On paper, The police were a strange proposition. Emerging against the backdrop of the London punk scene of the late 70s – a world that Summers describes in his autobiography as “a maelstrom of mohawks, Union Jacks, bovver boots, latex, fetish gear and music amphetamine-driven” – the angular fusion of pop, rock and reggae that became their signature sound shared the same energy as punk, but was built around a musical virtuosity that was starkly opposed to it.
Yet through conquering songwriting underpinned by their intense musical chemistry, the three sulky blondes who made up this unique-sounding trio managed to keep their simmering antipathy at bay long enough to capture and distill a sound that sold more than 80 million records.
Andy Summers was already in his thirties when the trio found success. He had been introduced to the guitar in the mid-1950s at the age of 12 and had been playing obsessively ever since, earning a reputation in the London electric blues scene of the 1960s. Playing with Zoot Money, Soft Machine and Eric Burdon’s Animals (listen to Love Is’ Colored Rain cover for a superb four-minute solo), he sold his ’59 Les Paul to Clapton for £200 and was the first guitarist Jimi Hendrix met when he visited London in September 1966.
Summers then studied classical guitar in Los Angeles before returning in 1972 to record and tour with an eclectic group of top solo artists including Kevin Coyne, Neil Sedaka, Joan Armatrading and Mike Oldfield before eventually joining the former teacher and ditch digger Sting. and son of secret CIA agent Stewart Copeland in The Police, replacing their guitarist, Henri Padovani, in 1977.
Any guitarist who can take classical, electric blues and jazz influences, reggae beats, punk rock energy and the Roland GR-300 guitar synth, put it all together and make it all work must be some kind of genius. Yet Summers himself said that his sonic experiments were born out of necessity: “Being in a trio and having to be on stage for a few hours a night playing all these songs, I needed to open up the sound and keep going. to diversify it throughout the set,” he told Uncle Joe’s Garage. “I was more interested in a color palette.”
These fearless experiments with new pedals in new combinations would lead to some of the most memorable guitar effects moments of all time and the band’s biggest hits as well.
Since disbanding The Police, Summers has continued his lifelong fascination with guitar playing, releasing over 30 records. To get acquainted, you could try the bookends of I Advance Masked, his 1982 solo collaboration with Robert Fripp released while he was still in his main band, and Metal Dog, Triboluminescence and Harmonics Of The Night, his recent trilogy of solo records.
For those unfamiliar with his work, here are five Police songs that show just a few sides of one of the guitar’s most eclectic pioneers…
1. Message in a Bottle (Regatta De Blanc, 1979)
The first single from Regatta De Blanc is based on a guitar riff written by Sting. “I used to play it over and over to my dog in our basement in Bayswater,” the singer wrote in Lyrics By Sting. “He looked at me with that look of desperate resignation that dogs can have when they’re waiting for their walk in the park.” However, Andy Summers’ elegant rendition is a prime example of the guitarist’s sophisticated approach to chords in The Police. “Sting showed me the riff he had, but I embellished it,” Summers told Guitar Player. “I had the chops to make it swing and rock…I was thrilled to have something that started to move our style forward.”
Moving away from the traditional rock guitar approach of full bar chords using all six strings, he would instead strive to substitute more musically ambitious – often arpeggiated – alternate vocals and riffs to spell out a song’s progression. more obliquely.
The Add9 chord at the heart of the song’s main riff is a movable three-fingered shape, and the ability to move it along or between strings while maintaining the same claw shape makes the pattern’s circular, fluid movement possible.
Once you’ve mastered it, you’ll find it so simple and addictive that we guarantee you won’t stop playing it…at least until your left hand grips, that is. say, so pace yourself. Add to that some offbeat harmony on top of the main double-track riff and howling, gilmourish guitar solos smuggled all over the place – not to mention the judicious use of filter effects reminiscent of the sound of the waves of the ‘ocean – and you have a guitar performance that sounds deceptively simple on the surface, but reveals hidden depths the longer you listen to it, especially when in isolation.
In his autobiography One Train Later, Summers said, “To me, it’s still the best song Sting has ever come up with and the best Police track.” Sting agreed, telling Jools Holland it was his favourite, and it was also the band’s first single in the UK… who are we to argue?
2. Walking on the Moon (Regatta De Blanc, 1979)
Summers added the masterful, muted arpeggio part to Every Breath You Take in the studio at the last minute, rushing through his most famous and timeless guitar part seemingly effortlessly, to applause from everyone in attendance. Yet it’s the resonant central riff of Walk on the moon that will forever resonate in the airless lunar landscapes of guitarists’ minds.
