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Sonny Landreth brings his wailing slide-guitar blues to Hagerstown for Blues Fest

May 29, 2013|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE | crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com
  • Louisiana blues guitarist Sonny Landreth performs Saturday evening during the Western Maryland Blues Fest. A map of Fridays and Saturdays Blues Fest events is attached to this story.
Photo by Brian C. Miller Richard

American blues musician Sonny Landreth was just a child when he knew music was going to be his path.

“The first time I heard Elvis Presley with Scotty Moore on guitar, I was snakebitten then,” he said during a telephone interview from California.

By age 13, Landreth, now 62, had the instrument that has made him an important blues musician — the guitar.

Those who attend Saturday night’s Western Maryland Blues Fest’s Downtown House Party will get a chance to see and hear Landreth’s way of playing the slide guitar. He’s scheduled to perform at 6:30 p.m.

Landreth — who was born in Mississippi and raised there and in Louisiana — said his culture, which included music, food and dance, shaped his playing.

“That, as a backdrop with all those influences, really served me well, because when I began to try to express that musically on the guitar, I think that pushed me into directions that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said.

He said he learned the Chet Atkins fingerstyle approach on the right hand, and as he studied Delta Blues he learned the bottleneck slide for his left hand. He put both of those together to form his own style of playing.

“(I was) using the slide to obtain a vocal quality and realizing the potential for a lot of different kinds of sounds,” he said. “And once I got onto that, one thing led to another.”

It’s that thought of using the guitar as a vocal instrument that led Landreth to release his 2012 instrumental album “Elemental Journey,” on his own label, Landfall Records.

“Speaking of back in the day, a lot of the music that fired me up was instrumental music. I kind of never got over that, either,” Landreth said.

Over the years, many of his albums already included one or two instrumental tracks, he said. He thought of an entire instrumental album as just a “natural step.”

Landreth said he discovered a bunch of old tracks that he originally recorded between 1995 and 1997. He took those and went back to the studio and remastered and remixed the songs. Most of those tracks, he said, just happened to be instrumental, and that’s when he started to think more seriously about putting together an entire instrumental album.

But what also helped him decide that an instrumental album was his next project was after he was invited to perform with the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra in Lafayette, La.

“After that experience, I could hear using strings in a way I had never thought of before,” he said.

He said it also went back to when he was 10 years old and learned to play his first instrument — the trumpet. He continued playing trumpet through college, so he said he had the classical jazz background.

“I had my heroes in those genres, but the guitar would overtake all of that,” he said. “But the slide guitar gave me a way to take those influences are well. And that’s much of what this album is about.”

And whether it is an album with vocals or just instruments, Landreth said both are built similarly.

“What was really interesting with this project was at the core of it, it’s really a three-piece band,” he said.

He would typically work on tracks at home, and then use those to jumpstart the project once the group got into the studio.

“As I began to add the layers, it was really fun how one thing would build upon the other,” he said.

He said once he worked on the string arrangements with his friend, singer-songwriter Sam Broussard — something he had never done before — the project took on a life of its own.

“It just really opened everything up. And that was a really unique experience: the voicing of that,” he said, “and the fact that I had went all out and making it more complex — harmonically and melodically — really lent itself well to that. And then it became a more expansive sound and a lot richer in detail.”

This summer Landreth will join two other musical icons on stage: B.B. King and Peter Frampton.

Landreth said when he was 17 years old, he met King at a club near Landreth’s home.Years later, Landreth said he was playing in a band that opened for King. At that gig, King’s guitar, Lucille, was “temporarily stolen” from the club and so they asked Landreth if they could use his guitar.

“I said, ‘Are you kidding? The King? Anything,’” he said.

But as it turns out, King used his rhythm guitar player’s guitar while Landreth’s guitar was used by King’s player.

“It was pretty cool though, to see my whole rig playing up there with B.B. King,” he said.

Frampton called Landreth himself to invite him to perform with them.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s going to give us a chance to work and play venues that we normally won’t get to do and for a wider audience.”

Landreth said he’s always writing.

“I’m fairly deliberate anyway by nature, so I have to keep going, try to hit the ground running for the next go-round,” he said. “That’s what keeps it fresh, new and exciting for me — the element of surprise. It really fires me up, too.”



If you go ...       

WHAT: Sonny Landreth

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1

WHERE: Western Maryland Blues Fest, City Center Parking Lot, North Potomac St.

COST: $35 in advance; $40 at the gate; $7 for children ages 6 to 12; free for ages 5 and younger

CONTACT: Go to www.blues-fest.org



Blues fest schedule

Thursday, May 30 — Blues Prelude

 5 to 7 p.m., Bad Influence Band, University Plaza, 50 W. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown. Free admission. Lawn chairs and blankets encouraged. Gates open at 4 p.m. ID required.

 6 to 9 p.m., Blues Fest Poster Art exhibit opening with artist Erin Mettille, Washington County Arts Council, 34 -36 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown.

Friday, May 31 — Lotta Blues kickoff

City Center Parking Lot, North Potomac Street, downtown Hagerstown. Cost is $20 in advance* and $25 at the gate. $7 children 6 to 12 years old. Free for children 5 and younger. Gates open at 4 p.m. ID required.

Blue Moon Stage      

4:30 to 5:15 p.m. — Hard Swimmin’ Fish    

5:30 to 6:30 p.m. — Rudy & the Bluefish    

6:45 to 8 p.m. — Moreland & Arbuckle    

8:15 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. — Trampled Under Foot    

Saturday, June 1 — Downtown House Party, downtown Hagerstown

City Center Lot, North Potomac Street, downtown Hagerstown; $35 in advance* and $40 at the gate. $7 children 6 to 12 years old. Free for children 5 and younger. Gates open at 11 a.m. ID required.

Blue Fest Stage      

Noon to 1 p.m. — The Rhythm Kings    

2 to 3 p.m. — Clarence “The Blues Man” Turner    

4 to 5:15 p.m. — Eric Steckel

6:30 to 8 p.m. — Sonny Landreth    

Blue Moon Stage      

1 to 2 p.m. — Paul Pfau    

3 to 4 p.m. — Harper and Midwest Kind

5:15 to 6:30 p.m. — Honey Island Swamp Band with Jimmy Carpenter    

8 to 9:45 p.m. — Maceo Parker    

Sunday, June 2 — Family Blues picnic, City Park, Hagerstown

Peter Buys Bandshell

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