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NIGHT LIFE : Sonny Landreth Is in Limelight After Years as a Top Sideman : Veteran guitarist is often compared to legendary players. He opens for Buddy Guy at the Ventura Theatre on Saturday.

March 30, 1995|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sonny Landreth used to blow the trumpet--now he blows people's minds with his bottleneck slide guitar.

Before becoming the main man in the '90s, Landreth gained fame as a sideman for the likes of John Hiatt, John Mayall, Zachary Richard, Michael Martin Murphey, Clifton Chenier and Beausoleil. Touring incessantly, Landreth--who opens for blues great Buddy Guy on Saturday night at Ventura Theatre--is even popular in France, a hard sell for Americans who aren't Jerry Lewis.

Bio writers who know a lot of adjectives compare Landreth to such virtuosos as David Lindley, Jimi Hendrix, Chet Atkins and Ry Cooder, among others. Mississippi-born, Landreth moved to Louisiana as a kid in 1951 and still lives in Lafayette, a town full of good bands where he more than holds his own with his version of Bayou rock. His second album, "South of I-10," is just out on Zoo Records, one of RCA's many aliases.

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During a recent phone interview, Landreth discussed what's what.

With the new album, you're just another rich guitar player?

No, and I don't think I'll ever be. I'm just hoping to recoup, but (the album) is doing much better than the first one. I've done all the trench work out in the sticks. I guess this is just a new kind of trench.

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What's it like going from the sideman to the main man?

There's obviously more responsibility, but I did a lot of that stuff before with John Hiatt, and I had my own band before that. All of that helped me scope out the fire without being in the middle of it.

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What's it like being mentioned in the same sentence with all these famous rock stars?

It's overwhelming at times to be mentioned with some of those names that come up. But I've been doing this for a lot of years. I guess I'm just another 25- to 30-year overnight sensation.

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How did playing trumpet apply to playing guitar?

I started the trumpet when I was 10, the guitar at 13. From the trumpet, I learned to read music, developed a sense of dynamics and I found my own style. With a horn, you have to take a breath, which influences your phrasing. Once someone told me I played guitar like a horn player. Since I started from a different situation, I was able to develop my own style.

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What's Southern rock and where do you fit into it?

You know, I don't think about that stuff anymore. I think this album is a rock album. I grew up listening to Cajun, zydeco, jazz, rock and blues, and all the diverse instruments used to make traditional music such as the fiddle, triangle or rub board.

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What's up in Lafayette?

It's a great place with a wonderful culture and wonderful people. I think it has something to do with the Delta. It's a very cross-cultural experience where different people from different cultures came together and brought a lot of different influences. There's African and French influences and even German influences--they brought the accordion. And there's the blues.

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What's up in France?

I've traveled through there a lot over the years. The first time was in 1980 with Zachary Richard, then several times with John Hiatt, and I played with some French artists. I got something started and now I have friends there. Generally speaking, they have a fascination for American music. Art goes way back there. They do research.

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How do you survive on the road?

Well, you have to set your boundaries and know what you're in for. Forget about home because you have to restructure your life. You have to pace yourself so you don't burn out. It happens all the time.

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How does an artist get on MTV and the radio?

I dunno about MTV, but this Triple A format--that's Adult Album Alternative--is working for me. I know all these categories makes it confusing, but this one serves the late 20s early 30s demographic, plus there's a major station in all the major markets. It's sort of like FM used to be before it became so tightly formatted. I've never had any airplay in my life before this. If people don't hear the music, they're not going to buy it.

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How do you come up with a song?

I'm becoming a bit more deliberate. I want my songs to sound good 10 years later and stand the test of time. If I'm writing lyrics, sometimes I get ideas about the guitar, or if I'm playing the guitar, I get lyric ideas. It's pretty typical. From writing at home to recording to playing it live, it takes a while.

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What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

You have to start by believing in yourself because there's times when you'll be the only one. Then you must develop your craft and have something special and unique, and learn your own style.

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Where will you be in five years?

I hope to still be doing what I'm doing, but evolving. It's an evolutionary process. You know, there's music and the music business, which demands a certain amount of success. My label has given me complete creative freedom and has been very supportive. I get to meet a lot of cool people in a lot of different countries. I'm very fortunate.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

DETAILS

* WHO: Buddy Guy, Sonny Landreth.

* WHEN: Saturday, 8 p.m.

* WHERE: Ventura Theatre, 26 Chestnut St., Ventura.

* HOW MUCH: $21.50.

* CALL: 648-1888.

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