Andy Summers Snapshots of the Police


Named one of the top 100 Guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, Andy Summers played lead guitar for one of the biggest bands of the late 70’s and early 80’s– The Police.  He’s also considered one of the greatest living guitar players.  He’s a member of the Guitar Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with The Police in 2003.  He recently stopped by the SiriusXM Studios to talk with about his new documentary about his time with the Police– “Can’t Stand Losing You”.

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Andy Summers Talks About the Police Being an International Band

: You are a world traveler. One thing about The Police, I remember when they broke – you guys broke everywhere in the world, right? Just about.

Andy Summers: Pretty much. Yeah, that was one of the notable features of the band that was so great – that we seemed to be internationally accepted. Some British bands of the time – I don’t want to say this in a derogatory way, but bands like let’s say The Specials or something – that were very hardcore London scene – they didn’t really translate so well outside of the country. I’m generalizing a little bit, but we did.

: No, but I understand there’s plenty of great bands that don’t cross the Atlantic – that don’t make it over here. Bands that are superstars – then there’s plenty of bands that can play basically England and America and maybe Canada and some Japan. But you guys, worldwide. And almost, which I think is most unique, broke almost worldwide, wasn’t it?

Andy Summers: Pretty much, yeah. No, it was an incredible time. But like if we got number one in England, we also knew that we got it in Belgium, Holland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Japan. It was all the time. We never got one gold disc for one single – it was always like 12, there’s going to be at least 12 of these suckers. Yeah, it was great.

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Summers Remembers Playing their First Gig in America– At CBGS’s

Ron Bennington: But on the other hand, which is really interesting here in New York – one of the legendary shows is CBGB’s.

Andy Summers: Absolutely.

Ron Bennington: Where everybody would still talk about it as long as CBGB’s was around and no one every thought of what you guys were doing of course as punk, but that was one of the things that you guys were able to play a lot of different places.

Andy Summers: Yeah, the genesis of the band was definitely in the punk scene in London in 1978. Really and obvious, because we felt very privileged actually at the time because we regard it as the Mecca of punk and new wave and that was CBGB’s in New York. So, we came to the states, the U.S. for the first time and the first gig we played was CBGB’s.

Ron Bennington: Which is kind of cool and a very very rare thing to be able to pull off – to come over from England.

Andy Summers: I mean we were so excited. I mean, actually what happened – Stewart (Copeland) of course is American, lived in England, but his father’s in New York at the time. So Stewart was over here for about a week before us, but Sting and I came over together on the plane. Got off at 11 o’clock at night and we were on stage at CBGB’s at about midnight and with all the grunge and everything. We should have been just wiped out, but we were so wired. So happy to be in America and playing at CBGB’s. It was a real high.

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The Chemistry Between the Members of the Police;  Forming the Band

Ron Bennington: Well, one of the great things about your documentary is seeing the band at all these different stages of the career including today. And you get that thing because The Police are one of those bands that you just kind of take for granted that this is a great band, but watching you guys play…it’s a great band. I mean, a great drummer, great guitar player and of course, Sting. Sting being Sting. A legitimate rock star.

Andy Summers: It doesn’t happen too often. That kind of chemistry. People will say – well, what was it? And I say, you know what? You can’t really analyze it because only 3 people could do that. And it was so fortuitous and magical for that. That we were the 3 people that met and this thing happened. One guy out – it’s not the same.
Andy Summers: Yeah. Well, I mean the little mini history at the beginning of the band – this has all been documented. We got together – somebody else in London got us together, Stewart and me and Sting. Stewart and Sting already had The Police with another guitarist. But we were brought together, the 3 of us and this other bass player – so we had 2 bass players to do a one off project in Paris. But we rehearsed a lot. We rehearsed for about 3 weeks. And dare I say this on Sirius radio? I was a lot better than the other guitar player. I won’t follow the agony too much. But anyway, we definitely connected big time and after we did this concert in Paris, it was like…(makes like a fuse burning noise).

Ron Bennington: How quick did you pick up on it? Because you had played in a lot of bands before this.

Andy Summers:  Yeah.  Well, I mean the little mini history at the beginning of the band – this has all been documented.  We got together – somebody else in London got us together, Stewart and me and Sting.  Stewart and Sting already had The Police with another guitarist.  But we were brought together, the 3 of us and this other bass player – so we had 2 bass players to do a one off project in Paris.  But we rehearsed a lot.  We rehearsed for about 3 weeks.  And dare I say this on Sirius radio?  I was a lot better than the other guitar player.  I won’t follow the agony too much.  But anyway, we definitely connected big time and after we did this concert in Paris, it was like…(makes like a fuse burning noise).

Ron Bennington: This is going to be something, yeah.

Andy Summers: You know what guys? Sting really wanted it to happen and then the rest is – it’s kind of in the film and it’s in the book about the “One Train Later”. And I met Stewart on a train like 2 days later and we were sort of laughing about the coincidence and of course from that moment, The Police were born. For real.

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Andy Talks About Being Considered for The Rolling Stones

Ron Bennington: Even when you were talking about being broke at the time, your name popped up as maybe being in the Rolling Stones. I guess replacing Mick Taylor at one time.

