Mascot Label Group’s Provogue Records releases Sonny Landreth’s new album Bound By The Blues. The recordings mark a return to the slide guitarist’s musical roots, presenting a bold, big-sounding collection of tracks that swagger like the best of classic rock, climb to stratospheric heights of jazz informed improvisation, and inevitably remain deeply attached to the elemental emotional and compositional structures that are at the historic core of the blues. Landreth offers, “Ever since The Road We’re On [his Grammy-nominated 2003 release], fans have been asking me, ‘When are you going to do another blues album?’ After expanding my songs for Elemental Journey into an orchestral form, I thought I’d get back to the simple but powerful blues form. I’d been playing a lot of these songs on the road with my band, and we’ve been taking them into some surprising places musically. So going into the studio to record them with just our trio seemed like the next step.”
The track listing for Bound By The Blues is: “Walking Blues,” “Bound By The Blues,” “The High Side,” “It Hurts Me Too,” “Where They Will,” “Cherry Ball Blues,” “Firebird Blues,” “Dust By Broom,” “Key To The Highway,” “Simcoe Street.”
The Guitar Legend, whom not only refers to Buffet and Clapton as references…but as friends, hopped on the phone with The Levity Ball to shed some light on his career, his tour, his new cd/album and his love of what he does!
Marc: Hi Sonny, How you doing today?
Sonny: I’m doing good. I’m doing good, and you?
Marc: I’m well. It’s a nice day out here. I’m in Paramus, New Jersey, right now in the studio. Yeah. I’m actually at IMP Studio where Leslie West does most of his stuff now.
Sonny: Oh. No kidding. Do you know him?
Marc: I do. I do.
Sonny: Oh, well give him my best next time you see him. I haven’t seen him in a long time.
Marc: Yeah, I definitely will. How’s the tour going?
Sonny: We’re actually just getting started.
Marc: Very cool. Sonny, I’d like to get to know you a little better. You were born in Mississippi.
Marc: You grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Marc: What was that like? What do you think of now about having grown up in Louisiana?
Sonny: I’ve thanked my father many times as I got older because music is such a big part of the heritage there and the culture there. Music, food, and dance is very unique with both the Cajun and the Creole cultures. I grew up hearing all kinds of music. I wouldn’t have that background, not like this. Families grow up around it; everybody in their family plays an instrument. These third generation kids have their own bands. It’s really cool. They have one foot in the past with traditional music and then another foot with what they’re doing in contemporary. I think it’s really creative. The same thing for me growing up and hearing all of that. I started playing trumpet when I was ten. I had all the academic influences at the time that were available. I started playing guitar. I was always working on that in bands and playing in the area. A lot of the music as I got out, I got into sitting with other groups, just a lot of different kinds of music that really inspired me and gave me a rich background to draw from.
Marc: One of the first things I did in the music business when I started was producing the debut album with jazz trumpeter Mark Rapp (www.markrapp.com). He’s from South Carolina, but after he graduated and received his master’s in music theory, he moved to New Orleans, just to get that which you are talking about.
Sonny: Yeah. That’s exactly what it is. My dad actually went to Tulane after I was born and we were living in Lafayette. We used to go to New Orleans all the time. That’s where I first heard jazz and second line. Yeah, I don’t blame him. That would be the thing to do.
Marc: It paid off for him. He’s got six albums now, so it’s pretty cool stuff.
Sonny: Awesome, yeah.
Marc: You started with trumpet. I thought that was so cool to learn about that, that Coltrane and Davis were you’re inspiration.
Sonny: Oh, yeah. I loved all that stuff. I still do. My brother also played trumpet too. That pushed me to do the same thing when I came of age. I guess I was ten years old, so fifth grade is when it all happened in Louisiana. You’re given the option to join band in school. I did that all through my years in college.
Marc: Wow. What brought you to guitar?
Sonny: Always, from day one when Elvis was big in the fifties as well as Scotty Moore. I just thought that was the coolest looking guitar. The sound! It just blew my mind and my little brain. I was already snake-bit with that. I fell in love with the guitar long before the trumpet. I was thirteen when I finally convinced my folks that it wasn’t working. Yeah, that was the great thing about it for me, having that influence and starting from a different perspective. Being a wind instrument player, learning that, I just didn’t think of guitar in the same way. It’s just a different perspective. I think that helped me later on especially.
Marc: Sure. How did that move into slide?
