Music Q&A: Sonny Landreth

Sonny Landreth will lead off the 2012 Colorado Riverfront Concert Series on Thursday, June 28, at James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park. Landreth’s most recent album is the all-instrumental “Elemental Journey.”

There is Eric Clapton, one of the greatest guitar players on the planet, standing on the 2007 Cross Roads Guitar Fest stage amazed at how Sonny Landreth plays guitar.

The video is on YouTube,

Clapton smiles and shakes his head while Landreth wows the crowd on slide guitar, an instrument played just a little differently than the traditional guitar.

Locals will get a chance to see why Clapton was excited to share the stage with Landreth when Landreth will open the 2012 Colorado Riverfront Concert Series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 28, at James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park. Tickets to the free show already were handed out.

In a recent phone interview, Landreth spoke about playing the slide guitar, his most recent release “Elemental Journey” and the upcoming concert.

Melinda Mawdsley: I’m not much of a guitar player. Sorry. What is slide guitar?

Sonny Landreth: The slide guitar comes from the Delta blues, sliding on the strings instead of pressing on strings like you typically would. The sound you hear is from the strings floating above the neck. I’ve found a way to do that and fret behind the slide to make different sounds and techniques.

Mawdsley: What led you to play slide guitar?

Landreth: What got my ear was the vocal quality of that sound listening to the old Delta blues since (the songs) were all about telling a story, and the sounds of a slide guitar reinforced those lyrics. That influenced my sound a lot.

Mawdsley: I hear the South in your voice.

Landreth: I was born in Mississippi, and my family moved to Louisiana when I was 7. Because of the Cajun and creole culture here, music, food and dance are a way of life. I used to live in Colorado. I lived up in Estes Park way up in the early ‘70s. The bass player and I through the ‘80s played all over Colorado, going to ski areas. We’d ski during the day and play clubs at night.

Mawdsley: Do you get guitar players asking you questions about how you play?

Landreth: Well, sure. When I was a kid growing up, if I could have asked more questions I would have. With YouTube, it’s a completely different experience. Then again, in the era I came up it was a personal experience to go out and hear music, and that goes to the heart of learning music. You can show someone a technique on guitar, but if you don’t study what was going on historically and how people related to that through their music, then you (can’t) begin to embrace the scope.

Mawdsley: The sound you generate through slide guitar sounds so rich, like it takes so much work. Are you exhausted after a show?

Landreth: I wouldn’t say (the slide guitar sound) is any more work than a standard guitar. It’s more than the type of guitar (that determines the sound). It’s about what you put into playing guitar and what you get back from the audience. I couldn’t play like that sitting on my couch at home.

Mawdsley: I’m under direct orders to ask you about the last time you played this area. George Harrison had recently died, and you and John Hiatt played a rendition of “Here Comes the Sun.” Do you remember that show?

Landreth: Absolutely. George Harrison was a big hero for me. The Beatles were for all of us. It was great to do that with John.

Mawdsley: In addition to Harrison, who do you consider some of your musical heroes growing up?

Landreth: More than I could count. We could spend the rest of the conversation putting a dent into it. The point of that is it’s important to learn to listen to all kinds of music and find out who the masters and great ones are.

Mawdsley: You took a different approach on your most recent album, “Elemental Journey.” It’s all instrumental. Why?

Landreth: I’ve always included one or two instrumental (tracks) on the vocal albums along the way, but it’s something that’s been on my mind all the time. I got an invitation from the director of (the Acadiana) Symphony Orchestra to perform a Bach cantata (in 2005), and I certainly had never done that on slide guitar.

Mawdsley: You’re upcoming show will be along the Colorado River. Do you particularly enjoy performing by rivers?

Landreth: Because of my connection to Colorado, I look forward to it. I think it’s inspirational. Weather permitting, I think it’ll be great. I do like playing outside.


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