Sometimes a chain of events happens that results in your life being changed forever. I could trace this story back to how a pointless gobshite (to all those not familiar with British vulgarity, you're welcome) from England started to work for the fastest growing 'booteek' effects company in the world in 2011, but that's another story, instead I will start this on the NAMM floor, Friday the 20th January.
I was hanging with my bud Andy Wood on the booth, I met Andy through Tom Quayle about 5 years ago at the show, he's used our pedals for a while and we quickly became friends, as you may expect I am an ENORMOUS fan of his playing, he's amazing, but also of him as a human. Funny, intelligent and just a down to earth great guy, he's a joy to be around. So, as usual, we were hanging and he said "Hey man, let's go out and have a beer" and usually at NAMM we are too busy to do this, but I knew we were off to the Celestion Party that night so I said to Andy, you should come. Fortunately, he did!
We arrived somewhat late (no surprised there) and after enjoying the Arnie Newman Band for a while I found Andy at the back with about 5 other guys so I went to hang for a while. As we are guys, the introductions weren't quick, we just drank and laughed and had a great time. Eventually Andy introduced me to the guys, which transpired to be most of the upper echelons of Suhr. To one side and being quite quiet and reserved was this guy in glasses and a beard who Andy introduced me to as "Joey". Now, as we say here, the penny dropped from a great height, it was Joey Freakin' Landreth. I'd been quietly accumulating a massive man crush on Joey for about a year, marvelling at his playing and songwriting (let alone his voice) and here I was completely unsober and face to face with him. I played it cool, said I was a massive fan (fortunately I had good knowledge to back it up with) and we hung for a bit. I was picking his brain about his intonation (was delighted to hear that it's mostly down to hard work and dedication) and other stuff. He mentioned that he was doing a tour of the UK in a couple of weeks. Usually when this happens I get all excited for nothing as to most artists a UK tour means "London, Manchester, Glasgow" which are all hours from me (and let's face it, in the UK, if it ain't within a half hour most people claim it's not local enough to bother with) but it turns out that Joey was playing in my home town, 15 minutes from where I live. He gave me a CD (Whiskey) and put me on the guest list for the show - I was a little uncomfortable about this, as I was a little drunk and I didn't think he would remember, plus, I have absolutely NO issue in paying for a ticket to see an up and coming artist such as this.
So, I spend the next two weeks quietly (and not so quietly) trying to get as many people to this gig as possible, I wanted Exeter to be good enough for Joey to come back for. The last thing I wanted was him to be in this quiet big room and there be not enough people there for it to be comfortable for anyone.
Last night was the night of the show. My long suffering wife, Lisa, and I picked up our good friends Phil and Hazel (I've know Phil for literally years and years, he saw my first gig that was bizarrely 26 years ago that day, but that's another story) and off we went. The venue was a new one to me (last time I was in town it was a shitty discount sportswear store) and was desperately trendy and cool. Name was on guest list, result! As I walked in, I noticed large beards where everywhere, the fridges were stocked with beer that I had never seen before and being offered around there were pulled Pork or some strange Cauliflower canopé things. I'm more of a "pint of Guinness and a packet of Peanuts" kind of guy. So from the outset I was out of my comfort zone.
As I went to the bar (full of dread as these places are never cheap) I noticed a familiar face at the bar and it was non other than the lovely Mick Taylor, a long time industry legend who I first became aware of years ago as the editor of Guitarist magazine and more recently as one of the hosts of That Pedal Show with Dan Steinhardt. We had a quick catch up and a little business talk (I'm going up next week for something exciting to be featured on the show, although hopefully not me personally) had a quick chat with Joey - looks like he did remember me, which was nice - and off we went to find a seat. Fortunately (for Joey), the place had a very healthy attendance so we had to make do with a crappy seat at the back. The support acts came and went and then it was show time...
Now, it's taken me a while to get to this point because I wanted to set the scene. Sometimes, you go to a show and you get blown away and that's that (for example, every time I see Vai I am left speechless) but other times you go to something and the whole experience is what takes it from being blown away all the way up to a defining moment in your life. This was a defining moment, it was a masterclass, it was everything a musician - and most importantly a guitar player - needs to see at one point in their life.
Starting with just an acoustic guitar, he built the set foundation perfectly. There wasn't any of the trademark genius of Joey's slide playing, but rare moments of complete wonder within the songs that caught you and carried you on to the next one. His ability to hold the attention of the room, and to be heard in every corner at a reasonable volume (3 people talking at the back would have been heard everywhere but it just didn't happen) was spellbinding. As he eventually moved onto the Suhr superstrat and then the Collings he is most associated with, the tension and almost unbearable anticipation of what he was going to be doing next was palpable in the room. I first "lost it" during his well known cover of Eddie Cochran's "Hallelujah, I love her so" and then struggled to keep it together throughout. His last song was dedicated to his Grandfather who died a couple of weeks before was just stunning, there were many of us who couldn't keep their emotions in check, it was just one of those evenings.
So, why am I writing this - you could say I am on somewhat of a mission to make as many people as possible aware of Joey Landreth. His star is rising, and rising fast, and it is my hope that everyone who reads this gets to see him live sooner rather than later. It's one of those experiences that not only restores your faith in a music industry that appears to spew out nothing but shit, but makes you realise that the guitar is a vehicle for so much beauty it's our duty to make it talk, weep or shout as often as possible. I can't think of anyone who can do the above as well as Joey, but I walked out as inspired as I've ever been to play more, practice more, use different styles/voicings/tones/expressions and just be a better musician. I can't think of many other players who can do that to a middle aged cynic like myself.
Please buy his CD, see him live, or do whatever you can to make sure this guy - and lest we forget his incredible work with his Brother in the Bros. Landreth so we should include David and that band in this - are as huge as possible. The future of music will thank you for it.
Thank you Joey, for restoring my faith in music, and being just a lovely lovely man.