Sonny Landreth – Bound by the Blues
Sonny Landreth Gets Back to Basics
Sometimes you just have to get back to your roots.
Sonny Landreth decided to do so on his most recent album Bound by the Blues, which returns the slide guitarist back to a genre that he’s always had an affinity for: the blues.
Sonny Landreth is “A musicians’s musician.” “Able to play it all.” “Unlike anything else you’ve ever heard.” These are some of the ways that he’s been described as a guitarist. Having played with everyone from Tommy Bolin to Martina McBride to Jimmy Buffett, Landreth sure can play everything, but he’s never lost himself along the way. He’s a chameleon with an authentic core, able to transform his playing into whatever he needs it to be, but always true to himself and the southern roots music from which he springs.
He’s known as the “King of Slydeco” – Slydeco referring to both Zydeco music and slide guitar. So to get a better understanding of Landreth’s guitar playing, we need to know a little bit about both of those things.
What Exactly Is Slide Guitar?
Slide guitar is so-called because of the use of a tool called a slide. Rather than fretting the instrument with your fingers, the guitarist slides a glass or metal object up and down the frets of the instrument. Because the slide doesn’t need to be lifted to move it in the way that your fingers do, it produces a smooth sounding change between notes. It also can significantly enhance the vibrato effect. All this contributes to a wailing, moaning sound that many people find both truly beautiful and deeply haunting. The emotional effect of the playing can be absolutely devastating.
Slide guitar was popularized – like many great things in music! – by early blues musicians. It was used by early country blues artists like Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, and Blind Willie McTell. Elmore James popularized the use of a slide on electric guitar; many later blues and rock musicians were inspired by James’ expressive playing, and he has been dubbed the “King of the Slide Guitar”. Beyond rock and blues, slide guitar has also been a major force in country and even Hawaiian music. Artists that have used the slide to tremendous effect include everyone from Muddy Waters and Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and even Whitesnake. That’s right, I said even Whitesnake. Slide guitar has been integral to 20th century popular music, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
Zydeco music is like a big Louisiana party in your ears. It’s bright, big, fun, and lifts the spirit. Though the music has some blues roots, these guys definitely don’t have the blues in an emotional sense. Vibrant saxophones, booty-shakin’ percussion and joyous vocals pepper the music. Zydeco music, a distinctively Louisiana-centered genre, was formed out of the melting pot of blues, rhythm & blues, and music indigenous to the Louisiana region created by those who spoke French Creole. It also incorporates the music of the Native peoples of the Louisiana region. In addition to your usual guitar, drums, and bass combination it generally incorporates instruments like fiddle, accordion, and even washboard. The generally fast-paced form of music tends to make the accordion, either button or piano accordion, prominent in the mix of sound, along with a type of washboard called the frottoir.
Being a quite adaptable form of music, zydeco has incorporated the sounds of everything from two-steps to traditional blues, soul, reggae, and even hip hop. The music was popularized by Clifton Chenier, known as “The King of Zydeco”, in the mid-1950’s. Chenier was a true pioneer and champion of the form. A Grammy Award winner, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011, and has been mentioned in the songs of great artists like Rory Gallagher and Paul Simon. He’s also been covered by the contemporary jam band legend Phish, who has played his song “My Soul” live.
Sonny Landreth – The King of Slydeco
While Sonny Landreth is first and foremost a blues guitarist, settling and living in Louisiana created for him a powerful attraction to Zydeco music that has never released him from its grip. Eric Clapton has called him one of the most advanced guitarists in the world, and when Clapton says that about you, people stand up and take notice.
Growing up, Landreth would often visit New Orleans where he would soak up the sounds of jazz & rhythm & blues. In his early days, the two biggest influences on Landreth were, of course, the blues, but also notably the country music guitar playing of Chet Atkins. If you’ve ever listened to Chet, you know he has an incredible knack for finger-style guitar picking that seems to simultaneously create melody, rhythm, and bass lines. Landreth found a landmark way of merging Atkins’ vibrant finger-style technique with traditional blues guitar. As a result, Landreth has an incredibly distinctive style of play that incorporates both the use of a slide AND fretting at the same time. It’s rather remarkable and a true pleasure to not only listen to but also watch.
Sonny Landreth’s musical career really took off when he became a member of Clifton Chenier’s band the Red Hot Louisiana Band. Landreth has called this the height of his career, but he’s also played in the bands of such luminaries as John Hiatt and John Mayall. He also spent significant time working as a sideman for island rocker Jimmy Buffet. But he also has a rich body of solo material that now includes the recent blues record. Bound by the Blues is a back-to-basic blues record, but it’s not at all basic in the sense of simplicity. It’s chock-full of Landreth’s distinct style of pickin’. So if you like your blues roasted with a little bit of Cajun seasoning, the Slydeco of Sonny Landreth is the right musical meat for you.
– Brian M. Reiser,
J&R Adventures / Tribut Apparel