Sonny: If you think about the phrasing, it’s huge with slide. The fact that a lot of my heroes, the ones you mentioned in jazz and my blues heroes, they’re all wanting to emulate the human voice. There’s that expression. It’s a very natural thing with taking a breath. Very much like with slide, there’s a vocal quality about it. Once you let that get under your skin, you can’t let it go. Having a sound that’s an extension of your singing voice perhaps, that’s a real big one for me.
Marc: Let me know if I’m mistaken, but you started with jazz, but your debut album was blues. Right?
Sonny: The earliest stuff, I was really into The Ventures. I was into everything. There was a great local jazz guitar player and he was friends with Wes Montgomery. He was really into Howard Roberts and Johnny Smith. I would go to his shop and hang out during the day. All these influences were coming at me from all over the place. I was working at a music store. I kind of grew up in that store and worked there for many years. There was an older kid that taught me Chet Atkins style fingerpicking. That changed everything. I was into Chet, Wes Montgomery. Listening to Andres Segovia. He would make appearances on TV. All this was happening. When I started getting into the blues, that was the wake-up call for me. I was reading about slide guitar. I didn’t even know what it was.
Then all these interviews with heroes that were becoming popular back in the day with Clapton. They were talking about all these cats over here. That pointed me in that direction. I just started buying albums way back when I was a kid, collecting albums and digging into all of that trying to figure out how they did it. That’s what brought me to the blues. Actually kind of a roundabout way. I began to recognize that a lot of the core progressions is the basic blues progression and what that was. Then I recognized that I had already seen it with some of the other songs and the other genres. That was already in place. That was another big moment for me.
Marc: Wow. That’s cool stuff. As far as people you’ve worked with, I could … I don’t know if I have that kind of time. What are some of your memories and experiences with Jimmy Buffett? What was working with him like?
Sonny: It’s a lot of fun. I love Jimmy. My band and I are going to open a couple of shows for him in June. I went and sat in with him at the Jazz Fest this year. It’s a lot of fun. Jimmy is just the greatest. He has written so many great songs. He’s got the happy hour thing down. That’s a big deal. Margaritaville. He’s such a great writer and prolific. He started out playing in the streets. He was hanging out in New Orleans a long time ago about the same time I was. It’s pretty cool. We have that connection. We’ve done a lot of shows with him. It’s great. He’s been immensely successful. It’s cool to get to ride on the jet to go to the gigs. You don’t have to deal with TSA. The captain of the plane comes out and helps you put your guitar onboard. What kind of wine would you like? Yeah, this is more like it. I always told him, I never could get too used to all that. I’d lose my edge.
Marc: Then, of course, Clapton.
Sonny: Yeah. That’s huge for me because I’m such a fan. He was such an influence on me from day one. We’ve gotten to be friends. It’s a real sweet thing for me. The Crossroads Festivals, we started doing all those. He came out and played with us. I just remember when he kicked in on the solo. It really hit me, “My God. Is this really happening?” The next time I think we did Promise Land. That was the live we played in the Toyota Park in Chicago. He just brought it on. Yeah, that’s the kind of thing where you have to pinch yourself. Really the ultimate for me to get to do those shows.
Marc: It’s cool. The research I did, I find people talking about you all the time. The theme is just more Sonny, more Sonny, more Sonny, which is just awesome. You have two roles. I want to ask you to compare and contrast. You had a career as a side man, but you’re solo career and this tour it’s got to be just tremendous. The new album, it’s going to take the world by storm. Compare and contrast. I was going to say pros and cons, but it’s probably pro-pro as far as when you’re working with these guys or you’re doing your own thing.
Sonny: Yeah. I have always aspired to write my own songs, have my own band, and did that all these years. When I got the opportunity to start working for other people, I loved it. You want to keep the radar up at all times to learn from people like that, especially that caliber. Working in the studio, see how they do it, get up close and see how they approach a song, how they treat it, all of that. You hope that some of that cosmic dust rubs off on you. Even more of an affirmation to get to be friends with them. There’s nothing like playing your own songs in your own band. That’s the expression of all that was there in the first place that you wanted to do. To find your own voice and have your style and your own sound and to convey your own ideas. There’s really nothing like that.
Marc: Which I think you obviously do. How would you describe your style and everything?
Sonny: I don’t know, man. That’s a tough call because I had so many influences. I don’t how you’d really describe it. I like the roots rock thing for a time because it encompassed so much. I don’t know anymore. I think now that it’s somewhat perhaps a cliché. Given enough time, marketing people can find different ways of using terminology. I don’t know. I think I’ll leave that up to other folks to decipher.
