Lafayette slide guitar maestro, singer and songwriter Sonny Landreth joined Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band on stage in New Orleans last month during the NCAA Big Dance Concert Series.
Following three days of music featuring KISS, the Black Keys, Dr. John and many more, Buffett’s show was the culminating concert during the NCAA Men’s Final Four weekend.
Landreth shared the stage with Buffett again this week for an acoustic show at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Thursday’s Buffett performance was a late addition to the Jazz Fest lineup following Eddie Vedder’s cancellation. The Pearl Jam frontman postponed his spring solo tour due a back injury.
Just prior to the NCAA Big Dance, Landreth played a month of dates with Buffett. They met about a decade ago, when Jazz Fest producer-director Quint Davis sat Buffett on the side of the stage for one of Landreth’s festival sets. The guitarist later played for Buffett’s 2002 album, Far Side of the World, which includes a Landreth composition, “USS Zydecoldsmobile.”
The guitarist said he’s since become an honorary member of the Coral Reefer Band.
“I do five to 10 shows a year,” he said. “Jimmy sends me their itinerary. We work so much with my band, I can’t really do much of that kind of thing, but Jimmy makes it so easy. We connect. We came up with the same Gulf Coast roots.”
Buffett called Landreth the Saturday night before Sunday’s NCAA Big Dance concert.
“In classic Jimmy style, he said, ‘Well, Eddie Vedder couldn’t make it. Why don’t you come play. It’ll be fun.’ ”
Inconveniently, Landreth and bassist Dave Ranson were scheduled for Monday morning filming for the music-filled HBO drama, Treme. The show’s producers booked a recording session at a local studio, during which Landreth and Ranson were to re-record the apropos “Blue Tarp Blues,” opening track on the guitarist’s 2008 album, From The Reach.
The latter commitment plus the Sunday night gig with Buffett made it necessary to get hotel rooms, preferably closer to New Orleans than south Baton Rouge, not an easy feat during NCAA Men’s Final Four weekend.
“Jimmy’s team pulled some strings and they found us some great rooms right there on Poydras,” Landreth said. “I was five minutes from the gig and then five minutes from the studio for Treme the next morning.”
While Landreth’s work with Buffett gives him mainstream exposure, he’s devotes most of his energy to a solo career that includes tours throughout the world and 11 albums. His latest and most adventurous album, Elemental Journey, arrives May 22. Featuring guest guitarists Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson and steel drum player Robert Greenidge, it’s Landreth’s first all-instrumental project.
“Instrumentals go back to day one for me,” he said. “I fell in love with the guitar and, not much later, the Ventures were a big influence on me. So the notion has been rattling around in me all along. And all the albums I’ve made, I’ve included a couple of instrumental tracks.”
The more immediate inspiration for an instrumental album, though, was Landreth’s guest appearance with the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra for a 2005 Christmas concert performance of J.S. Bach’s Cantata 140.
He turned the tables for Elemental Journey, hiring conductor Mariusz Smolij and members of the orchestra to play for the album, a brave move that caused a significant bump in production costs.
“It’s the kind of thing where you just kind of go for it,” Landreth said.
“I’m 61 years old. If not now, then when? And all the things I’ve done, it’s one step in front of the other that’s led me to this point. And I felt like it was time to include the influences I’ve had all along.”
Those influences include high school instruction in trumpet, guitar lessons in the style of country finger-style player Chet Atkins and performing with Clifton Chenier, the late father of zydeco, from 1979 through the early ’80s.
“If I had been raised in Chicago and Muddy Waters took me under his wing, that’s what it was like to work with Clifton,” Landreth said. “He took a traditional instrument from the country and the roots, amped it up, assimilated all kinds of styles and made it his own. He created something new, the likes of which we had never seen, have not seen since and probably won’t see again.”
A career path that runs from the king of zydeco to Jimmy Buffett to a symphony orchestra just comes naturally to Landreth.
“I’ve always been one to not want to miss out on anything.”
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