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
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.
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.
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.)
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, Out-landos 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/ 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.”
With the Police
Outlandos D’Amour, A&M, 1978.
Reggatta De Blanc, A&M, 1979.
Zenyatta Mondatta, A&M, 1980.
Ghost in the Machine, A&M, 1981.
Synchronicity, A&M, 1983.
With Robert Fripp
I Advance Masked, A&M, 1982.
Bewitched, A&M, 1984.
XYZ, MCA, 42007, 1987.
Mysterious Barricades, Private Music, 1988.
The Golden Wire, Private, 1989.
Down and Out in Beverly Hills, MCA, 1986.
A Weekend at Bernie’s, 1989.
Kamin, Philip, The Police Chronicles, New York, c1984.
Quatrochi, Danny, Police Confidential, New York, c1986.
St. Michael, Mick, Accompanying the Police, New York, 1985, C1984.
Sutcliffe, Phil, The Police, London, c1981.
Guitar Player, September 1982; October 1984; June 1986; July 1989.
Life, November, 1983.
Melody Maker (insert), [c.Aug. or Sept.], 1983.
Musician, May, 1989 (review).
New York Times, November 11, 1979; October 10, 1980; June 26, 1983; July 15, 1987; March 22, 1989 (preview); April 2, 1989 (review).
People, January 21, 1980.
Village Voice, January 14, 1989.
An unmistakable influence on the music of the 1980s, The Police formed their unique pop rock style in the latter-punk era. Three talented, intelligent musicians came together from a cross-section of musical and life experiences into a distinct sound that became both popular and respected. Following the band’s break-up in the mid-1980s, each member moved on to his own new and successful career. Charles Dougherty summed up the band’s commercial appeal in Down Beat, “The key to their popularity is self-evident; catchy melodic hooks combined with matinee idol good looks make the teenies screamy.”
Drummer Stewart Copeland came up with the idea of forming a band called The Police in the mid-1970s. Copeland was born in Alexandria, Virginia, the son of a CIA agent. His two brothers Miles and Ian became the band’s manager and booking agent, respectively. Stewart Copeland spent most of his childhood traveling throughout the Middle East, because of his father’s work. Copeland had played with a progressive rock band called Curved Air, before he decided to branch off into his own group. In comic reference to the senior Copeland’s career, Stewart decided to name the project The Police.
The band began in England in 1977 when drummer Stewart Copeland asked bassist/singer Sting to team up with him in his project. The son of a Newcastle milkman, Gordon Sumner, had quit his job as a teacher in a convent to pursue his music career. When Copeland discovered him, he was performing with a jazz band called Last Exit. He got the name Sting based on his stage dress for the jazz clubs. “I wore outrageous, striped, yellow-and-black pullovers, and oneguy thought I looked like a bee,” Sting explained to David Sheff in People.
Copeland had seen Sting sing with his jazz band and recognized his potential. “I have no idea how I did it, but I bamboozled this jazz musician into joining me in this punk band,” Copeland recalled to David Friendly in Newsweek. Sting and Copeland began rehearsing with guitarist Henri Padovani in London.
Copeland explained his reasons for starting the band to Charles Dougherty in Down Beat, “In the beginning of 77, clubs were opening all over the place, packed with kids who wanted to hear the new sound, get into the [punk] scene. There weren’t enough bands to go around.”
The newly formed trio began playing clubs in England almost immediately. In February of 1977, they recorded their first single, “Fall Out,” which Miles Copeland re-
Members include Stewart Copeland (born July 16, 1952, in Alexandria, VA), drums; Sting (born Gordon Matthew Sumner, October 2, 1951, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England), vocals; Andy Summers (born Andrew Somers, December 31, 1942, in Bournemouth, England), guitar.
Band formed in 1977 in London, England; released single “Fall Out” on Illegal Records, 1977; signed record contract with A&M Records and released Out landos D’Amour, 1978; released Regatta de Blanc, 1979; first rock band to play Bombay, India, 1980; released Zenyatta Mondatta, 1980; Ghost in the Machine stays at No. 2 on U.S. charts for six weeks, 1982; Synchronicity and “Every Breath You Take” reach No. 1 on the charts in U.S. and U.K., 1983; disbanded in 1986.
