Sonny Landreth: The Where's Eric! Interview
Sonny Landreth has become a firm favorite among Clapton fans for kick starting the Crossroads Guitar Festivals in Chicago, with blazing versions of his own tunes "Ubresso" and "Promise Land", both featuring Clapton playing along side of him. Landreth's body of work over the years captures the influences he grew up with, including blues, New Orleans R&B, and jazz. His latest release "Elemental Journey" is his first all instrumental work and the first time he's incorporated members of an orchestra on any of his CDs. Where’s Eric! was delighted to sit down with Sonny to talk about his career, influences, and of course, his first time meeting one of his original guitar heroes, Eric Clapton.
The Where’s Eric! Interview: Sonny Landreth with Bruce Kahn
How did you and Eric first meet?
We actually first met at the first Crossroads festival (Dallas 2004). We had been in touch and have mutual friends. We played a gig in London later and he came out and we began to talk about playing and working together.
You’ve opened all three Crossroads festivals. Did you ever want to be slotted in later in the day?
I love opening. I really do because we’re the first one out of the chute and then I get to hang out and check everyone else out. It’s really worked out well for us too on the DVD.
It doesn’t hurt to have Eric join you on stage either.
Well, they (EC’s team) told me he considers it an honor to do that. It’s a great honor for me and it’s really the best gig I’ve ever played in my life in terms of what it means, what it’s all about, and who’s involved. It’s especially because of Eric and my connection to him, listening to all those records of his early on.
Was he your first guitar hero?
He was one of them. I was about 14, 15 years old and I heard about him from older friends of mine at school. The guys in the first band I played in were a couple years older and they were ahead of the curve, which was good for me, too. EC was one of the big ones for me, both he and Jimi Hendrix.
Both you and EC were influenced by the same music.
I had already gotten into the Chet Atkins style and much of what I was listening to was the roots music in our area of the world and I found out that’s what Eric was listening to and I’m going “wait a minute - I have to check this guy out”.
The British kids were trying to get everything that you already had access to in Louisiana.
Yeah, I was real fortunate to be raised where I was and it’s the culture there. I had access to everything – the Cajun, New Orleans R&B, jazz, and blues.
What area of music would you put a tag on in describing your style? Is blues at the top?
Well, that’s fair enough because that’s at the heart of it for me. Certainly other forms of music have influenced me and you always want to push boundaries and keep growing. In my heart, at the core of it, the thing I really concentrated on that put me on my path was focusing on the blues.
Would it be fair to say that you make your records your way by incorporating your influences and maybe sacrificing that commercial appeal?
Yeah. I think you have to play true to your heart. Having said that, it’s not like being commercial is a formula you can figure out. I would have thought some of the earlier albums I made would have been more in that direction.
Satellite radio gives you another avenue to get your music heard.
I think it’s great. In some ways it reminds me of the old underground FM where anything goes.
When it comes to playing live, it seems like you can be found anywhere from a small club, to a theater, to a large music festival. Do you prefer one to another?
I like it all. It’s good to have a balance. There are things about both that I really like. With clubs you feel that personal connection and there’s an intimacy about that. With the large festivals you have to hit the ground running and I like the kind of energy you get from them. It’s good to have a balance. It’s interesting playing them all to see how it affects what songs you play and the repertoire and the ones that hold their own on all of the above.
How did the idea come about for doing an all instrumental album like your latest “Elemental Journey”?
That goes back to my earlier days listening to the Ventures. I always liked film and soundtrack music that’s really well done. It’s the idea of what if you wrote this music without the vocals and pictures? It’s the listener conscious of the imagery. It’s a more abstract place to work from, but it’s real attractive as a writer and as a musician. I did always include an instrumental or two on the vocal albums.
Is doing a soundtrack for a film something you’d like to do?
I’d love to. It’s not for a lack of trying. I plan on doing a follow-up of “Elemental Journey”, kind of a volume two. I think there’s even better songs not on there.
Bonnie Raitt says you’re one of the most astonishing guitarists she knows.
That’s a huge compliment from her. I love her to death. I started getting her records way back in the ‘70s, her first albums. They just blew me away. She’s incredible.
She does back-up vocals on “Soul Salvation” from the “Levee Town” CD.
She was sweet. She was on vacation in Ireland and went into a studio over there and just laid the track down there. It was just a beautiful thing to do.
Watching you play, it’s interesting to note that you play slide with your pinky.
I’ve read that’s the way to do it. I don’t know where I read it (LAUGHS), but I tried different fingers and that one felt the best.
You also hold your guitar higher than most. How did that come about?
It’s just easier. Now it’s getting higher because my sight is getting worse. I’m just trying to get that runway a little closer for a landing.
You've collaborated with John Hiatt quite a bit over the years. How did this all begin?
I'm in the studio in Austin and I was told John is looking for a slide guitar player to play on his album. I didn't really think much of it. While I was recording, I see the hand of the record producer with a phone, the cord is stretched from the other room, and he had John on the line. He invited me to audition and I got the gig.
Are there any younger guitar slingers that impress you?
Derek Trucks. He just took what he learned to another realm. It’s in his DNA. He grew up with that. What I admire about him is he has everything you look for in a great musician. He actually did something that’s extraordinary. He took something that someone else established (Duane Allman), made it his own, and took it somewhere else. That’s pretty impossible.
Who’s at the top of Sonny Landreth’s list to collaborate with down the road?
I’d love to play with Jeff Beck. I’ve met him once and have done some shows on the same bill, but never together. He’s taken something and made it so much his own and so unique. He’s one of the greatest guitar players in the world.
The interview took place at the Magic Bag in Ferndale, Michigan earlier this year. Special thanks to Brad Hunt