'Journey' brings Landreth to town

Jun 11, 2012

Sonny Landreth returns to his roots on his latest album, “Elemental Journey.” But it might surprise some people that before he became a guitar star, Landreth put in a lengthy stint as a trumpet player.

“Journey” is 11 instrumentals, an unusual move these days, but Landreth is excited about the project. One reason comes from his years in the horn section.

“I actually started out playing trumpet first when I was 10 years old, in the school band and orchestra, and into my college years,” said Landreth, who credits that time with creating an interest in classical music. “I certainly never studied seriously like a young classical musician starting out at 4 or 5 years old, with that regimen. But I heard enough of it, I played enough of it, and it touched me from day one. So that was something that I always wanted to get back to.”

Just to be clear, “Journey” is a rockin' guitar record with guest appearances by Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson. But it also features a half dozen members of the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra of Lafayette, La., on violin, viola and cello.

“When I got the opportunity (to work with the orchestra), that was a great signal for me to move forward with it in a way that I never had before,” said Landreth who will play the 20th Century in Oakley Thursday night.

Instrumentals are not new to the repertoire. “Native Stepson” from the “South of I-10” album has been a concert staple for years, and was the first song on “Grant Street,” the live album that was recorded in 2004. Landreth's own tunes, and those written by others, are special.

“It’s something on an emotional level, and then you try to figure out the best way to express that,” he said. “Music has always affected me that way. I’ve always liked instrumentals, it goes back to the early days of listening to the Ventures when I was a kid. 

“And a lot of movies and film soundtracks that I liked, I would just buy the soundtracks and not pay any attention to the movies. I think you’re dealing directly on an emotional level and that’s real attractive to me.”

There is a wonderful photo of a teenage Landreth on the liner notes of  the “I-10”  album. The skinny youngster is dressed in Bermuda shorts and a striped shirt, staring intently at his guitar with the hint of a smile. Chances are that many  American men of a certain age have a similar photo in a shoebox somewhere.

The difference between them and Landreth, however, is he is likely one of the few who has made Eric Clapton smile at his skills while sharing a stage. 

“I’ve been really blessed in that ... I’ve always been able to do what I’ve wanted to do,” Landreth said. “If you put your heart and soul into your work, I don’t think it can go wrong. I can be kind of a hardhead, I always wanted to write my own songs, do my own thing. The few times I did otherwise ... I felt it wasn’t right.

“But that’s good, it’s a litmus test in a way, a way to see where you are at that point in time. It’s the creativity aspect: if I feel I’m firing on all cylinders, then I’m good.”

And Landreth feels that this “Journey” is just revving its engine.

“I already have a part two in mind,” he said. “It just really opened the door when I made the decision to make an all-instrumental project. It’s not a bad thing when you’re having a hard time choosing which songs to use.”

Thursday’s show will feature songs from the new record, but it won’t be performed in its entirety.

“I’ve always liked to keep (the show) more of an overview, maybe a song or two from different albums ... Certain songs just have a life of their own live, and they keep evolving,” Landreth said.

Which is what their creator tries to do as well.

“You have to honor the muse, honor the song; it should never be taken for granted.”

Sonny Landreth with Monkeytonk, 8 p.m. Thursday, 20th Century, 3021 Madison Road, Oakley. $22, $18 advance.  513-731-8000; jbmpromotions.com.

Email Bill Thompson