SLIDE RESONATIONS THE SELDOM HEARD ACOUSTIC SIDE OF SONNY LANDRETH BY J I M M Y L ES LI E
“ I ’ M A N E L E C T R I C G U I TA R P L AY E R ,” S AY S S O N N Y
Landreth. “I suck at playing acoustic. I can play it around the house or record it in the studio, but on a gig in the heat of battle—it’s just a different angle.” Landreth exudes Southern humility, and a Stratocaster through a cranked Dumble or Demeter may forever be his hallmark, but he certainly does not suck on acoustic. Sonny is one of the top electric solidbody slide cats on the planet, and he doesn’t change his technique too dramatically to play acoustic. Tonally, he’s in a different universe. Landreth’s electric hurricane can range from a whisper to a category 5, and he’s a master of utilizing sustain to help facilitate a slew of original tricks and licks that have boggled minds for decades—many of which are based on slide bar harmonics and ﬁngering behind the slide. Pulling that off on an acoustic, however, is a different story, so Landreth has enlisted a unique instrument to help him tackle the challenge. GP caught a glimpse in May at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where he opened with an acoustic mini-set. Landreth played a cool metallic-blue resonator that caught everyone’s ears and eyes. As it turns out, he’d cut a halfacoustic, half-electric double disc in January at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in his hometown of Lafayette, Lousiana. Recorded Live in Lafayette [Mascot/Provogue] dropped on June 30th, and it’s an epic, career-spanning journey. Disc one offers more insight into Sonny’s acoustic side than any previous release. His core power trio of David Ranson and Brian Brignac get in on the fun, switching to ukulele bass and cajón, respectively. They’re joined by Steve Conn’s accordion and Sam Broussard playing the hell out of a parlor-sized Martin. Landreth’s slide tone ranges from an almost traditional resonator rattle, to smooth and slinky with plenty of “pop”—practically approaching electric tones such as Marc Knopﬂer’s ultra clean Strat on “Sultans of Swing,” or even echoes of Robbie Krieger’s bottleneck blues on the Doors’ “Moonlight Drive.” It all comes down to how Landreth works his groovy blue resonator.
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Who made that wild acoustic hot-rod? Larry Pogreba is a unique character. The luthiers all like him because he comes up with creative ideas using interesting materials and simple, left of center appointments. Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne have his guitars. I ﬁrst saw and played one back in the ’90s. He gave me one ﬁve or six years ago, and I’ve been trying to get better on it. I cut a few tracks with a metal-bodied Dobro and a vintage National on my last album [2015’s Bound by the Blues], but this guitar is completely different. Can you share some details? He calls it a “hubcap resonator.” Mine has a ’56 Oldsmobile hubcap for the cover plate—pretty trippy. The neck is made of wood. [Pogreba says it’s mahogany he salvaged from a centuries old stump on a trip to Belize.] The body is aluminum, so it doesn’t sound at all like an old National. I love the Pogreba’s brighter, airy sound. It’s got a cutaway, and it’s light. Carrying that through the airport is a whole lot easier. What does it feel like to play? Mine is real comfortable, and it looks especially cool with the hubcap, but sometimes I take it off because I’m so used to having my palm right over the bridge on a Strat. I took it off before Jazz Fest because I was having so much trouble positioning my right hand. An acoustic resonator is such a different beast than your Strat, but it appeared that you were still up to your tried and true tricks technically. Some of them—that was my hope [laughs]. It’s funny because for two years way back in the ’70s, I quit playing electric guitar altogether. I played a metal-bodied Dobro and my Martin D-28 all day and all night. Over the years since playing mostly electric, I’ve found that the basic positioning of my right hand has changed. So this was a bit of an eyeopening experience. How did you set up for the acoustic portion of Recorded Live in Lafayette? I sat on a chair to help my playing be more consistent.