’re not familiar with him, is probably best known for backing up John Hiatt in his excellent band, the Goners. Landreth has also played with Zydeco king Clifton Chenier, Bonnie Raitt, Mark Knopfler, Junior Wells, John Mayall, and others too numerous to name. More than a sideman, Landreth has synthesized a unique style that mixes New Orleans and Zydeco-influenced swamp stomp, revved-up rock, slide-guitar pyrotechnics, and a bit of blues, all blended into tight, tuneful songs.

I’ve never heard anyone play slide like Sonny Landreth. He’s got an unmatched bag of tricks, ranging from fretting notes behind the slide to turn major chords into minor chords to techniques that involves hammer-ons and pulls offs—with both the slide and his fingers. He utilizes harmonics, alternate tunings, slapping percussive strumming, volume swells, and a host of other effects that defy easy explanation. Playing a red and a worn sunburst Stratocaster, Landreth adds a touch of overdrive and delay to the mix, then cranks the whole high-octane mix through a Dumble amp that makes the most of the overtones, harmonics, and sheer power of his playing.

There’s only one guitar player in the band, but the guitar sound is huge and relentlessly rocking. Many slide players concentrate on single-note lead lines, or use the slide on two or three strings at a time. Landreth has plenty of smoky, swampy, and stinging single-note lead lines, too, but he also uses all kinds of right-hand strumming and picking techniques to craft a unique rhythm and lead style that makes full use of the slide on all six strings. It’s like two guitars in one.

And like many of today’s journeymen musicians, he’s a nice guy, too. Meeting and greeting the fans after the show, he was happy to talk guitars, music, be photographed with the fans, and sign autographs.

Shows like these remind me why, the live music scene is continually and constantly thriving and re-inventing itself, even as the mega-buck, major-label music/CD business is floundering. While their CDs may never go gold, much less platinum, musicians like Sonny Landreth (or Chris Smither who I saw a couple of week ago) can always excite and inspire a crowd, can still keep connecting with fans, and sell CDs too, despite the doldrums afflicting much of the music biz.

But I digress.

By now you might have guessed that I’m a rather rabid fan of slide guitar. Guilty as charged. From Elmore James and Hound Dog Taylor to Duane Allman, John Hammond, Jr., and Ry Cooder, my music collection is littered with slide masters. I have a National Steel, a Gibson Hound Dog Dobro, several lap steels, and an old guitar whose action I’ve raised to cheese-slicer height, which I use for slide from time to time. But after listening to a master like Sonny Landreth, I am reminded that I am really just another humble pilgrim on that particular road.

A couple of nights from now, I will be seeing another master of the form,
Derek Trucks, whose exciting and innovative slide work has lent a new energy to the Allman Brothers Band. Like a few thousand of my fellow ABB fans, I will be “Peakin’ at the Beacon” this month at one of the 16 shows the band is performing at New York’s Beacon Theater. I hope to give y’all a report on that particular party soon.

I’ve been known to end my guitarjamdaily column with Neil Young’s admonition to “keep on rocking in the free world.” But this time I’m sorta thinking along the lines of that terrific Robert Earl Keen song, “The Road Goes on Forever (and the Party Never Ends!)”

See y’all a little further on up the road.