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Worth Repeating : Reissue of 'Blues Attack' Gladdens O.C.-Bound Sonny Landreth

September 24, 1996|BUDDY SEIGAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You know you're developing a reputation in the music industry when record companies scramble to reissue obscure, long out-of-print albums recorded back when you wore elephant bells and ornately collared, puffy-sleeved shirts.

Look in the CD bin under the name Sonny Landreth--who plays the Coach House on Wednesday night--and you'll notice that on his latest release, the 45-year-old guitar wizard looks like a little girl. That's because "Blues Attack" was recorded back in 1979 and originally issued in 1981. Long forgotten except by die-hard Landreth-philes, the album has resurfaced on the AVI label with nary a mention that it is old product.

But if the packaging of "Blues Attack" is somewhat less than honest, the music is pure and ingenuous. At 28, Landreth was just coming off a stint backing zydeco kingpin Clifton Chenier, whose influence is everywhere in these tracks. This is a fairly strict roots album with none of the pop flourishes Landreth has picked up since.

His sweet, butter-drippin'-off-a-crawfish guitar tone was already very much in evidence when he recorded "Blues Attack," and he was backed by a monster cast that included Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural and Cleveland Chenier, Clifton's brother.

"Actually, I'm really happy to have this album see more of the light of day," Landreth said during a recent phone conversation. "I run into people all over that have old copies, but it's been real obscure and hard to find, especially in Europe and Japan. So yeah, I'm glad it's back out. It represents where I was at that point in time, and there's some really amazing musicians on it. It represents the crossover from where I was with Chenier and getting ready to go over and do my own thing.

"I hadn't listened to it for years. Then I sat down and had a good talk with myself and I said, 'Now listen--you've got to accept it for what it was then.' So I sat down with it, and I was actually very pleasantly surprised. They remixed it without me so they dropped the ball in a couple spots, but all in all I think they did a pretty good job."

"Blues Attack" also fills a void: There have been no new Landreth albums in the nearly two years since his radio-friendly, critically acclaimed "South of I-10" came out. That's because he has been a very busy guy, touring the world, making personal appearances and playing on other people's records.

"Last year I did like 240 shows. What with interviews during the day and appearances on radio and sound checks and doing gigs and all that, I just really didn't do well for writing new songs. I never found the time to write more than a couple. Now I've got to just sit down and get into the writing mode for a new album. I tend to get distracted pretty easily."

Born in Mississippi and raised in Louisiana, he picked up the guitar as a young boy and began to assimilate the complex rhythms of the Cajun, Creole and zydeco music he heard all around him. His two main influences--Chet Atkins and Robert Johnson--actually aren't from Louisiana, but their inspiration is readily apparent in Landreth's complex finger-picking technique.

By the late '70s, Landreth began to develop a reputation as a maestro of the six strings, particularly for his unique, singing style on the slide guitar. Over the years, he has backed such company as John Hiatt, John Mayall, Michael Martin Murphy, Kenny Loggins, Zachary Richard, Beausoleil and Steve Riley, but his fondest memory is of being the first white musician hired to play with Chenier.

"That was the learning experience for me, everything about it. What I got from it was a really powerful influence with rhythms. How Cliff incorporated that was really, really unique. It's still a point of reference with me and it's still an influence for me."

Still heavily in demand as a session guitarist, Landreth has recorded with Junior Wells, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the Holmes Brothers and Maria Muldaur in the past couple of years, just to name a few.

"Two of those sessions stand out for me," he said. "Gate, because I got to play with some of my other heroes--Amos Garrett, Jim Keltner and Willie Weeks--so I thought that was a really cool session.

"Then, with the first Junior Wells album I played on, they asked me, 'Why don't you and Junior just go sit out there and do some acoustic stuff?' I don't think he'd done anything like that for a long time. Man, I tell you, it was really, really special for me because Junior told me he'd felt some things he hadn't felt in a long, long time. Coming from him, that was a real honor for me."

He does plan on getting serious about his own next album fairly soon.

"I'd just like to think that some of the songs I write will touch people in a positive way," he said. "If anything I've done or anything I will do makes anyone think in a more positive, creative way, I think that's great."

* Sonny Landreth plays Wednesday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Drayfus Crayson and Scott Olshevski open. 8 p.m. $12.50-$14.50. (714) 496-8930.

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