Personalities | Sonny Landreth | Louisiana Legend | Guitar Heroes
A blues guitarist best known for his slide-guitar work, Sonny Landreth (b. 1951) was born in Canton, Mississippi. The family relocated to Lafayette, Louisiana, where Sonny was immersed in the area’s swamp-pop and Zydeco music.
Beginning as a trumpeter, he was already a virtuoso guitarist in his teens. His earliest role model was Scotty Moore, and he was later influenced by The Ventures and Chet Atkins.
Landreth’s first professional appearance was with Zydeco accordionist Clifton Chenier, in whose Red Hot Louisiana Band Landreth was the only white. He recorded two albums for the Louisiana independent Blues Unlimited label, Blues Attack (1981) and Way Down (1985), the second of which came to the attention of record companies in Nashville. This in turn led to Landreth recording and touring with John Hiatt. His reputation led to his being offered more session work, notably with John Mayall, who recorded Landreth’s song ‘Congo Square’.
Ultimately, he also worked with guitar legend Leslie West, Kenny Loggins, Dolly Parton, Junior Wells, Beausoleil, Bonnie Raitt, Allen Toussaint, Mark Knopfler and soul singer Jimmy Buffett. He resumed his solo recording career with Outward Bound (1992). His music is rooted in Louisiana, and evokes the sounds, smells and sights of the state. As he says: ‘Playing this music is as natural for me as going to the crawfish festival. It’s something I think I was born to do.’ Landreth’s latest album, From the Reach, was released in 2008.
Described by Eric Clapton as ‘probably the most underestimated musician on the planet and probably one of the most advanced’, Landreth is held in high esteem by his peers. His unique style of playing slide guitar has left many guitarists puzzling over how he achieves the powerful and sweet sound from his trademark National guitar. Landreth’s strings are positioned high off the frets, allowing him to play notes, chords and chord fragments behind the slide, which is placed on his little finger. His right-hand technique is highly distinctive, involving slapping, tapping and picking the strings with his fingers. He also employs numerous different tunings, so many that he has developed an automatic tuner that is mounted on the guitar.
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