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American Routes Shortcuts: Sonny Landreth

Sonny Landreth
American Routes

Each week, American Routes Shortcuts offers a sneak peek into the upcoming American Routes episode. This time, host Nick Spitzer gets a music lesson from Louisiana slide guitarist and storyteller Sonny Landreth. A native of Mississippi who moved to Lafayette at a young age, Landreth found himself mixing Cajun, Zydeco and rock n roll, while writing about life in southern Louisiana. Sonny Landreth joined Nick, live in the studio with his Fender Stratocaster and of course, his slide.

SL: I grew up hearing everything from Cajun, blues, zydeco, jazz, R&B, but guitar was always my first love. I guess I was 13 when my dad got my first guitar for me. So I'd already been smitten by it. Scotty Moore, Elvis, The Beatles came; the invasion! Within a year and a half, I heard Hendrix in Baton Rouge, I heard B.B. King in New Iberia, and I heard Clifton Chenier at the Blue Angel Club in Lafayette.

SL: He saw us from the door, I was probably about 16. And that was his neighborhood haunt; he lived like one street over, his house. He said, "hey, so come on in here!" We were real shy, as you can imagine, so me and my buddy go in, and that was my first experience with the Creole community and really feeling invited in. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Then they started playing, and it blew my mind!

NS: Sonny, is there a tune that you play now, or from those days around Clifton Chenier that shows how you got into the Cajun and Creole music?

SL: Yeah, there's actually a tune, I never had a name for it, I called it the Zydeco Shuffle, because I was influenced by Clifton and the way he would do shuffles, and at the same time I found a way to incorporate some of these techniques, using my palm to emulate some of the sounds of the accordion and the fiddle. 

[plays Zydeco Shuffle]

NS: I like that, Sonny Landreth with us here in the studio. Maybe you could give us a little walking tour of your slide technique; you don't have to give away all the company secrets, but you know

SL: That's gonna cost you! What I learned, and especially in a lyrical approach to guitar, it's really a vocal quality.


SL: So that's basic slide. And you want to get- it's about the vibrato, it's tone and phrasing, which I'm a freak for, so. I could go from major to minor


SL: But it's really about your voice, and by that I mean your voice on guitar. 

NS: It's really amazing to hear it. You've also kind of gone inside cultural things too, it seems to me. I know you do a waltz, somewhere in the mix, I've heard you do waltzes. That's not what you associate with blues or roots rock necessarily, but you do waltz once in a while. 

SL: Well we need to change that  

[plays waltz]

For more technique and tales from Sonny Landreth, plus Bobby Rush, King of the Chitlin’ Circuit, tune into American Routes Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 6 right here on WWNO.