I knew Sonny Landreth was a blues great going into the 2010 Baton Rouge Blues Festival. He’s in the pantheon of contemporary blues guitar gods. I knew he was the caliber of player that Eric Johnson and John Hiatt and even Eric Clapton call on. I knew that despite being born in Canton, Mississippi, he hung out in Breaux Bridge when not out in the world being a celebrated guitar genius.
I even knew Sonny Landreth’s slide guitar technique was a thing of singular interest, wearing the slide on his pinkie so that the other nine fingers can perform fretboard spider magic. I knew he had his own line of slides because I bought one in one of those guitar store moments of free-spending.
He slipped into familiar tropes, doing Louisiana blues favorites including “Promised Land” and blustering soulful numbers off his excellent From the Reach LP, an album that features the likes of Vince Gill and Mark Knopfler and that Clapton guy again. It felt like music I already knew but expertly played and I started to crest the hill to seek out the food trucks when something I didn’t already know about happened.
The instrumental boogie of “Überesso” off the aforementioned From the Reach lurched into a devil moan and Landreth ripped open the air. It sounded like the algebraic workouts Rush can get into, the weedy epic splendor the Allman Brothers can lay on you, and the sense of danger a slithering water moccasin can inspire. I stood with everyone at that festival spellbound.
I have not heard Landreth’s next album, Elemental Journey, his first all-instrumental collection, a creative monster promising to mix classical and zydeco techniques, Joe Satriani and strings. I am open to whatever unorthodox cocktails of sinewy magic Sonny Landreth to put together. I suspect he’ll give the hula-hoopers at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl something new to spin to.
Sonny Landreth plays Jazz Fest on Sunday, April 29 at 3:05 p.m. in the Blues Tent. He performs at Rock ‘n’ Bowl with Devon Allman, Mike Zito and Tab Benoit on April 29, with Amanda Shaw and Eric Lindell on May 4, and with Tab Benoit and the Royal Southern Brotherhood on May 6.