Marc: You just do what you do and it’s good.
Sonny: That’s fine with me. As long as it’s good that’s the important part. As long as it’s good.
Marc: Tell me about Bound by the Blues.
Sonny: This is a project that, to be honest, came to be a lot more than I may have originally thought. Initially I was thinking I want to get back to the blues and do more of a straight head blues album. It felt like it was the right time to do it. As I got into it and found some of these songs that we’d been playing for so many years, I have a new found appreciation. I realized I hadn’t even thought so much about looking back to how I was initially playing them when I was first learning, the way I played them along the way in all these years, and how much the songs, the arrangements, had changed as I had changed. It became much more of a personal experience. In reflection I realized that as I evolved and techniques that I’ve developed on guitar, I was playing that back into the fold, so to speak, with these classic songs. I thought that was a great starting point. The fact that we’ve playing most of these live for many years, it gave us a good head of steam to start with. I decided just to go in the studio and record with my band, three piece. Most all the tracks are like that. There’s a few that I’ve added some layers and layered some other parts to.
That was the idea, to take those classic songs and then to write half the material inspired by those songs. That took it to another level. When you look at an old blues song, it’s one thing to just learn the parts but to get inside that song and to study the history of it, to trace it back to where the words, the lyrics, the lines of the song originally came from, it becomes way more of a complex experience. It brings in the history of the times as that changed over the years and all that was happening and the different expressions of those songs, probably different artists. You want to treat it as your own. You want to honor what’s there and treat that with respect. At the same time, you’ve got to bring something new to the table. I did a lot of thinking about all that. That sort of took it to another level as well.
Marc: Very cool. Anyone out there you’d like to work with right now?
Sonny: Oh, man, I’m always open. There’s so many great artists. Actually, in a strange kind of way, finding the time. I hate to say that, but you get so busy doing it. I never want to miss out on anything, so I tend to jump at any and everything. I’ve kind of run myself ragged of late, but it’s all been good. I’d love to work with Jeff Beck. I’m still a huge fan and have been for so long. We had a couple of close encounters, but nothing has ever come of it. You never know. I’ll just leave the door open. One thing I’ve learned is to trust how one thing can lead to another. Maybe it’s not the thing you originally thought, but it’ll take you in a surprising direction that’s really creative. I love when that happens. You never know.
Marc: Yeah. Very cool. I don’t know if you have time for this question, but your thoughts on the music industry right now?
Sonny: I am leaving that wide open and I’ll tell you why. We really don’t know what’s happening. We know some things, of course. It’s all changed. I just signed with a label for the first time in years. I really didn’t foresee that happening at all. It’s a European-based label, Mascot and Provogue here in the U.S. They’re doing a great job. I’m really happy with it. We’re just coming out of the gate. Robin Ford had been telling me for quite a few years here about them. He wanted me to hook up with them. That probably initiated the conversation. I’m looking at their stable of musicians and was really impressed, some friends of mine. It seemed like a good fit. It’s kind of ironic at a time when labels are not what they were, or the nature of the business I should say, is so different with digital downloading and so forth. Are CDs going to be around? I’m making CDs. There’s another side to it. We’re doing vinyl too. Vinyl has made a big comeback in a way. I’m real happy about that.
Marc: As am I. I’m back on a vinyl kick myself.
Sonny: Oh, cool. The concept of the packaging has always been real important to me. Megan Barra, our art director, she’s Grammy nominated for Levee Town years ago. We’re all about that too. We grew up with the concept of having an album in your hands where you could read the lyrics and open it up. It was a visual experience with art as well and concepts. That has always carried over for me with every project I’ve done of mine. I’m thrilled that we’re doing vinyl as well. It’s kind of a mix right now. We’re talking digital downloading and vinyl. Probably cars won’t even have a CD player probably in the very near future.
Marc: You’re right.
Sonny: Playing live has never been more important I think. I still think people want that experience. It’s unlike anything else. We’ll have CDs at the shows for people. I think that’s important too. We’ll see where the business, how things evolve, and where that takes us.
Marc: Very cool. I can’t wait to hear the album. I will actually be seeing you at Music Café in Bethlehem on the 12th.
Sonny: Yeah. Come up and say hello, man. Absolutely.
Marc: I definitely will. Yeah. Thank you very much for your time, Sonny.