BONITA SPRINGS, FL – Maybe it was destined for Sonny Landreth to play music, from the moment he met the world’s greatest guitarist as a kid.
Landreth — who performs at this weekend’s Bonita Blues Festival [March 11-12, 2016] — said he was a teen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when he and his buddies headed downtown to the hotel where Jimi Hendrix was staying, next to the concert hall.
“Hendrix had this big English road manager ride us all out of the hotel,” Landreth recalled, in a recent telephone interview. “We scattered.”
Then the kids walked into the hotel gift shop.
“The next thing you know, Jimi walks in. We went up to him, I asked him something really stupid like, ‘Tell me Jimmy, what does ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ mean,” Landreth said of the Jimi Hendrix Experienice’s second studio album.
Hendrix, holding a toothbrush he just bought, replied: ” ‘I don’t know man. I just woke up.’ ”
Also that year, Landreth — then 17 — met and attended Louisiana concerts of B.B. King in New Iberia and Clifton Chenier in Lafayette.
Brushing into guitar greatness at a young age couldn’t hurt, but maybe Landreth’s love of music — and blues in particular — had more to do with growing up near the rich Mississippi Delta. That region has produced blues legends including John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Big Jack Johnson, Lead Belly and Muddy Waters.
Landreth was born in nearby Canton, Mississippi. His other musical influences include guitarists Wes Montgomery, B.B. King and Django Reinhardt.
“I fell in love with the blues a long time ago, listening to the old Delta blues records,” he said.
Landreth especially enjoyed the zydeco sound of Chenier, known as the “King of the South.”
“Where I grew up, music is such a big part of the culture,” he said of the talented musicians who have hailed from Louisiana. “I’m not sure if it’s from osmosis or the humidity or the gumbo but it works.”
Landreth first played music on trumpet, especially jazz. He began strumming guitar by age 15, eventually learning to master the slide guitar that he’s known for nowadays.
“Once you learn to do it, you can control the microtones,” he said. “It can become much more lyrical and vocal-like because of the subtleties.”
This weekend’s show will be Landreth’s first Bonita Blues Fest, and joining him when he takes the stage at 7:45 p.m. Saturday will be longtime friend, singer and harmonica player Mel Melton.
Landreth and Melton formed a band titled Bayou Rhythm in the early 1980s, Landreth said, noting they plan to play a mix of older blues songs and tunes from Landreth’s latest album, from 2015, “Bound By The Blues.”
Landreth has become a slide-guitar master of sorts, performing with other world-class guitarists including Eric Clapton at the British legend’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals in recent years.
“He was a big hero for me too and always has been. That’s pretty much the ultimate,” Landreth said of performing on stage alongside Clapton. “It was like, ‘Oh man, this is really happening, this isn’t a dream.’
“That’s just such a great affirmation and at the same time it’s fun. You hope that some of that consummate dust, some of the magic, rubs off on yourself.”
Beyond the musical experience, Clapton has “been a good friend to me and many, many others,” Landreth said.
“He’s been through everything imaginable and survived and come through on the other side and has been an really great person,” he added.
Landreth said he plans to continue recording songs and performing live for as long as possible.
“It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “Creativity to me is something where there’s no end to it. Playing for people is an honor, really. I don’t take that for granted.”
Blues singer and bassist Danielle Nicole will perform Friday at the festival with her band. The Kansas City, Missouri-native said she grew up on music.
“I got into the blues from my parents. They were traveling musicians themselves,” Nicole said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
She began playing guitar at age 14, settling on bass by age 19, she said. Nicole called blues “the roots of American music.” Nicole, who also plays guitar, said they will play some songs from their latest album, “Wolf Den,” and “we might throw some Bonnie Raitt in there.”
“And in this age where there’s digitally recorded stuff, the blues speak to you because it’s raw and it’s real. It’s basically emotion to music. It grabs a lot of people, where you can identify with something deep in your soul.”
The Bonita Blues Festival begins at 1:30 p.m. Friday, 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Riverside Park, along Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs. Admission is $30 Friday; $35 Saturday; $50 weekend pass in advance; $60 weekend pass at the gate