Sonny Landreth has been playing concerts in Louisiana since he was 16. He began touring professionally when he was 20. At 71, he can look back on more than 50 years of making music.
“I always thought about those old blues cats,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. “Suddenly I met the criteria and am one of them.”
Landreth is considered by the likes of Eric Clapton to be “probably the most underrated musician in the world and probably one of the most progressive as well.” In guitar terms, he’s not your average guitarist, best known for his slide guitar playing – and the special technique he uses where he plays chords and chord fragments by snapping behind the slide as he plays. To give his other fingers more space, he plays with the slider on his little finger. He said he learned the technique as a teenager at Prof Erny’s Music Store in Lafayette.
Landreth remembers a night years ago at the Grant Street Dance House when an older musician said to him, “‘If you were a black blues musician or an older white blues musician, you would do a lot better – which means my career as a professional.’ Musician would have done it.” lost more weight. Well, I finally made it to the final category.
More recently, in addition to moving from his home of 40 years in Breaux Bridge to Lafayette, Landreth has also been busy making albums. In total he has recorded 12 albums throughout his career.
“All in all, it was really good,” said Landreth, looking back on his career and the changes in the world as a professional musician as technology evolved from analog to digital.
Landreth says he feels fortunate that he was put under the microscope.
“Certainly the whole nature of what it means to make an album and sign a deal with a label has changed. I had the chance to experience the contracts and deals with labels the way it was before – going on tour with a promo. “Man, go to any big city, go to the radio station and then do a gig that night,” said Landreth. “Now everything has changed.”
Landreth acknowledges the way streaming music has impacted artists’ royalties and the process of recording an album.
He admits it’s not the first time the music business has changed.
“I came across it back in the disco era – it was just about not playing live music,” Landreth said. “At some point people get tired of it. People want live music. Ironically, as CDs continue to disappear, vinyl is coming into its own again. In the vinyl record we have an insert, a downloadable card, so people can access our music digitally.” . In that regard, it gives hope to an old analog dog like me.”
Nowadays, the main thing for Landreth and his team is to sell albums and other merchandise while performing.
“You have to cope with all the changes and become more creative,” he said. “But it’s still about the music, about recording it and bringing it to the public. It is interesting to see how the change has taken place and how the industry is evolving. One thing is that people still enjoy going out and making that connection with live music.”
Landreth will perform an acoustic set followed by an electric set at the Manship Theater on Thursday evening. He will also perform at the Grand Opera House in Crowley on November 11th.
He says some people have “been rocked to death” and that acoustic music gives them a chance to “breathe and rebuild from there.”
Landreth’s “Blacktop Run” was released shortly before the COVID pandemic hit. He had been on a coast-to-coast tour with his band and Marcia Ball for three weeks when the world stopped and he came home. He says the lockdown has offered him a chance for peace like he’s never experienced before.
“It was the first real break I’ve had in all these years. I’ve been busy, doing a few livestreams, working on other people’s albums and making a lot of videos,” he said. “We made the best of it.”
Still, Landreth says he didn’t experience the creative boost sparked by the change of pace that many others did.
“As time goes on, there aren’t as many bottles of wine and Netflix episodes to enjoy,” he said. “I can entertain myself for a long time playing guitar on the couch. It’s not the same as performing.”
Instead, he says, the pandemic gave him the opportunity to hone his barista skills.
He currently listens to a number of local artists including Michael Juan Nunez, Roddy Romero, Tommy McClain and Charles (CC) Adcock – musicians he likes and supports.
Landreth has appeared on many albums and performed in a variety of musical genres, from providing the soundtrack for bar fight scenes in the film Roadhouse (which he describes as a classic B-movie) to Alice Tatum Ann-Margret’s Christmas album, which he recorded with a French guitarist named Marc Aphlan, who cites Landreth as his mentor.