By Kevin Zimmerman
For his first studio album in five years, Southwest Louisiana-based guitarist, songwriter and singer Sonny Landreth called in some friends.
A lot of friends.
The all-star line-up on From the Reach (Landfall) is a virtual who’s-who of top guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson, and Vince Gill, along with singer/pianist Dr. John and singer Jimmy Buffett. “I’m very happy with it,” Landreth says of his ninth album. “It’s been a great adventure, dealing with all the aspects of it along the way.”
Doing a “duets” album was something the Canton, MS-born artist had mulled for some time, but “I wasn’t sure how to go about it,” he says. “There’ve been so many duets and guest albums done, I needed to figure it out, and ultimately I just started writing songs for each of the guests.”
“You never know if such-and-such is really going to be able to make it,” he continues. “With everybody’s schedules and such you never know if they might
Country star Gill “said ‘Yes’ practically before I asked him,” he recalls with a laugh. “It was sort of, ‘Hey, Vince, I’m making a new album…’ and he says, ‘I’ll do it!’” Established relationships with Knopfler, Buffett and Dr. John, with whom he’s played over the years, made things a bit easier. Even the biggest name, Clapton, was relatively easy to secure.
“We’d never actually met face to face until I did his first Crossroads event in 2004,” Landreth says. “When I did the second one last year I asked him and he jumped at it. A lot of the others happened to be there too, so I sort of got a lot of it done right there.”
The project is clearly a career milestone for Landreth, moving from the biting contrasts between his and Knopfler’s styles on opener “Blue Tarp Blues” to the slow blues visions enunciated with help from Clapton on “Storm of Worry” to the searing instrumental workout “The Milky Way Home” with Johnson.
Landreth’s musical interests were in place at an early age, he says. “I just loved listening to music as a kid. Presley of course was huge, and the fact he was from Mississippi was big too. Hearing Elvis’ music was terrific, but I kept watching Scotty Moore on guitar.
“Nobody in my family really played much music; my brother played trumpet in school and that’s what I started out on, when I was about 10,” he continues. “But I always wanted to play guitar. My dad got me my first one on my 13th birthday – it was a big ol’ acoustic guitar that was nearly impossible to play—partly because I didn’t know how, and partly because I couldn’t get my fingers where they needed to be.”
Eventually, of course, he mastered the instrument, and songwriting soon was added to the mix. His approach to his craft has changed over the years, he says. “I used to take time off to write, then time to record, and then time to go on the road. Now it’s all kind of happening at once. There’s never been any real formula; it’s kind of flipping a switch, something I disappear into according to those around me. I invite the song in.”
A true road warrior, Landreth will be touring almost nonstop through next spring, at which time he’ll play in such markets as Moscow, Prague, and Bucharest. How much of a fan base does he have in such locales? “I don’t know,” he chuckles, “but we’re gonna find out!”