Louisiana slide guitar artist, Sonny Landreth, gave an audience in “Holland” more than they bargained for tonight. Okay, apologies are in order to WilliamNl
, because he’s been aching for Sonny and his band to play in the Netherlands and the “Holland” I speak of is on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Holland Center
is located in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. It’s a state of the art performing arts center that was designed for superior acoustics and Omaha is lucky to have such a venue. I had heard that Sonny would be playing at the Holland as part of the “Playin’ With Fire” series of blues shows that Omaha hosts. It was my intention to obtain a ticket on the day of the show. I assumed that not many Omahans had heard of Sonny Landreth and so I thought I’d waltz right in. I was wrong! First, I learned that Sonny wasn’t playing in the main auditorium, he was playing in an intimate venue tucked away in the corner of the Holland – the 1200 Club, and it only holds about 250 lucky souls. Of course, it was SOLD OUT!
My lovely wife does like live music, but it generally has to be one of her favorite bands before she really enjoys a concert. When I took her to see Santana she loved it! Last year, we went to a blues festival and she hung in there for Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks on the first night. The second night was Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen and Robert Cray, but she preferred to stay at the hotel and read while I went to the show solo. I know that she doesn’t have the same appreciation for Sonny that I have, so when I asked her to go, I knew that the answer would be “I’d rather not.” My brother in law is usually up for a show, but it was too short of notice for him, so I ended up going solo to this show too. I think I need to find some LastFM buddies near Omaha!
So, I’m standing outside the Holland Center, with a couple of other blues fans looking to score a ticket. As it happens, the Omaha Symphony is playing in the large auditorium tonight, so there’s a constant parade of fur coats and bow ties parading past us blue jean wearin’ blues fans. Just for fun, we asked them “do you have any spare tickets for Sonny?”
Lucky for us, we were approached by a dude that had four spare tickets for Sonny’s show! $20.00 later, we were strolling in to a building past the tuxedo clad door man. The 1200 Club is one friggin-fantastical venue! It’s an intimate club setting with acoustical tiles on the walls. The inside looks like a high-end recording studio. The attendants lead us to a table that was only 30 feet (10 meters), from the stage! There were only two tables in front of us! I had only one thing to say: “Heineken please!”
The opening act was a local youth-blues threesome. I don’t remember their name, but there was an acoustic guitar, a female singer, and an acoustic bass guitar. They ranged in age from 15 to 18 years! They played only five songs, including a cover of a Joe Bonamassa tune and a Christmas song. Give these kids about five more years and I’m sure they’ll be very good. I suspect that we in the crowd enjoyed them because they reminded us of our own kids. It’s probably the same at most of Sonny’s shows, but the average age of the fan in the crowd was about 45.
I’m into the seventh paragraph already and I still haven’t gotten to Sonny Landreth. Come on Jay, let’s get it going!
So out comes Sonny Landreth with his bass player David Ranson and drummer, Michael Burch. Sonny says a few words and launches into The Promised Land
. Oh---My---God! I’ve seen Sonny before, (two years ago at an outdoor show), but up close, and in a perfect setting, it becomes blatantly apparent that we’re in the presence of The Sultan of Slide! I looked around halfway though that song and those 45 year olds were bobbin’ their heads and grinnin’ like they were twenty again.
I don’t keep track of every song at shows, but I know they played True Blue
, All About You
, Hell At Home
, U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile
, Congo Square
, Blue Tarp Blues
, Storm Of Worry
, and several more.
After the first song couples began to filter on to the dance floor. Before Sonny played “Hell at Home” he encouraged the audience to dance by saying, “Hell, I’m from southern Louisiana, if we feel like movin’ we get up and shake it!” That’s all it took. The dance floor filled instantly. Now I know that my wife wasn’t with me, but I am a guy so I couldn’t help but notice that there were some really fine lookin’ ladies out there. When I say “fine” I don’t mean Madonna or Britney Spears “fine” (‘cause I’m not into that look), I mean Bonnie Raitt
and Susan Tedeschi
fine! These gals moved with a confidence and ability that the youngsters just can’t match! There’s just somethin’ about a mature woman with a smile and swayin’ hips that makes a guy forget small things (like an economic recession). Never mind that most of the guys on the dance floor looked like this guy
. It must be that jumpin’ Lousianna blues sound that makes the ladies want to get up and get moving!
So Sonny continues to put on his guitar clinic. He played the whole show with the Corecedin bottle on his left pinky, alternating slide conventional notes, sometimes strumming, sometimes pickin’ with a thumb pick, sometimes banging, rubbing, and stroking those strings with various parts of his right hand. The guy is a virtuoso but he doesn’t play in an overbearing way like some other phenoms do. With Sonny, the song always comes first. If you close your eyes, his playing blends perfectly with the band. It’s when you watch him play that you realize that he’s like a mad scientist on guitar. What technique!
Of course, I didn’t just watch Sonny’s incredible guitar playing and the swaying women’s hips out on the dance floor. I did have some time to observe the bass player and the drummer. I’ve always wanted to play the drums. When I listen to music, I find myself keying into the rhythm, tapping my fingers along with the drums. In all the time I’ve listened to Sonny, I never realized just how talented Sonny’s drummer, Michael Burch
, is. This guy is fluid and fast, powerful and precise. He was just a joy to watch. The bassist, David Ranson, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He just stands there with a mundane facial expression, all the while pounding that bass guitar at a furious pace. These two guys are the perfect accompaniment to Sonny and together they are a formidable three piece army!
Actually, you could say that Sonny Landreth is a FOUR PIECE band. You see, Sonny keeps a guitar technician close at hand at all times. After almost every song, the guy runs up to Sonny and takes his guitar then hands him a fresh one. It may be that Sonny’s playing heats up the strings so much that he has to let it cool down, but I actually suspect something else. I think Sonny is a bit “obsessive compulsive” about his guitars. The tech cleans, shines, and tunes Sonny’s axe and that, apparently, keeps Sonny happy onstage.
So, if Sonny Landreth and the boys come anywhere near your city, town, village, or farm, YOU MUST jump in your car, take a bus, train, or ride your mule, whatever it takes…just GET TO THE SHOW! Oh, and bring your special someone.
Jay / BluesRok