04. Blind Willie
05. Portrait Of Linda In Three Colors, All Black
Sonny Sharrock (guitar)
Linda Sharrock (vocals)
Ted Daniel (trumpet)
Dave Burrell (piano)
Norris Jones, Richard Pierce (bass instrument)
Milford Graves (drums)
One of few guitarists in the first wave of free jazz in the 1960s, Sharrock was known for his incisive, heavily chorded attack, his highly amplified bursts of wild feedback, and for his use of saxophone-like lines played loudly on guitar.
Sharrock began his musical career singing doo wop in his teen years. He collaborated with Pharoah Sanders and Alexander Solla in the late 1960s, appearing first on Sanders's 1966 effort, Tauhid. He made several appearances with flautist Herbie Mann and also made an uncredited guest appearance on Miles Davis's A Tribute to Jack Johnson, perhaps his most famous cameo.
He had in fact wanted to play tenor saxophone from his youth after hearing John Coltrane play on Davis's album Kind of Blue on the radio at age 19, but his asthma prevented this from happening. Sharrock said repeatedly, however, that he still considered himself "a horn player with a really fucked up axe."
Three albums under Sharrock's name were released in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s: Black Woman (which has been described by one reviewer as bringing out the beauty in emotions rather than technical prowess), Monkey-Pockie-Boo, and an album co-credited to both Sonny and his wife, Paradise (an album by which Sharrock was embarrassed and stated several times that it was not good and should not be reissued)
After the release of Paradise, Sharrock was semi-retired for much of the 1970s, undergoing a divorce from wife/occasional collaborator Linda in 1978. In the intermittent years until producer/bassist Bill Laswell coaxed him out of retirement, he worked as both a chauffeur and a caretaker for mentally challenged children. At Laswell's urging, Sharrock appeared on Material's (one of Laswell's many projects) 1981 effort, Memory Serves. In addition, Sharrock was a member of the punk/jazz band Last Exit, together with Peter Brötzmann, Laswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson. During the late 1980s, he recorded and performed extensively with the New York-based improvising band Machine Gun, as well as leading his own bands. Sharrock flourished with Laswell's help, noting in a 1991 interview that "the last five years have been pretty strange for me, because I went twelve years without making a record at all, and then in the last five years, I've made seven records under my own name. That's pretty strange."
Laswell would often perform with the guitarist on his albums, and produced many of Sharrock's recordings, including the entirely solo Guitar, the metal-influenced Seize the Rainbow, and the well-received Ask the Ages, which featured John Coltrane's bandmates Pharoah Sanders and Elvin Jones. "Who Does She Hope To Be?" is a lyrical piece harkening back to the Coltrane/Davis Kind Of Blue sessions that had inspired him to play. One writer described Ask the Ages as "hands down, Sharrock's finest hour, and the ideal album to play for those who claim to hate jazz guitar." Sharrock is perhaps best known for the soundtrack to the Cartoon Network program Space Ghost Coast to Coast with his drummer Lance Carter, one of the last projects he completed in the studio before his death. The season 3 episode "Sharrock" carried a dedication to him at the and, and previously unheard music that he had recorded for the show featured throughout most of the episode. "Sharrock" premiered as the 23rd episode on March 1, 1996 on Cartoon Network.
In 1994, Sharrock died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his hometown of Ossining, New York, just as he was on the verge of signing the first major label deal in his entire career. He was 53. He left behind his wife of 11 years, Nettie and his daughter, Jasmyn. He is interred at the Dale Cemetery in Ossining, New York.
Sonny Sharrock - Black Woman
by Julio Desouza
for Stylus Magazine
For better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Sonny Sharrock was born in New York in 1940. He started playing in doo wop groups before even listening to jazz but an encounter with Ornette Coleman’s music (“Lonely Woman was the first thing that struck me”) changed his musical interests. Further hours spent in the company of records from the likes of Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane eventually led him to participate in studio sessions with artists such as Pharoah Sanders and Marzette Watts.
Which leads us to his first album as leader: and what a wonderful team that is assembled here! His wife Linda (vocals), drummer Milford Graves, David Burrell on piano and Norris Jones on bass. The title track starts off with Linda’s vocalising and Sharrock going through a set of meaty note runs on his guitar with backing from Gary Sharrock on bells and Milford on percussion. ‘Peanut’ begins with start-stop interplay, Sonny’s guitar work is more spidery and one of the many highlights is the way that he connects with Milford’s Shiva like drum patterns. Once Linda comes back, her chanting truly scars. The final section is announced by Dave Burrell’s zig zagging piano chords. All take their solo but all go back to contribute restlessly to the group once that solo ends. The whole thing is wonderfully executed.
His approach to the guitar, like Hendrix, has something of the blues, especially in the way that its directness is applied, in the way that one electrified note was made to count, but that’s where the similarities end. Sharrock explores a different sound world, not only because he improvises in a jazz rather than in a rock context. Hendrix, as ‘Electric Ladyland’ shows, also was more for exploring what the studio and songwriting had to offer. Sharrock had different ideas, as on the track ‘Blind Willy’ (how’s that for a blues reference?), where he is happy enough to extract simple, crystal clear tones from his acoustic guitar, before introducing more compressed notes (?!) notes into the solo.
Listening to the whole record, the impression gained is of a guitarist who allows others to have their say, who thinks nothing of NOT playing a note for a couple of minutes, this isn’t just all out, backs against the wall, ‘fire’ music (a clumsy term that lumps a lot of this music together, a rather lame attempt to get Sonic Youth fans to buy these records). Listening, and just listening, is a skill that is required too, and that is what is being shown here (many guitarists, who ‘jam’ non-stop, for 20 minutes should take note).
Linda’s vocalising throughout this album is more varied than in ‘Monckie-Pockie-boo’, a session recorded in BYG’s studio with a couple of french musicians for backing (Sharrock also plays the slide whistle on that record). Her vocals are stretched more here, and this is demonstrated to stunning effect in the closing track (where the trumpet is the only horn making its one and only appearance on the record). She doesn’t just screech, but she hollers, shouts, she sings (!) more, the effect of her improvising with Milford and Sharrock really pushes her to where few vocalists have been. They are all fully wired into each other and so is the listener.