One summer afternoon in 1987, I was record shopping, and my friend Joe who had worked at Vinyl Mania and whose specialty was jazz, was listening to something that was unlike anything I had heard before. The guitar playing was obviously the centerpiece of the music, and in many ways reminded me of Jimmy Page, both in tone and attack, but this was not a straight hard rock record I was hearing. As a drummer, I could not help notice what was going on behind it all. There were two drummers, maybe three, or at least one drummer overdubbing many parts. It was imprecise enough to notice, yet mind-blowing in its controlled sloppiness. I was loving everything I was listening to.
It was the Sonny Sharrock Band and their just released record, "Seize The Rainbow," which indeed had two drummers, Abe Speller and Pheeroan Aklaff. I knew Sharrock's name from Miles Davis' "Tribute To Jack Johnson" record, which I dug, but had no idea what his own music sounded like, or that he had been recording on his own since the 60's. Back then, I didn't need weeks and months to decide if I wanted to go out and hear some music. I went out pretty much every night. All I needed was the call and I got one, coincidentally, just a few days later, from a friend asking me if I wanted to see Sonny Sharrock perform at the Knitting Factory. I was just as blown away by that call as I was by the music.
"Are you serious? Get out! I just bought the record! I had no idea he was playing! Blah blah blah!"
The old Knitting Factory on East Houston Street was down a flight of stairs, and once you got through the front door, it was a giant box, with folding chairs and a stage straight ahead, at least that's how I remember it. I wish I had more of a memory and more details about the performance, other than it was an assault on the senses. Sharrock only had one drummer that evening, and I believe it was Abe Speller, still the sounds coming off that stage were otherworldly.
I wish I could say I went on to buy everything Sonny Sharrock had released before and after "Seize The Rainbow," but it didn't take. I listened to a record he made with Last Exit featuring Bill Laswell, who had produced "Seize The Rainbow," and Ronald Shannon Jackson, but it did nothing for me. If I did go backwards and listened to his debut "Black Woman," I don't recall a note. I had a promo of his 1991 CD, "Ask The Ages," come through my shop, but again, it did not do it for me the way "Seize The Rainbow" did.
The track "Fourteen" popped up on the iPod the other day and it sounded better than ever. It was the first time I had listened to anything from this record in years. I decided to play it all and it was every bit as fresh as it was in 1987. I wanted to post the video for "Fourteen," but it is not available. But the two videos above were, and the entire record is below. "Fourteen" begins around the 11:40 mark, if you're curious.