Full name, Andrew James Summers; surname originally Somers; born December 31, 1942, in Poulton-Fylde (near Blackpool), England; grew up in Bournemouth, England; father was a restaurant owner; married and divorced twice, first time with Kate Unter (attributes both divorces to the stresses of fame and touring with the Police); children: (first marriage) Layla. Education: Studied classical composition and guitar at the University of California at Los Angeles, 1969-73. Addresses: Home --Los Angeles, CA. Record company (press/public information) --Private Music, 220 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010.

When the Police gained worldwide fame in the late 1970s, guitar aficionados began talking about Andy Summers. His was an unusual style for a rocker, one that bypassed gratuitous fretboard flash and stressed texture and color instead. Though power-packed, it bordered on lushness; critics rhapsodized about it with words suggesting wetness--liquid phrasing, floating arpeggios, washes of sound. Along with Sting's melodic bass playing and Stewart Copeland's splashy, propulsive drumming, Summers's guitar style sculpted the sound of the Police.

For five consecutive years beginning in 1984, which marked the onset of his post-Police career, Summers was named best pop guitarist in the prestigious Guitar Player Readers Poll Awards. The tribute reflects his deservedly high stature, but it's nevertheless odd: At that time, he was moving increasingly away from both rock and pop and into territory more suited to his atmospheric, coloristic bent. With The Golden Wire, his 1989 solo release, he arrived at a genre that straddled jazz and new age, one he called "new fusion." "This is it for me now, the way I want to continue," he told Guitar Player. "I don't really want to do too much more rock stuff. I had a great shot at all that, but musically I really have a need to move on, and this record sets the path for me. Aping what one has already done is just so dangerous and unrewarding."

Andrew James Somers was born in 1942 in Poulton-Fylde, England. (He later changed his surname to Summers to avoid having to spell it.) Soon afterward his family moved to Bournemouth, a resort town on the south coast, where his father bought a restaurant. From his earliest years he was captivated by music, introducing himself to jazz and blues through his brother's record collection, and later soaking in live sounds from Bournemouth's busy jazz scene. He shrugged off piano lessons as a child, but became serious about music at the age of 14, when he got his first guitar. Less than two years later he landed a steady gig with a hotel band at a local jazz club. There, he caught the interest of George "Zoot" Money, leader of an r&b/jazz ensemble called Big Roll Band. Money convinced him to come up to London and join the band; a live album cut shortly thereafter-- The All Happening Zoot Money's Big Roll Band At Klook's Kleek --prominently featured the young guitarist. Summers's preliminary career as journeyman had begun.

During the second half of the 1960s Summers played and recorded with a variety of rock bands, including the psychedelic Dantalion's Chariot, the experimental Soft Machine, and one of the seminal English Rock Invasion bands, the Animals, on whose 1968 release Love Is he was featured. Around 1969 the Animals broke up, and Summers changed course. Enrolling at the University of California at Los Angeles, he spent the next four years studying classical guitar and composition; to earn spending money he gave guitar lessons. After graduating he returned to both rock and England. Again bouncing from band to band, he spent the next few years backing such musicians as Neil Sedaka, Kevin Coyne, and Kevin Ayers. His last stint as sideman was with a band called Strontium 90.

One night in May 1977 Summers was joined by two London musicians at a Strontium 90 gig. They were drummer Stewart Copeland and bass player Sting, from a new pop-rock trio called the Police, and their playing made a quick and deep impression upon the guitarist. "I thought, 'Jesus Christ, this is what I've been looking for for ages,'" Andy told Melody Maker. "I'd always wanted to play in a three-piece band, and at that point I'd just been playing behind people all the time and I was getting pretty frustrated with it. Then I saw these two and I felt that the three of us together would be very strong." That summer, Summers went to hear the Police in London. After jamming with them as a second guitar player--the group at that time included guitarist Henri Padovani--they asked him to join. For various reasons, Padovani soon left the group, and the Police was again a trio.

Over the next year, the Police cut their style on England's volatile punk-rock scene, playing night after night until a distinctive style began to emerge. "I started playing all these jazz chords, moving into different keys, trying all kinds of things behind Sting's vocals," Summers recalled in the New York Times. "Stewart would try different cross-rhythms. And Sting, who had played in jazz-rock bands, took it in stride. That's where our style came from." In 1978 they scored their first hit with their second single, "Roxanne," and the Police sound--a blend of Jamaican reggae, new wave, English pop, and hard rock--hit the airwaves. That concoction was served up on their first two albums, Outlandos D'Amour and Reggatta De Blanc; on Zenyatta Mondatta, their third release, they broadened their sound, lightening up on the reggae feel and mixing in other ethnic hues. By the release of Ghosts in the Machine in 1981, the Police were a worldwide phenomenon; Summers, recognized as a premier guitar stylist, appeared on the September 1982 cover of Guitar Player. But to many critics, their finest work came in 1983, with their final studio album. On Synchronicity, the New York Times wrote, "they have brought all the aspects of their singular pop art into focus"; like the Beatles' landmark Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the LP has "its finger so firmly on the pulse of the times that it manages to be genuinely avant-garde and genuinely commercial at the same time."

In a sense, Sting's approach to songwriting dictated Summers's instrumental style. With an open, jaunty feel borrowed from reggae, the songs made musical use of space, giving Summers room to indulge in subtleties that would otherwise be obscured. "I wanted to float more, to use extended harmonies and a kind of echo rather than that heavy, bar-chord, power-chord kind of playing," he told the New York Times. "There was a desire in the group to avoid rock cliches and avoid sounding like a heavy rock trio." To that end, his guitar style "became very harmonic and orchestral," as he explained in Guitar Player. "Instead of the guitar wailing all the time and being supported by drums and bass, we found we had three soloists." (Stretching that concept to the limit, the group would actually reverse the traditional roles of guitar and bass, bringing the latter to the fore. As the New York Times noted, "Often the drums and guitar seem to be filling in dabs of color around Sting's stripped-down bass patterns.")