Andy Summers: Yes.

Ron Bennington: To hear that had to be remarkable. (Andy laughs) Even to hear it today would still be like – really?

Andy Summers: Yeah. Yes. Well, of course I was in London at that time and I was very much on the scene and I was getting written about personally. Anyway, I was actually sort of – my star was rising and there would have been – if I joined the Stones, it probably would have worked out fine. I’m an English bloke, we started together. There’s a certain logic to that. But oddly enough, I took total turn to the left and joined this unlikely unknown punk band. (laughs) With no future whatsoever. But there you go.

Ron Bennington: And there it is, all happening at the same time.

Andy Summers: All together. All happening at the same time.

Ron Bennington: Did you go and actually audition for the Stones? Or was it just a name in the mix?

Andy Summers: No, but you know, but view it whichever way you like, I couldn’t help with a little feeling of satisfaction, not to make a pun. A few years later, probably 1983, we definitely ruled the world and we were the number one band. And Mick turned up and I think it was like Hartford, Connecticut. He came to the dressing room and there suddenly, Mick Jagger’s in the dressing room. He’s looking…taking it all in and he stood at the side of the stage with his arms folded, watched the whole show. He was checking it out.

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How The Band Dealt with Massive Success

Ron Bennington: I think the two worst things that can happen to a band, of course is failure and then other being success. They’re both really really difficult to deal with. Because how many people even understand what it’s like to have that kind of success that you guys had. I mean just think – it’s kind of a once a generation, once every 10 years.

Andy Summers: Well as big as we were – because probably kids don’t actually realize – we were virtually like The Beatles. I mean we got to the point where – I mean this all sort of sounds ridiculous now, but back at that point – we literally could not go to a restaurant, walk the street, leave the hotel room without a body guard. I mean it just got to the insanity point.

Ron Bennington: Gossip pages. All that kind of stuff.

Andy Summers: Yeah. I mean it’s not like – oh, poor little rock star syndrome, but I was talking to somebody earlier today – to get all the way out there and sustain it and always be on and always be good and all that. You’ve got to be pretty tough. And you’ve got to want it. A lot of people break early and they don’t stay the course. So, it always sound like poor little me, but that kind of success and fame does take a bit of handling. A lot of people turn to drugs obviously. And if you do that, well you know which way that goes. Or drink – or whatever. But you got to have the…what do they call it? The intestinal fortitude to continue.

Ron Bennington: Right. Because anything you use as a crutch is only going to be for a short time.

Andy Summers: It won’t sustain you.

Ron Bennington: Yeah, it will not sustain.

Andy Summers: I think one thing about us, not that we were good boys or anything, but I think we realized once we started doing like massive tours – I mean our tours would go on 6 months, 7 months. We pretty much toured for 7 years without a break. That’s what it felt like. The only break we would get is if we went to make a record. And then go straight back on the road. But I think we realized fairly early on that we can’t do the drug thing to that extent. It’s just insane. To party every single night because every time we’d played – everyone wants to be with you and they want to go somewhere and they just want to get completely ripped. How many nights can you do that? And then you’ve got to play again the next night. Well then, you’ve got to take some more drugs to do it. So, it’s this sort of downward cycle. I think the 3 of us, in a way – I like to think this – watched out for one another. And it’s only 3 of us, so you can’t have a weak link.

Ron Bennington: Ever.

Andy Summers: No one…if Sting’s not singing right, it’s not going to be good. If Stewart can’t play – we’re really…

Ron Bennington: Yeah, there’s nobody to cover for you out there.

Andy Summers: And no one covering. So, I think we kind of held it together with the 3 of us which I’m quite proud of.

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The Decision of the Band to Walk Away

Ron Bennington: Well, the other thing is when the band kind of broke up – which I don’t know if bands ever really break up. But when you stopped there for a long time – you were as big as you could get. You had number one album, the number one single and the number one tour. No one is used to people walking away at that exact point.

Andy Summers: Well, it’s a very brave thing to do. I mean I think it was a very brave thing of Sting to do because it’s all documented. There’s no news here. He wanted to go out alone. He didn’t want to do it anymore. We made 5 albums which we were contracted for – for A&M Records. And then came the point when – right at the top of the curve, he’d sort of say – we’re at the top now and I don’t think we can get any bigger than this. We could of – we could have kept going forever. We just got out of the way for a band like U2 to take over the spot. But that’s what he wanted to do. And there’s a part of me that sort of went along with it, weirdly enough. Because we were so…we were drowning in all that incredible stuff at the time. And so, that’s what happened. So, it was kind of a poignant thing to happen. And at the same time, it was sort of a relief. But it was also very gutsy. But, the good side of that – the silver lining – is that it left an incredible amount of need from the audience out there that hadn’t had enough of it. Why did they stop so early? Hence, you fast forward – come to the reunion tour of ’07, ’08 – there are a lot of people that want to see the band.

Ron Bennington: No, you’re walking out in stadiums where most bands have never had that experience of just your show in a stadium. And you guys have a tour of that.

