8:15 p.m. Sunday
Triple-S Alarm Stage
Something magical and profound happened to American blues guitar when some innovative early-20th-century blues players, taking a cue from Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars with their instruments, used necks from bottles or kitchen knives to manipulate the strings. It created a whole new sound for the blues genre, and its master craftsmen include notables such as Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk and Johnny Winter.
Many say Louisiana-Delta-swamp blues roots player Sonny Landreth earns a place among these greats. No less than Eric Clapton has been quoted as saying that Landreth is “probably the most underestimated musician on the planet, and probably one of the most advanced.”
Landreth fielded our recent call during a brief stop at his home in Lafayette, La., where he had just finished a tour that included England. Clapton sat in with Landreth and his backup band —Landreth calls them “great musicians in their own right” — bassist David Ransom and drummer Kenneth Blevins. The tour was in support of Landreth’s first–ever live recording, “Grant Street,” a follow-up to 2003’s Grammy-nominated album “The Road We’re On.”
“The time was just right,” Landreth said of the live record. “We wanted to capture the immediacy, the heat of the moment of our live show. The audience is part of the whole energy.”
The album’s energetic nature is evident with the opening song, an instrumental titled “Port of Calling.” The album, named after the Lafayette club where Landreth earned his chops, contains 11 original songs and showcases Landreth’s frenetic fretwork, extraordinary minor tunings and a trance-like marriage of blues and zydeco. The Cajun touch is not surprising considering Landreth was mentored by Clifton Chenier, who took a young Landreth under his wing and inspired him to “hit the road” at age 17 and “never look back,” Landreth said.
The list of musicians whom Landreth has worked with is long: some are John Hiatt, Dolly Parton, Jimmy Buffett (Landreth is featured in Buffett’s new album, “License to Chill”), Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and the late harp player and vocalist Junior Wells, who was known for his rather gruff treatment of the people he worked with. “It was incredible working with him. I miss him a lot,” Landreth said, then added with a laugh, “He was cantankerous.”
His other albums are “Down in Louisiana,” “South of I-10,” “Levee Town,” “Blues Attack,” “Prodigal Son: The Collection.”
Riverfest will not be Landreth’s first time playing in the Little Rock area -– he called a six-day stopover years ago at North Little Rock’s Checkmate Club.
Even if festival-goers can’t appreciate the difficulty involved in the execution of Landreth’s instrument, trust Eric Clapton and the other artist who have shared the stage with Landreth and will testify that the music simply rocks.
Hear Amy B’s blues show on KABF-FM, 88.3, every Wednesday at 3-5 p.m.