“I’ve been trying to find a way for the terror and the beauty to live together in one song. I know it’s possible.” -Warren Harding “Sonny” Sharrock
Wishing to be a sax player, but unable due to asthma, Sonny Sharrock turned a handicap to his advantage, attacking his guitar with both the soul and ferocity of his horn playing inspirations, and creating a new language for six strings. His incendiary playing attracted the attention of numerous Jazz notables, who would go on to employ his services, including Pharoah Sanders, Miles Davis, Herbie Mann, Don Cherry, Byard Lancaster, Marzette Watts, to name a few. His first two solo records, Black Woman and Monkey Pockie Boo, are recognized as the pinnacle of Free Jazz guitar experimentation and have gone on to influence untold numbers of musicians.
As other proponents of the New Jazz, died or disappeared, Sharrock tore through the 80’s with a vengeance, with the full frontal attack of Last Exit, featuring the like minded Peter Brotzmann, Bill Laswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson, the equally aggressive Machine Gun, as well as performing with Material, and releasing multiple solo albums, the culmination of which, 1991’s, Ask The Ages, featuring Pharoah Sanders, Elvin Jones and Charnett Moffett, is widely regarded as his most fully realized work. It was also at this time that Sonny received arguably the most exposure of his life, even if largely unrecognized, scoring the music for Space Ghost Coast To Coast and its house band, The Original Way Outs, which he continued until his death in 1994.
For fans of Sharrock, this footage is an absolute must. Accompanied by his wife Linda (who, for many, can be a dealbreaker, which I can understand), and, I believe (thanks to a youtube comment correcting a previous assumption), Beb Guerin and Don Moye, this is the only film of a Sharrock led band, prior to the eighties, and speaks volumes for his technique and talent.
A freely downloadable set of Sharrock in 1974, from the WKCR archives
Sonny’s tenure with Herbie Mann exposed his talents to a commercial Jazz crowd, most of whom would have run frightened from Sonny’s solo material. Mann referred to Sharrock as “his Coltrane”.
Pharoah Sanders masterpiece, Tauhid, is my favorite Sharrock related record. It’s been acknowledged that his playing on it, was inspiration for both The Stooges and MC5, making it a pivotal record in Proto-Punk history.
A few from the solo albums of 1969’s, Black Woman, and 1970’s, Monkey Pockie Boo.
And here’s a handful of collaborations
Though uncredited at the time, Sonny has finally gotten the recognition for his work alongside fellow guitar innovator, John McLaughlin, on Miles’, Jack Johnson Sessions
The Brute Force LP acknowledges Sharrock’s contributions to three songs, but there is no mistaking his trademark playing is all over this album. Nice to hear Sonny in a more traditional Funk setting.
Another classic Sonny quote: “I go out on stage, and my intention is to make the first four rows bleed from their ears.”. Believe that!
Here’s a pair of interviews with the man, including one with NPR’s, Terri Gross!
And a more specific timeline of Sonny’s career.
And Sonny on improvisation.
“Sometimes I see players that think, and you can tell they’re thinking of the next phrase to play or the next thing to do, the next little cute trick, and that’s sad, man, you know. That’s not makin’ music; that’s puttin’ together puzzles, you know. Music should flow from you and it should be a force; it should be feeling, all feeling, man.”