Certainly the subject matter of the song, the sparseness of the arrangement, Copeland’s use of a Roland RE-201 Space Echo on drums, and Sting’s gravity-defying vocal melody set the space mood perfectly. However, it’s that enduring, filtered Dm11 chord with its unique ghostly repeat that makes the song’s motif so unforgettable.
Live, this would have been recreated by an Echoplex set to a single repeat, plus various effects from Summers’ custom Pete Cornish pedalboard (an EHX Electric Mistress set to a chorus sound and possibly volume boosts) in combination. For the recording, engineer Nigel Gray recalls that the guitarist used the Surrey Sound studio’s ADR Scamp S24 ADT analog delay with rack-mounted flanger unit, for its unmistakable glassy sound.
Driven to Tears (Zenyatta Mondatta, 1980)
Has a more varied selection of guitar parts ever been crammed into three minutes (or thereabouts) of what was an otherwise unremarkable album? Like Bring On The Night on the album that preceded it, Zenyatta Mondatta’s Driven To Tears is a true demonstration that the musical palette Summers used had far more color and variety than that of virtually any other guitarist. at the time.
Exhibit A: The Echoplex’d and chorused, or at least modulated, chords into the rudimentary section of the song’s chorus. Suddenly, these give way to a scrabbly picking arpeggio part and tremolo, which in turn morphs into Exhibit B: a jazzy Robert Fripp-esque wide-interval solo that sounds a bit like one of those crazy warm-up exercises shredders do, but somehow works in that context (a style he explored more on 1981 B-side Flexible Strategies).
“I’m pretty sure I used my Telecaster,” Summers recalled to Guitarist (opens in a new tab). “I had my amp on 11 for the solo – it was really loud, because it sounded appropriate for that kind of dissonant, chromatic soloing…it must have been something rage because of the lyrical content, which basically speaks of war and suffering.”
Then it’s back to sinister right-hand muted riffery and colorful washes of delay-soaked chords for a little while before the C exposition – a pin-sharp funk beat of the genre also featured on Ghost In The Machine’s Too Much Information – plays us. .
Elsewhere on the same album, Summers composition Behind My Camel – basically a relatively simplistic Frankensteining of dark, brooding guitar and synth sounds – somehow won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1982, nothing less. By contrast, Driven To Tears showcases its razor-sharp game on the road to perfection, bringing together a mix of contrasting and conflicting textures and styles into an energetic whole, out of sheer force of will.
4. The wrecker (Ghost In The Machine, 1981)
Summers’ acting in The Police may have had a premeditated and cultivated quality at times, but he was also a skilled improviser. This one-take song was the first track recorded for Ghost In The Machine and showcases Summers’ background as an accomplished blues-rock player on the London scene of the 60s.
The nearly six-minute set – a song Sting originally wrote for a Grace Jones A-side – is adorned with an almost constant stream of Cream-like solos, frustrating into the mix. Summers puts his famous red Stratocaster from the early 60s to the test via a relatively straight and sustained blues-rock tone, clearly enjoying being able to give his vibrato arm a sharp thump.
He always remembers mixing the major and minor pentatonic flavors and dusting off the rock ‘n’ roll double strings for all the blues aficionados with their ears pressed against the speaker cones. The band’s roadie, Danny Quatrochi, played bass because, according to producer Hugh Padgham, Sting’s original take had been recorded while bouncing on a trampoline and was therefore too sloppy.
5. Secret Journey (Ghost In The Machine, 1981)
On the previous track in the album’s running order, Omegaman, Summers broke through with his guitar synth, resulting in the song’s dissonant, resolving figure and hypnotic solo. But with Secret Journey, Summers put Roland’s G-303 and GR-300 guitar-synthesizer combo to more ambitious and epic use.
“In the intro to Secret Journey I play these weird chords, with the synth tuned in fifths, and you get this sound, with echo and chorus on it,” Sting Old Music UK in 1981. “And also, against that I played some really weird stuff on a Strat so you get this great cloud effect until the riff actually starts coming in, the riff kind of fades out and then the song starts. [claps hands] like that in the middle and then you have wahhhhhhhhhhh… the sound of the Himalayas kicks in. It’s good.
Halfway between now-familiar police-isms and a confident foray into entirely experimental territory, Secret Journey – its chorus section as a future echo of one of Coldplay’s arena-filling offerings – represents a potential direction intriguing that the group could have taken. in.