A founding members of the post-punk rock group The Police, Andy Summers provided the elegant, sinuous guitar work that personified the group's best work on songs like "Every Breath You Take," "Don't Stand So Close to Me," "Roxanne" and countless others. A veteran of the late 1960s psychedelic scene in his native England, Summers came together with Sting and Stewart Copeland to form The Police in the late 1970s. Their music, which embraced world and jazz music within its tight, intricate melodies, won worldwide favor and made them one of the most successful groups of the early 1980s. The Police disbanded in 1984, after which Summers composed music for film while pursuing a solo career which hewed closer to jazz and experimental sounds, as well as critically acclaimed stints as an author and photographer. In 2007, The Police reunited for one of the highest grossing tours in music history, which underscored Summers' position as a key figure in late 20th century rock-n-roll.
Born Andrew James Somers on Dec. 31, 1942 in the market town of Poulton-le-Fylde in England's Lancashire county, he initially played piano, but discovered guitar in his early teens. It soon became his main musical outlet, and Summers became a fixture on the jazz scene in his hometown of Bournemouth. At 19, he joined keyboardist Zoot Money's R&B/soul outfit, the Big Roll Band, which in 1968 became the psychedelic rock band Dantalian's Chariot. Their first single, the surreal "Madman Running Through the Fields" (1967), and their stage presence, which saw the group dressed in white caftans and bathed in a hallucinogenic light show, was met with disapproval by their record label, and the group was dissolved within a year's time. Summers briefly joined the progressive rock pioneers the Soft Machine before reuniting with Money in a reconstituted version of The Animals. That lineup lasted long enough to cut an album, Love Is (1969), which marked Summers' first studio recording, before breaking up that same year.
Summers then headed to Los Angeles, where he studied composition at UCLA and performed with a Latin group. After completing his studies, he returned to London, where he backed a wide variety of progressive rock musicians, including the Soft Machine's Kevin Ayers, Mike Oldfield, and Deep Purple co-founder Jon Lord. In 1977, he was invited to join Strontium 90, a band fronted by ex-Gong bassist Mike Howlett and featuring drummer Stewart Copeland and bassist Gordon Sumner, who went by the stage name of Sting. All three backing musicians left Strontium 90 to start their own group, The Police, in 1977. The group quickly established itself on the London punk scene with a musical palette that embraced reggae, jazz and pop. Songs like "Roxanne," "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" quickly built an international fan base. By the release of their 1983 album Synchronicity, The Police was among the world's most popular and critically acclaimed bands. Though Summers was chiefly the band's guitarist, he did contribute lead vocals and lyrics to several songs in their catalog, most notably the sinister "Murder By Numbers" from Synchronicity. The Police would capture six Grammy awards between 1980 and 1983, with two going to Summers alone for Best Rock Instrumental Performance on "Reggatta de Blanc" and "Behind My Camel." During this period, Summers would release his first solo record, 1982's I Advance Masked, which teamed him with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp.
The Police disbanded at the height of their fame in 1984 due to conflicts within the group over musical direction, as well as Sting's growing interest in a solo career. After releasing a second effort with Fripp, Bewitched (1984), Summers moved into soundtrack work, composing the scores for such films as "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (1986) and "Weekend at Bernie's" (1989). He returned to solo work with the pop-driven XYZ (1987), but its failure to find an audience convinced Summers to abandon chart hits in favor of his own musical preferences. He left MCA Records for the smaller Private Music label, where he could exercise his jazz and international music influences. He reunited with Sting for the singer's sophomore solo album, Nothing Like the Sun (1987), and later on Summers' own Charming Snakes (1990) and Green Chimneys (1999). In 1992, Summers served as musical director on the short-lived "Dennis Miller Show" (syndicated, 1992-93).
The new millennium saw Summers experiment with classical music with the concerto Dark Florescence (2005) while moving successfully into second careers as a writer and photographer. His 2006 autobiography, One Train Later, won critical praise, as did I'll Be Watching You: Inside the Police 1980-1983 (2007), a collection of black and white images he took during the band's heyday. That same year, Summers rejoined Sting and Copeland for a wildly successful reunion tour as The Police. The band kicked off their yearlong jaunt with an appearance at the 2007 Grammys and crisscrossed the globe until August of 2008. Ticket sales in excess of $340 million made it the third highest-grossing tour of all time.
By Paul Gaita