Awards: Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Rock Performance, 1981; two Grammy Awards for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Rock Instrumental Performance, 1982; BRIT Award for Best British Rock Group, 1982; three Grammy Awards for Song of the Year, Best Pop Performance, and Best Rock Performance, 1984; American Video Award for Best Group Video, 1984; BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music, 1985.
Addresses: Record company —A&M Records, 1416 North LaBrea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90028.
leased on his label called Illegal Records. They played U.K. tours with New York singer Cherry Vanilla and Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers. Then, they went on to play concerts in Holland with Wayne County & the Electric Chairs.
In May of that same year, ex-Gong member Mike Howlett asked Sting and Copeland to do a show with guitarist Andy Summers as the group Strontium 90. Summers, born in Bournemouth, was a seasoned musician who had played with the Animals, Soft Machine, Neil Young, and Kevin Ayers. The Police soon asked Summers to play a show with them at London’s Marquee. After the show, Copeland formally added Summers to the line-up. Two months later, Padovani decided to quit the band, making them a trio once again. The group played their first show as a trio at Rebecca’s in Birmingham, West Midlands on August 18, 1977. “The Police were my first three-piece band,” Summers recalled to Martin Lee in Rolling Stone, “and it produced so much more room for experimentation, more freedom.”
In 1978, The Police got their first exposure in the United States, yet it was not in the form of a recording or a performance. The band members all dyed their hair blonde to appear in a commercial for Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. The Police had set the image of a U.K. punk band before they even had a song out. By March, they had secured a record contract with A&M Records to release the single, “Roxanne.” Instead of the traditional advance, manager Miles Copeland negotiated a deal that would allow them a greater royalty percentage. A move that would pay off for everyone in the band.
Meanwhile, Copeland also released a single called “Don’t Care” under the name Klark Kent. But by October of 1978, the momentum grew so quickly, none of the members could work on any projects outside of The Police for a few years. The next single, “Can’t Stand Losing You,” had made it to No. 42 on the U.K. charts, and the time had come to play in the United States. The Police kicked off their first North American tour at CBGB’s in New York City.
The following month, the band’s debut album, Outlan-dos D’Amour, arrived in stores, along with the single “So Lonely.” The album soared to No. 6 on the charts in the U.K. and to No. 23 in the United States. They followed up on the success with their first headlining tour in the U.K. and the top spot at the Reading Rock Festival in Reading, England. Sting became a singing sensation, winning over an international audience. “Performing is frenzied. Sexual,” Sting explained to Marcelle Clements in Esquire. “It frees people for a while. I induce that by going into a trance, really, which is why I like to be almost unconscious … that is when the audience really gets sucked in. If I sing a really high note, my body gets overoxygenated, and the whole hall goes back and forth. I get close to fainting. And I do that every night.”
Their next LP, Regatta de Blanc, was released in 1979. It topped the U.K. charts for four weeks in a row and made itto No. 25 in the U.S. The group rereleased “Can’t Stand Losing You” and followed up with the hit “Walking on the Moon.” During the same year, Sting played the role of Ace Face in The Who’s movie Quadrophenia.
The band played concerts all across the globe. In March of 1980, The Police became the first rock group to play in Bombay, India. “One of the best moments of my life was in Bombay,” Sting told James Henke in Rolling Stone, “playing for an audience that had never seen rock, that had no idea how to behave toward it.… Throughout the show, I explained that this is dance music, please don’t sit down—stand up on the seat or just dance. And by the end of the set, they did! They clapped in all the right places. It was quite emotional.”
At the end of 1980, The Police released their third record, Zenyatta Mondatta, and the hit single “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Both stayed at the top of the U.K. charts for four straight weeks. In January of 1981, Zenyatta Mondatta reached No. 5 in the U.S. and the next single, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” became a Top 10 hit. A month later, The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Although The Police was still Copeland’s band, Sting became the focal point, the main spokesman, and the most prolific songwriter. They freely discussed the clashes between the three personalities that fueled the creativity behind The Police. “There’s a competitive spirit in the group; there are three very strong egos,” Sting explained to Henke in Rolling Stone. “But I write and sing the songs, therefore, I tend to dictate the musical direction. We do have a semblance of democracy, which is important. The other two members do talk a lot; they’re not gagged or anything.”
“Sting can’t dominate because he’s outnumbered,” Copeland told Andrew Abrahams in People. “With The Police, it’s always two against one.”
