Sonny Landreth has been performing around Louisiana since he was 16 years old. He began touring professionally at 20. At 71, he looks back on more than 50 years of making music.
“I used to think about those old blues cats,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “Suddenly I’ve met the criteria and I’m one of them.”
Landreth has been considered by the likes of Eric Clapton to be “probably the most underrated musician on the planet, and also one of the most advanced”. Speaking of guitar, he’s no ordinary guitarist, best known for his slide guitar playing—and the special technique he uses that involves playing chords and chord fragments by fretting behind the slide as he plays. To give his other fingers more room, he plays with the slide on his little finger He said he learned the technique as a youngster in Prof. Ernie’s music shop in Lafayette.
Landreth recalls a night years ago at the Grant Street Dance House when an older musician told him, “If you were a black or an older white blues musician, you’d do a lot better—meaning that my career as a professional a musician would have taken more. Well, I’ve finally made it to the last category.”
Most recently, in addition to moving to Lafayette from his Breaux Bridge home of 40 years, Landreth has also been busy making albums. In total, he has made 12 albums throughout his career.
“Overall, it’s been pretty good,” Landreth said, looking back on his career and considering the changes in the professional musician’s world as technology evolved from analog to digital.
Landreth says he feels lucky to have gotten under the wire.
“Of course, the whole essence of what it means to make an album, to sign a label deal has changed. I had the chance to experience the label contracts and deals the way it used to be – go on the road promoting a guy, go to every major city, go to the radio station and then do a show that night,” Landreth said. “Now everything has changed.”
Landreth acknowledges the ways in which music streaming has affected artist compensation and the process of recording an album.
He admits this isn’t the first time the music business has changed.
“I ran into it in the disco days — it was all without live music,” Landreth said. “People eventually get tired of it. People want live music. While the CD is slowly disappearing, vinyl has ironically made a comeback. In vinyl, we have an insert, a download card, so people can access our music digitally. In that respect, it gives hope to an old analog dog like me.”
These days, for Landreth and his team, it’s all about selling albums and other merchandise at the concert.
“You have to deal with all the changes and become more creative,” he said. “With all that said, it’s still about the music and recording it and distributing it. It’s interesting to watch how the change has happened and the industry has evolved.” One thing is that people still like to go out and get that connection with live music.”
Landreth will perform a concert Thursday night at the Manship Theater with an acoustic set followed by an electric set. He will also play on November 11 at the Grand Opera House in Crawley.
He says some people “have been shaken to death” and acoustic music gives them a chance to “breathe and build it from there”.
Landreth’s “Blacktop Run” came out just before the COVID pandemic hit. He was three weeks into a coast-to-coast tour with his band and Marcia Ball when the world shut down and he came home. He says the lockdown has provided a chance for a break unlike anything he’s ever known.
“It was the first real break I had in all these years. I’ve been busy, doing some live shows, working on other people’s albums, making a lot of videos,” he said. “We made the most of it.”
Still, Landreth says he didn’t find the creative boost the change in pace brought about like many others.
“Over time, there are only so many bottles of wine and Netflix episodes you can take,” he said. “I can have fun playing guitar on the couch for a long time. It’s not the same as performing.”
Instead, he says the pandemic has provided him with an opportunity to hone his barista skills.
He currently listens to an array of local artists including Michael Juan Nunez, Roddy Romero, Tommy McClain and Charles (CC) Adcock – musicians he likes and supports.
Landreth has played on many albums, appearing in a wide variety of musical genres, from providing the soundtrack for the bar fight scenes in the movie “Roadhouse” (which he describes as a classic B-movie), to Alice Tatum, to The Christmas Album of Ann-Margret, who worked with a French guitarist named Marc Aphlan, who claimed Landreth as his mentor.