Sound Advice: Eric Sommer (Dec. 8)

Diverse singer/songwriter Eric Sommer plays the Southgate House Revival.

click to enlarge Eric Sommer - PHOTO: ERIC STILLIONS
Photo: Eric Stillions
Eric Sommer
Singer/songwriter Eric Sommer is an unbelievable intersection of improbable influences and experiences channeled into an amazingly diverse catalog and a résumé that reads more like a musical adventure novel than a series of career bullet points.

Sommer emerged from the Boston music scene in the ’80s with a vengeance, a Folk guitarist with a percussive, open-tuning style adapted from the likes of David Bromberg, Steve Howe, Townes Van Zandt and Brit Folk legend Davy Graham. But Boston was also a hotbed of New Wave, Power Pop and Punk at that point, and Sommer absorbed those influences as well, creating a Byrdsian jangle sound that earned him opening slots for national touring acts and regular bookings at the renowned Paradise Theatre.

Sommer eventually relocated to Europe where he scored tours with Bram Tchaikovsky, Wreckless Eric and Nick Lowe, calling Denmark and the Netherlands home for awhile. After honing his personal songwriting style and playing every conceivable club on the European circuit, Sommer returned to Boston homeless and broke.

Living on the streets and in abandoned squats, Sommer played every available open mic and picked up guitar tips from David Landau and Gary Burton/Steve Howe sideman Mick Goodrick, which led to the formation of a trio called The Atomics, which offered up an American version of Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Nick Lowe during its run. While The Atomics opened for the Dead Kennedys and Gang of Four and became one of Boston’s best local New Wave outfits, Sommer was finding constant inspiration in the works of Jeff Beck, Pat Martino, Joe Pass and Charlie Christian.

With The Atomics’ dissolution, Sommer’s wanderlust took him to New York, Atlanta and finally the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where he founded the Georgetown Film Festival and embarked on a phase of independent film scoring. Since then, Sommer has been a troubadour with no fixed address, playing well over 250 gigs a year and slowing down just long enough to record a handful of brilliant albums, including Rainy Day Karma with his band, Solar Flares, and his latest solo effort, Brooklyn Bolero

If there’s any lingering doubt about Sommer’s supernatural versatility, consider that he’s opened for Old 97’s, Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins, Bluegrass icon Jerry Douglas, Mates of State, Dr. John, Leon Redbone and Built to Spill. Whether in band or one-man form (which nakedly showcases his amazing acoustic Blues guitar stylings), Sommer is a living history of contemporary music and a musical force of nature. 

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