Take Five: Andy Summers

Andy Summers is best known as guitarist in The Police, one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands of the 1980s. That band’s reggae-influenced take on new wave was a breath of musical fresh air. But Summers – who’s nearly a decade older than his former Police bandmate Sting – had a long list of impressive credits years before getting a spiky haircut. As early as 1965, he was lending his guitar skills to recordings, and the music didn’t sound even a little bit like the Police.

Summers (born Andrew Somers) got his start playing jazz; his storied career would find him playing live and in the studio with acts in a wide variety of styles, from Soft Machine to Carly Simon to Robert Fripp. Here are five pre-Police tracks featuring the guitar work of Andy Summers.

Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band – “The Cat” (1965) from It Should’ve Been Me
American soul jazz organist Jimmy Smith hit the #67 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart with “The Cat,” an upbeat instrumental raver. A few months later, London-based Zoot Money released his own version of the song; his band featured young guitarist Andy Summers.

Dantalion’s Chariot – “Madman Running Through the Fields” (1967) single
By 1967 Zoot Money and his band had changed their music to keep pace with the prevailing styles. This single has earned its place as one of the finest examples of British psychedelia, with chiming guitar work from Summers alongside backward drum fills, hypnotic bass lines and trilling flutes.

The Animals – “Coloured Rain” (1968) from Love Is
The Animals built their reputation on their gritty, soulful take on the blues. But by 1968, lead singer Eric Burdon had a new backing group (still called The Animals) that left the blues behind. With a lineup that included Andy Summers; the group was very much a part of the acid-drenched peace-and-love scene of the era. This cover of the Traffic song features a very, very long Summers guitar solo.

Kevin Coyne – “Sunday Morning Sunrise” (1975) from Matching Head and Feet
An embodiment of the outsider artist, late poet/musician Kevin Coyne has been hailed as “the great lost English singer-songwriter.” Stunningly prolific, Coyne released many albums, most all with an ambitious bent. His 1975 album ranks among his most accessible, and features Summers on electric lead guitar.

Eberhard Schoener and the Secret Society – “Falling in Trance” (1977) from Trance-Formation
German composer Eberhard Schoener’s work is often classified as modern classical, avant garde and/or experimental. Schoener has worked extensively with the Moog synthesizer, earning him the krautrock label as well. Andy Summers’ guitar work is quite subtle and restrained on Trance-Formation, but he is indeed present.