Andy Summers: Yeah. All stadiums. It was like one of the biggest tours of all time. And almost like – literally bigger than ever. It was sort of a phenomenon. And kind of a shocker.

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Andy Talks About His Kids Seeing Him Perform With the Police for the First Time

Ron Bennington: Well, one of the parts of the film – I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s the first time that your kids really saw you as a member of The Police. They live with you as their dad.

Andy Summers: Yes.

Ron Bennington: But here wait, he’s also in this gigantic band.

Andy Summers: Well thanks for mentioning that because in a strange little ironic way, that is the most satisfying thing of the whole reunion. That finally my kids, I mean I obviously grew up with my kids – well, you know I used to be in this rock band – oh yeah dad, yeah, yeah, yeah, go back to whatever. But it came true and they turned up and their mum said – hey, you haven’t seen your father like this, get ready. And of course, they turned up at the first show which was – I think we were doing Vancouver. There was 19,000 people. And they went – oh my God. Didn’t know you could move like that. (laughs) It was fun.

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Andy’s Photography

Ron Bennington: One of the great things too is that you took so many pictures. You’re setting this up, but you’ve always been into photography.

Andy Summers: Yeah.

Ron Bennington: There does seem to be some kind of connection, I think between guitar players and the visual arts.

Andy Summers: I think there’s a real cogent argument for that – the relationship between music and the visual arts. And I’ve made various pompous statements about this over the years. Like I might see a photograph like a chord where it’s got harmonic qualities. That’s how I swap these things about – you can go down that route as far as you like. But then I also say along these lines that one of the qualities I look for in – well, just say photography or visual arts, is music. I’m looking for the quality of music. As I would in literature too. A photographer I was very drawn to and became friends with in New York is Ralph Gibson. He’s a great New York photographer, I think one of the real greats. I didn’t know him at all and I saw his books when I was really starting into it. And I’m like – oh man, they’re like music. They’re so beautiful. There’s this flow. Of course, eventually I met him and we got to be good friends and of course, he’s a guitar player and totally a music buff and everything, so we’ve long had this conversation – swapping backwards and forwards about music and photography inparticular – how you can sort of swap the information from one medium to the other. And it’s a very healthy thing, I think.

Ron Bennington: Yeah. And it gives you that chance I think to step back and not do something that’s going to be judged by everybody immediately.

Andy Summers: Right, yeah. I mean on the photography thing – I guess it was incipient. It was in me anyway. I grew up with a brother who was obsessed with cameras and probably like most people – I fooled around with cameras, but it was really in New York that I said – you know what? I think I’m going to get a really good camera – the first time I ever had enough dough to go out and get something I want. I think I went to like B&H and bought like a Nikon and a 15mm lense. And then there were so many photographers around – anyway, I started to really get into it. And I started studying and getting better at it. And I ended up lugging cameras pretty much for the next 7 years. And I pretty much shot the whole career of The Police, beginning to end. And then put it all away. Completely. Finally somebody got – a few years ago – well, actually it came out as a book on Taschen in ’07. And there’s a lot of the photography in the documentary film that’s going to start tomorrow night. But it was a great thing for me because it was a way to kind of process the experience of this amazing band and this life experience we had gone through in another way. And not just being emotionally drowning it all the time. But also to step back and go – I’ll make a great shot here.

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Why In-Fighting is Unavoidable for Successful Bands

Ron Bennington: [There was] fighting in between the band and going over creative differences. Is there anyway that that doesn’t happen? Because it seems like it’s 100% of the time with just about every band.

Andy Summers: No, I think if it wasn’t like that, it would probably be something wrong. Because I think – I mean certainly what typifies the best bands, the best – certainly in rock – you’ve got to have that creative fiction. It’s that sort of spark – the spark of the differences that makes the music really happen. And I think it connects to the people.

Ron Bennington: That’s so interesting. So you really do need that tension to kind of rub up against each other.

Andy Summers: I think you need a certain amount of it. Alright, you’ve got 3 or 4 mellow guys on a stage. You’re all getting along really well. What are you going to get? You’ll sound like a banana. (laughs)

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Ron Bennington: I think it’s interesting to look back at this age of what happened to these young guys. Obviously you could go out and do those tours like you did in ’07 and it can be done in a more professional manner because you bring some experience and maturity to it. Andy, thank you so much for stopping in.

Andy Summers: Great.

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Find more information at AndySummers.com.

You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio.  Not yet a subscriber?  Click here for a free trial subscription.

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You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.

5 comments
Donetta Donnell
Donetta Donnell

He recently stopped by the SiriusXM Studios to talk with Ron Bennington about his new documentary about his time with the Police– “Can’t Stand Losing You”.

Tommie Flood
Tommie Flood

Great job on the site, it looks outstanding. I am going to save it and will make sure to check often.

RFGvac
RFGvac

What a guitar player.  What a band.  I can't even describe how unique The Police were when they debuted in the late 70's.  I'm glad Andy had the foresight to capture it all for posterity.

sterlingblue
sterlingblue

 @RFGvac I saw them twice in the 80's and then again on the reunion tour. Great show each time. Amazing band.