In October of 1981, The Police released Ghost in the Machine, the title of which was based on a book by Arthur Koestler. The album included yet another hit debut single, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” which climbed to No. 1 in the U.K. and No. 3 in the United States. The album stayed at No. 2 on the U.S. charts for six weeks.
The band received accolades from both continents on February 24, 1982. They received an award for Best British Rock Group at the first annual BRIT Awards in London. Then a few hours later, they received two Grammy awards for “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Behind My Camel.” Despite the recognition, Andy Summers admitted the group had cut down on practice. “We’re probably the worst rehearsed band in the world,” Summers told Martin Lee in Rolling Stone. “We stopped rehearsing over two years ago. I like that because it keeps an element of risk and uncertainty.”
By 1982, the members of The Police had begun to work on their own side projects. Stewart Copeland composed a film score for Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Rumble Fish, and scored King Lear for the San Francisco Ballet. Sting produced his first solo single, “Spread A Little Happiness,” for the movie Brimstone & Treacle, in which he also played the lead role. And Andy Summers released an instrumental album called I Advance Masked ’with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp.
Their biggest success hit the following year with the release of the chart-topping LP Synchronicity and the single “Every Breath You Take.” Sting came up with the album’s conceptfrom reading the work of Carl Jung, but most of the lyrics were inspired by the end of his eight-year marriage. “This is rock music that is not only canny commerciality, but has height and serious ambition intellectually,” Jay Cocks wrote in Time. “It isn’t often, after all, that Carl Jung hits the top of the charts.”
If any had doubts, Synchronicity firmly planted The Police in the annals of rock influences, both in the U.K. and in the U.S. “I guaranteed them that if they toured America, they would do what had never been done before, and they did,” booking agent Ian Copeland told Marcelle Clements in Esquire. “They changed the course of music history.”
In February of 1984, “Every Breath You Take” won two Grammy Awards, one for Song of the Year and another for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. “Synchronicity” also won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group. Two months later, “Every Breath You Take” received the best group video award at the American Video Awards.
In spite of the group’s increased success, the trio continued to focus on outside projects. Copeland released So What??, a movie about England’s punk scene in 1982. Sting appeared in the David Lynch film Dune. In 1985 Copeland released a solo album called The Rhythmatist. A month later, Sting released his own solo effort, Dream of the Blue Turtles.
On June 11, 1986, The Police performed one of their last concerts as a band at a benefit for Amnesty I nternational. When they returned to the studio to record their next album, they decided to abandon the recording and dismantle the band. In November of that same year, A&M Records released Every Breath You Take —The Singles, a greatest hits package and reprise of the band’s career. The trio rerecorded “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” for the compilation.
The label also released Live!, a recording of two live concerts, a 1979 show in Boston and a 1983 performance in Atlanta. By 1997, their last performance together had taken place at Sting’s wedding to Trudie Styler in 1992, where they played “Roxanne.”
After the band’s break-up all three members moved on to successful music careers in different areas. Sting continued to record solo albums and appeared in film and on Broadway. Stewart Copeland wrote an opera called Holy Blood and Crescent Moon, wrote film and television music, and opened a nightclub in Coconut Grove, Florida, with actress Maria Conchita Alonso. Andy Summers also became a film composer and recorded several solo albums.
“The Police was almost the perfect band experience,” Copeland later told Andrew Abrahams in People. “Nobody died of a drug overdose, we went all over the world, and when it was over, we were poised to embark upon new careers.”
Outlandos D’Amour (includes “Can’t Stand Losing You,” “Roxanne,” and “So Lonely”), A&M Records, 1978.
Regatta de Blanc, (includes “Walking on the Moon”), A&M Records, 1979.
Zenyatta Mondatta (includes “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”), A&M Records, 1980.
Ghost in the Machine (includes “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic), A&M Records, 1981.
Synchronicity (includes “Every Breath You Take” and “Synchronicity”), A&M Records, 1983.
Every Breath You Take —The Singles (includes “Don’t Stand So Close to Me ’86”), A&M Records, 1986.
Live!, A&M Records, 1995.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard Books/ABC-CLIO, 1991.
Audio, May 1987.
Down Beat, May 1984.
Esquire, November 1983.
Gentleman’s Quarterly, October 1989.
Guitar Player, April 1991.
Newsweek, August 15, 1983.
People, January 21, 1980; July 17, 1995.
Rolling Stone, February 19, 1981; February 18, 1982; August 24, 1995.
Time, August 15, 1983.