On his own, meanwhile, Summers realized a longtime dream--to collaborate with Robert Fripp, a guitarist who cut his chops on the same Bournemouth jazz-club circuit and went on to fame with King Crimson. In 1982 they recorded I Advance Masked, an instrumental album that blends jazz and oriental influences, and followed that up two years later with Bewitched. Though still involved with the Police, Summers found a certain liberation in his new stylistic direction. " I Advance Masked opened up people's ears somewhat to what else I could do, and I think Bewitched really will," he told Guitar Player at the time. "With an instrumental album, you can express more abstract kinds of musical feelings and be more elliptical. You're not tied to accompanying a vocal or to necessarily a verse-chorus-bridge format. You can be more experimental and explore different areas altogether."

When the Police began drifting apart in mid-1984, Summers moved to Hollywood to work in film, scoring such movies as Down And Out in Beverly Hills. Like his albums with Fripp, the film projects offered him an opportunity to move beyond rock. "I've been offered a lot of stuff, but most of it I turn down because I don't really like the screenplays," he told Guitar Player. "[Rock musicians] tend to get offered fairly dumb, rock-type movies, and that's not what I want to do. I'd rather do stuff outside the rock and roll genre." Soon he returned to making records, completing his first solo effort, XYZ, in 1987. Critically, it fared poorly; most writers echoed the New York Post' s Richard Gehr, who remarked upon the guitarist's "harmonically intricate solos that sound impressive but say little." But Summers saw it as part of a personal artistic progression. "This record is in some ways a synthesis of my involvement with ambient music, the work with Fripp and the film scores," he told the New York Times, "all contained in a rock vocal album with little hooky songs."

As suggested by Mysterious Barricades, his subsequent solo LP, the strongest element in Andy's post-Police style was not rock but ambience. His greatest success in that style came with his 1989 The Golden Wire, a guitar-intensive album that he recorded and co-produced at his own 24-track studio. Part of the record's appeal is its stylistic ambiguity. "It's not absolutely jazz or absolutely new age," the composer observed in the New York Times. "If I had to put a new name to it, I would call it a 'new fusion' record." Yet without a ready slot in which to stick the album, record stores and radio programmers had difficulty promoting it, and its commercial success was disappointing. With the critics, on the other hand, the album hit the bull's eye. "By turns spooky, propulsive and spellbinding," wrote Musician, " The Golden Wire is a guitar-paced cascade of rock, jazz, blues and classically textured world beat that translates into 11 exquisite numbers." Guitar Player was more succinct, calling it "instrumental music of exquisite beauty and shifting moods."

One of the album's highlights is its sole vocal track, an Indian song called "Piya Tose" that Summers first heard in a movie. Like his Arabic-influenced "Mother" from Synchronicity, "Piya Tose" displays his talent for simulating the idiosyncracies of an ethnic style. In Guitar Player, he explained how he achieved an authentic guitar sound: "Moving the pitch around with the whammy bar facilitates that Indian kind of phrasing--those bends and cries. I learned a lot of the phrasing years ago, when I first started. I used to copy Vilayat Kahn's solos when I was trying to learn Indian sitar solos on the guitar. He was my favorite. For that kind of playing, I keep the bar in my hand the whole time I'm soloing."

Summers is a wizard with electronic modifiers; the ambient, moody sounds he favors are achieved partly through various effects devices. He's also known for his pioneering work in guitar synthesis, the results of which can be heard on albums as early as the Police's Ghosts in the Machine. The basic principle that underlies his approach, he explained in Guitar Player, is that guitar synth shouldn't be used to mimic guitar. "They are two different instruments, so why even confuse the two?" (He also revealed a not-surprising preference: "My favorite sounds are the high, spacey ones that are very ambient.") Yet Summers derives more from guitar synths than weird sounds. "For me, the guitar synthesizer is a great writing instrument. I certainly find composition is often inspired purely by sound itself."

In his spare time, Summers often turns to photography. He shot all of the Police's world tours, and his work, featured in several magazines and U.S. exhibitions, has been published in a 1983 book called Throb. For him, having passions outside of music is crucial. "The most important thing is to live a full, exciting, rounded-out life," he told Guitar Player. "If you get so into playing guitar and living that life, you become a very boring person eventually. There are so many people like that. Develop as a person and try to keep things in perspective."

by Kyle Kevorkian

Andy Summers's Career

Took up guitar at the age of 14; less than two years later, was playing professionally at a local jazz club; in mid- and late-1960s, played and recorded with Zoot Money's Big Roll Band, Dantalion's Chariot, the Soft Machine, and the Animals; in 1969 moved to U.S. and enrolled at UCLA to study classical music; after graduating in 1973, returned to England, where he played with bands led by Neil Sedaka, Kevin Coyne, and Kevin Ayers; while playing with Strontium 90 in 1977, met drummer Stewart Copeland and bass player Sting of the Police, and subsequently joined their group; played with the Police until their breakup around 1984, then branched out with film, duo, and solo projects.

Andy Summers's Awards

Best pop guitarist in the Guitar Player Readers Poll five consecutive years, 1984-89 (as a five-time winner, he is now listed in Guitar Player' s Gallery Of The Greats.)

Famous Works

Further Reading



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