Sonny Sharrock (1940-1994) was one of the original wild jazz guitarists. After starting out with a little doo-wop singing in the late 1950s, he wanted to play sax after falling under the spell of players like John Coltrane, but couldn't due to a bad case of asthma. So, he took up the guitar instead. In the late '60s, inspired by the fiery horn playing of the free jazz movement, he was among the first to pepper his intricate, saxophone-like runs with angular shards of dissonance and feedback.
Sonny recorded numerous albums throughout his life. The best early example is Black Woman, which contains such disparate elements as country blues, freeform atmospherics, avant-garde vocals and the aforementioned dissonant outbursts.
The free music landmark Monkey-Pockie-Boo from 1970 is another high point. After taking a break from music for most of the '70s, Sonny was coaxed back into action in the early '80s by bassist / producer Bill Laswell, joining bands like Material and Last Exit, which was a raw-dog, hybrid rock / free jazz outfit featuring gnarly German sax player Peter Brotzmann, among others. The free improv madness continued with another band called Machine Gun at the end of the '80s
In 1991, Sonny got together with a quartet including two '60s free jazz veterans, Pharoah Sanders and Elvin Jones, on Ask the Ages, which is considered by some to be his high-flying, freewheeling masterpiece. Oddly enough, just before his premature death from a heart attack in 1994, Sonny and drummer Lance Carter recorded the theme song for the cartoon show Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
Timeframe: Pre and post-Altamont.
Public Impact: Although Sonny Sharrock is not well-known to the general populace, his pioneering guitar work will forever loom as a large influence within the realms of free music.
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