Personalities | Andy Summers | Authority of the Police | Guitar Heroes
One of the greatest achievements any guitar player can attain is an immediately recognizable signature tone and style. And though many guitarists have realized this goal, few have done it as emphatically as Police guitarist Andy Summers (b. 1942).
From the chord stabs of ‘Roxanne’ and ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ to the arpeggios of ‘Message In A Bottle’ and ‘Every Breath You Take’, Summers’s chiming, shimmering Telecaster tones are like no other, and no other guitarist has ever matched them.
Andrew James Somers was born in Poulton-Fylde, Lancashire, England. His family later moved to Bournemouth, where Summers took up the guitar at the age of 14. He soon immersed himself in the local jazz scene, and by the age 16 was regularly playing local venues. The young guitarist soon joined Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, a jazzy soul and R&B outfit that became a regular fixture on London’s Soho scene. In 1967 the band changed its name to Dantalion’s Chariot, and its sound to a more psychedelic one, in accord with the changing musical landscape of the era. He would also play with Soft Machine and in a revamped version of The Animals during this time.
Summers then decided to leave the London scene and go to America, where he enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles to study classical guitar and composition. Upon graduation in 1973 the hungry guitarist returned to his native England, where he worked as a session guitarist for such cult favorites as Kevin Ayers and Kevin Coyne, before landing a job as sideman for, of all people, Neil Sedaka, a gig he got through guitarist Robert Fripp.
In 1977, while travelling on the London Underground one day, Summers had a chance meeting with drummer Stewart Copeland, which led to him joining the short-lived Strontium 90 with Copeland, vocalist Mike Howlett and bassist Sting. Copeland and Sting then invited Summers to join their full-time project The Police. The trio clicked and, despite a slow start, their debut album Outlandos d’Amour (1978), with its hit singles ‘Roxanne’ and ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’, soon brought the band’s unique brand of jazz- and reggae-influenced punk-pop to worldwide prominence.
Over the next three albums The Police would amass numerous hit singles as well as Grammy awards for two instrumental album tracks. In 1983 the trio released Synchronicity, which would top the Billboard album charts and spawn the No. 1 smash ‘Every Breath You Take’. But just as the band reached the pinnacle of pop music, it imploded.
Over the course of those six years with The Police, Summers developed an enduring signature guitar tone. Relying most frequently on his treasured 1963 Fender Telecaster modified with a Gibson PAF pickup in the neck position, Summers used an arsenal of analog chorus and delay effects to craft texturally rich and sophisticated rhythm parts. His preference for suspended chords and complex jazz voicings, stemming from his fascination with music ranging from twentieth-century composers...
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