In his 46 years of touring, Mississippi native Sonny Landreth has made a name for himself as perhaps the best slide guitarist in the world.
Still pushing musical boundaries after decades, Landreth, 66, has gained the respect of some of the guitar greats, becoming a regular at Eric Clapton’s prestigious Crossroads Guitar Festival. Landreth talks to The Sacramento Bee on the eve on his performance Friday with bassist Dave Ranson and drummer Brian Bignac at Harlow’s. He’ll perform a half-acoustic, half-electric set from his latest album, Recorded Live in Lafayette.
Q: How is your recent album different from your past work?
A: “This is focused on songs over the span of my career. Some of these songs are back to the ’70s and it goes all the way up through the last album we did two years ago. Also, having both the acoustic and electric element is different. It’s a richer experience – for the audience and us as well. You have to change things up, keep it interesting. If we lose interest, then we’re sunk. That gets across in the performance.”
Q: Are there any challenges of doing an acoustic and electric show in one?
A: “Oh yeah. It’s twice as much work, honestly. We do two sound checks every day. It’s a lot more strenuous, but at the same time, it makes for a better show all the way around for everyone and that’s the most important thing.”
Q: How did you start playing the guitar?
A: “Well for me it was Scotty Moore in Elvis Presley’s band. (By the time) they made their first appearance on TV, my older brother Steve had already been bringing Elvis Presley records into the house, but I didn’t know what I was listening to. I just knew I loved it. But when I saw them on TV, they panned over to Scotty Moore over Elvis’s shoulder. He played a quick turnaround and I thought – oh that’s what I’ve been hearing.”
Q: Some consider you the best slide guitar player in the world. At this point in your career, are you still trying to improve?
A: “I’m always looking to improve, man. I think that’s the nature of creativity. Once you discover something, that’s sort of the fuel that propels you forward. And you want to push boundaries. So that involves improving. You always want to up the game. What happens is you discover things about music. The technical aspect is wonderful – you have to take time to learn all the different techniques – but then you have to take that and apply that. It only goes so far if it’s just methodology and not really the bigger picture. That’s where the improvement factor is more significant. In the end, it’s about the song you’re writing.”
Q: How does it feel to be considered one of the greats by guitar legends like Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler?
A: “I can’t think of a better affirmation. It starts with believing in yourself and those who are close to you. But when your music actually reaches someone of that caliber and that level, there’s no better feeling. Because ultimately, you want your heroes to like you, too (laughs). And to take it a step further, to become friends with them is the even greater reward for me. And to work for them – especially with Mark. For all of these guys, it always comes down to the songwriting. That’s still the top priority.”
Q: You’ve been touring for almost half a century. Can you see yourself ever stopping?
A. “I’m sure at one point. I already have an agreement with my younger friends that they will make me stop when I’m embarrassing myself. I’ll just take that when it comes. I’ve always wanted to be a marathon runner and not a sprinter. If you’re gonna make it in the long run, you’ve gotta focus and take care of yourself and have a plan. And I’m good with it.”
Q: What’s the best part of performing?
A. “It’s all about being in the middle of the moment – when the music’s taking off. When we feel it, the audiences feel it. Just knowing that you gave them something that pulled them out of their daily grind or whatever their troubles are and just give people a break from that and let them experience something grand, then I feel like I’ve done my job.”
When: 7 p.m., Friday, August 11. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Harlow’s Restaurant and Nightclub, 2708 J Street, Sacramento