Prior to Sonny Landreth’s 11/16/12 performance at The Englert Theatre, I asked Sonny some questions about his new solo record, his guest appearances and his slide technique.George Burrows: Elementary Journey, your newest record, is not your signature swampy blues, soulful vocals release. Could you comment on how Elementary Journey came to be all instrumental, as well as what your professional relationships with guest guitarists Eric Johnson and Joe Satriani are like?Sonny Landreth: Doing an all instrumental album was something I’d been wanting to do for a long time and it just felt like the right moment for it. I’d met both Eric and Joe years ago and we became friends. Of course, I got fired up and wanted to do projects with them. They are truly amazing musicians and great people too.GB: You interject so much of your personality into other people’s work (John Hiatt, John Mayall, Marva Wright, etc.).What is the difference between being a solo artist vs. a lead guitarist for different artists?SL: Well, I always treat other projects as if they were my own, so I hope to bring the best I can to the table for them. With my own sessions, I need to have a broader scope conceptually as I take on the role of being the producer as well.GB: Is it fun when you get a call to work with someone like John Hiatt and create within the framework of what they need or does it feel constricting?SL: No, I love it! In fact, it’s a bit of a relief from the torture that I inflict upon myself with my own projects. When I’m working for someone else, especially those you’ve mentioned, I always learn something and feel honored to be invited.GB: How has the digital age affected you as a guest artist and as a solo performer? Do you find sending your music to an artist digitally rewarding or do you prefer being in the studio live?SL: Though I will always prefer live collaborations, sending digital files offers a flexibility with schedules that would otherwise not even be possible. Also, it does have the potential to be creative in ways that can truly surprise you and I like that a lot. My yard stick is, if the music is elevated to a higher level, then I know it’s working for the better.GB: I spoke with Paul Nelson who produced Johnny Winter’s “Roots” record about the process he used for recording. He said that he sent the songs to people without Johnny’s guitar part so that it would be their take on the music, without a temptation to mimic Johnny. Your track, “T-Bone Shuffle” leads off the album. Could you elaborate on the process that was used and how you approached the song?SL: Man, I was so stoked that I broke out my old Gibson Firebird that is similar to the one Johnny plays and I used it for this track. Though I would’ve preferred to hear Johnny’s parts too, I didn’t have a problem. That’s because he’s always been a big hero of mine so I know his unique sound and style. It was a natural fit and that allowed me to run it down as if he were right there with me.GB: Do you have a solo recording that you feel was your crowning release – where you went, “Damn, now that is Sonny Landreth”?SL: Well, now that you mention it, I guess I’ve had both crowning and drowning moments where I could’ve said that. The truth is, there will always be things you wished you’d have done differently. All in all, I’m pretty happy with my solo work as a whole. Having said that, Elemental Journey feels special as a body of work going in a new direction for me. If you were to press me for a few individual songs with lyrics, Outward Bound and Great Gulf Wind come to mind.GB: You wear your slide on your pinkie and you use the other 3 fingers for fretting. How did you come up with that configuration?SL: It came to me a long time ago. I began to look at the fret board from the perspective of a piano player, where you visualize all of the notes that lay before you on the keyboard. It struck me to press my first finger down on an individual string while holding the slide in place on the rest of the strings floating above the fret board. I strummed a full E minor chord though I was tuned to E major. It felt like I’d just opened a window into another universe. From there I began to connect much more complex chords, melodies and rhythms that inspired new techniques as well.GB: What advice would you give to guitarists/artists as they start their career in music?SL: Always keep studying, practicing and developing your craft but also be open to the power of possibility. One thing can lead to another better thing, in ways you’d never expect. Just don’t expect the instant success that the shows on network tv are always hyping. Be resourceful and keep looking for someone reputable in the business that can help you. Record your music and get out there and play! You’ll have to pay your dues and tough it out countless times but there’s no better way to hone your craft. Also, retain ownership of your master recordings. Down the line that will serve you well.GB: You play Iowa City, Iowa 11/16 at the historic Englert Theatre where the audience will more than likely be a mix of fans and guitar geeks hanging on everything you do. What can people look forward to hearing?SL: It’s gonna be a lot of fun. I’ll have my trio that includes Dave Ranson on bass and Brian Brignac on drums. We’ll do a set that will be kind of an overview of songs from different albums I’ve recorded over the years, as well as some of the material off the new instrumental release. So yeah, there will be plenty of guitar work but I WILL be singing, too.Thank you to Sonny Landreth and Brad Hunt for granting the interview.
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