Sonny Landreth at 3rd & Lindsley
_PDATE Sunday, July 20, 2003 @ 20:59:51 UTC
_PTOPIC Guitar

They say the third time's the charm, but nobody prepared me for THIS.

May 31, 2003, 3rd & Lindsley, Nashville, Tenn. By now, everyone who knows anything about music knows Nashville's not just for country anymore. There is truly something for everybody in Music City.

By Les Reynolds

On this particular night, along with friends we were visiting who live in Nashville, Susan and I experienced musical greatness almost beyond description.

Sonny Landreth, who records for the small but artist-friendly Sugar Hill label out of North Carolina, is widely regarded as the world's greatest guitarist. His forte is electric slide. His gift is a talent that comes from someplace far beyond music. This night, he was bringing his unique Cajun/roots/rock to Nashville and it would be my third time to see him perform live.

The 50something adopted Cajun (originally from Mississippi) took the stage after Blue Mother Tupelo got us in the mood and his longtime collaborator and keyboardist Steve Conn held court for a full set of his own. The likable and energetic Steve in fact stayed put for Sonny's set as well and added just the right spice to the tunes.

But it was Sonny's guitar fireworks that held everyone spellbound. While he was friendly enough, Sonny basically let his guitar do the talking. And that is perhaps an appropriate metaphor because there were times it seemed all life centered around some steel strings and a piece of lightweight glass.

Drummer Kenny Blevins and bassist Dave Ranson kept a solid bottom line all night long and never missed a beat. In fact, you'd catch ol' Dave smiling from time to time from sheer amazement. Those two were enjoying every minute of it.

Sonny had to enjoy it, too, because nobody can be THAT good and not love what he or she does. Speaking of talent levels, a talented young woman sitting behind us (I can only recall her first name, Carmella) who had sung a couple tunes with Steve Conn, muttered half-jokingly to her friends "Geez, nobody should be that f#@!-in' good! It's not fair." It was meant with the utmost respect, of course.

Sonny's flying fingers commanded respect and absolute awe from every eye and ear in the crowd, which must have reached at least a couple hundred in the packed venue. (I have no idea of head count -- that's just a number I think is probably in the ballpark.)

To say Sonny exhibited manual dexterity would be a severe understatement. His slide riffs made sounds like muted motorcycle engines revving up. His spidery digits flew on the strings and if one didn't know better, it seemed as if he was somehow playing lead and rhythm simultaneously. (OK you guitar experts out there -- is that possible?)

Virtuosity? Wizardry? If that's the best the English language has to offer, sure -- he's all those and more. His two-hour set, which didn't start 'til 10 p.m., seemed more like one hour. And, in spite of all his pyrotechnics and fire-and-brimstone playing, Sonny couldn't be described as truly flashy or arrogant at all. It seems he's well aware of his gift, but he's always learning, innovating and improving. The thought of Sonny Landreth becoming even more of a wizard on his guitar(s) seems incredible at least -- visions of a stage and audience meltdown dance in my head.

And speaking of humility, Susan said that Vince Gill (who I supposedly -- without realizing it -- stood in line behind waiting to use the porcelain convenience facility) actually stood in line waiting, with everyone else, to shake Sonny's hand. I guess celebrity doesn't always mean big-head, does it?

The only disappointment was that Sonny didn't play any acoustic numbers. I've heard him play resonator guitars and he's equally amazing on those.

The third time might be the charm, but when the chance to see talent like this comes along, three times is certainly never enough. I'm sure I'll catch him again one of these days.