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Landreth brings 'slydeco' guitar style to Gainesville
0925Sonny Landreth
Sonny Landreth kicks off a two-night event Friday to benefit Our Neighbor.

Guitarists of any skill level around the world have likely dreamed of the chance to play with icons such as Eric Clapton, Vince Gill or Eric Johnson.

So imagine not only having the idea to do an album saluting these guitar greats, but actually getting them to sign on, too. Although, for guitarist Sonny Landreth, whose Delta blues-style glass slide guitar has earned him his own share of fame, it also helped to have become friends with these guys over the years, too.

"I have a connection with all of them, either working with them on studio projects or jamming with them or playing festivals together or playing with them, sitting in or otherwise - so that was what I drew from to help come up with these songs," Landreth said.

Each song in Landreth's new album, "From the Reach," was written specifically for the guitar great who is also featured in the song. Other guitar icons who make an appearance on the album include Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, blues-rock guitarist Robben Ford and the Margaritaville man himself, Jimmy Buffett.

Landreth will bring these songs with him when he makes a stop Friday night in Gainesville for a concert benefitting Our Neighbor. The show at the Brenau Amphitheatre will kick off two evenings of events for the nonprofit.

On Saturday, Nick Vujicic will speak at Brenau's amphitheater about his life as a man born without limbs. The Australia native has learned to live a full, productive and successful life despite his setbacks, and now he travels the world to share his inspirational story.

There is no admission charge for Vujicic's speech on Saturday, and tickets for Landreth's show on Friday are $25, or $500 for a table of eight.

Landreth, who said he discovered the glass slide technique as a kid, said he was turned on by the distinct sound it makes.

"It's smoother and I like the overtones," he said of using a glass slide versus a steel one. "It's really an individual preference. You can't really say one's better than the other; it's just what you want to get from it.

"I started out playing metal, but once I started playing glass I fell in love with that."

But that discovery process was just a small part of his overall music education. Born in Mississippi but moved to Louisiana when he was 7, Landreth said he spent years listening to the music around him and doing some experiments of his own.

"I was getting into the Delta blues when I was young and reading about it, and I said, ‘What is this bottleneck slide guitar?' And then I started looking back through the recordings and I said, ‘Oh, that's what it is,' and I didn't know how to go about doing it," he said. "Like anything that you take upon to figure out, it's like one step in front of the other. I tortured the family, I can tell you that, before I got anywhere near accomplishing anything."

Also growing up, Landreth's grandfather worked at a golf course, and Landreth would drive him and his co-workers to work and home each day. On the drives, Landreth said he would hear the men singing in the back.

But their music, like much of the music of Louisiana, was more inferred than a constant presence, and it would be a few more years for these childhood roots and influences to come out through Landreth's guitar strings.

By the time he turned 17, Landreth had heard BB King, Jimi Hendrix and The Zydeco King. And these guitar greats, along with the music that swirled around him as he grew up, became the basis for Landreth's "slydeco" style of today.

"They drew me into their world and just exposed me to a lot of different kinds of music, and the fact that I was raised here in south Louisiana, music's such a big part of the culture. There is a culture here - music, food, bands - so there's the Cajun and the zydeco and there's R&B, there was rock 'n' roll, there's blues, there's jazz and New Orleans. And I started playing trumpet when I was 10 years old and played it all through college, so there's a classical influence.

"And when you're young you don't really think about it, you just soak it all up."

Landreth said he enjoys thinking about his and others' musical influences, and that's one of the thoughts behind his new album. Growing up listening to Eric Clapton, he said, had an influence on what kind if guitar player he is today. And to really understand musicians, he said, you need to understand their roots.

"You have to know where they came from, and that's geographically but also that's as a musician. Who influenced them? And that's really important to get the big picture," he said. "In this world of music per se, it's so vast. I mean, I can't listen to everything; I can't listen to a fraction of it. But it's what does get in and how it influences you and what you do with it that's really important."