One for the road: singer-guitarist Eric Sommer
Eric Sommer often shares a memorable comment made by legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker backstage at a Boston J.Geils band concert: “If you ain’t playin’, then you payin.’”
Sommer took Hooker’s wisdom to heart. Since 1995, he’s played 200-270 shows a year since 1995 to become what some people believe is one of the best solo acts in the country.
His guitar work has been compared to heavyweights like Steve Howe of Yes, British open-tuning pioneer Davy Graham and the versatile David Bromberg, while his songwriting merits mention in the same breath as Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Nick Lowe.
Sommer will play White Horse Black Mountain Jan. 6.
In the 1980s, he broke out of the Boston folk music scene with a mixture of roots-pure, finger-style acoustic guitar and new wave pop, a blurred combination of Nick Lowe, The Cars and Spider John Koerner influences.
This unique alchemy produced a driving, guitar-based sound grounded in a tight, infectious beat and laced with Byrds-style, jingle-jangle guitar work; this sound landed Sommers and The Atomics house band duties on Tuesday nights at cantone’s, the uber hardcore, working-class punk bar in downtown Boston, just off an area called The Combat Zone.
At first, writing power pop rock songs, Sommers blended his acoustic feel, open-tunings and slide guitar into a more personal writing approach, producing a wide range of very personal songs, songs based on years of road work, travel and just general observations as well as some autobiographical material.
During this time, he was regularly called on by legendary promoter Don Law to fill in at Boston’s Paradise Theatre, located right on Commonwealth Avenue next to Boston University and across from another hardcore rock palace, The Underground.
Sommer, who paid his guitar dues on the streets of Boston during high school, left for Europe and played in Amsterdam and Hamburg before settling in Aarhus, Denmark where he toured with Danish bands and held steady gigs at Den Hoyle and De Gaverit, two very popular clubs for American ex-pats in Europe, and then moved to Amsterdam, lived on a houseboat and worked the Netherlands music clubs, the Amsterdam scene and West German concert circuit.
Back in Boston, broke and homeless, Sommers lived on the streets and in the old abandoned warehouses around the Fort Point Channel in South Boston while playing every open mic and working every short-order cook job he could find.
He took guitar tips from legendary guitar master David Landau, brother of Springsteen manager Jon Landau, then from Mick Goodrick of the Gary Burton Quartet and Steve Howe of YES fame, and listened to all the Joe Pass, Jeff Beck and Charlie Christian vinyl recordings he could find.
The Atomics continued to hold down the house band spot at cantone’s and after shows and tours with a number of new wave and punk acts like The Dead Kennedy’s, The Atomics evolved into one of the best local power pop/new wave bands in Boston. The trio disbanded in the mid ’80s and
Sommers moved to New York, then Atlanta and finally settled around the mid-Atlantic area, choosing Adams Morgan, a hip, cosmo-type East Village-like area of Washington D.C., as a base of sorts.
Sommers mixed his music and visual interests together and launched the Georgetown Film Festival which combined indie films and animation with a music festival.
The combination led Sommers into “motion music,” and he has created film scores and soundscapes for a number of short films, features, animations and docs.
Who: Eric Sommers
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 6
Where: White Horse Black Mountain