TERRY GROSS: During the free-jazz movement of the 196O's, saxophonists left behind melody and chord changes for the unstructured abandon of shrieking, squawking solos. Sonny Sharrock was the first free-jazz guitarist; he used volume and electronic distortion to get the feeling saxophonists got from overblowing. Sharrock's power playing later won him a following in the art-rock world and in heavy-metal music. Sonny Sharrock died of a heart attack on Thursday at his home in Ossining, New York. He was fifty-three. I spoke with him in 1991. 


.... Now, what did you want the guitar to do that you heard the saxophone do?

SONNY SHARROCK: Sound like Coltrane: That's what I wanted, that sound. The saxophone players...Miles too...what used to be called "the cry of jazz," that's what I was after, and I'd never heard that done on a guitar, and that's what I wanted to reach. 

TERRY GROSS: ...Your solo on "Promises Kept": Can you tell us a little bit what you're doing on this? 

SONNY SHARROCK: [Laughs] I don't know, because it was a one-time thing, I think we recorded it in one take, and which is the way I like to record, so I don't remember at all what I did. I just played, played what I felt. 

TERRY GROSS: So you don't have any gizmos or anything attached to your guitar?

SONNY SHARROCK: Nothing at all. I do onstage, I use a wireless system because it gives me mobility and I can get around the stage, I like being all over the stage, but that's the only thing I use -- besides the volume knob. ....I use a Marshall amplifier, which is kind of strange for a so-called jazz player, but I turn it up to really usually no more than about four out of ten. I turn it up to a four and turn the guitar all the way up, the volume knob, and just, just play. I really believe your sound is in your hands, you know.... 


The standard approach to learning how to play jazz is to listen to your favorite player and copy their licks and then develop your own out of that, and... I was starting at twenty years old, and I realized I didn't have time to go through that very long route, you know, I figured that would take ten years, to work yourself out of that, to find yourself, so I just started right out playing what I heard in my head. And at that time it was very little. 

TERRY GROSS: You say you're still not fond of the guitar? 

SONNY SHARROCK: No. I don't like it. It's not as human as the horns. 

TERRY GROSS: Because there's no breath in it? 

SONNY SHARROCK: Maybe that's what it is; I guess that's what it is. .... The other night I heard a guitar player, and I realized that when a guitar player plays chords, and you'll see these guys with these magnificent hands, and they play chords that go ten frets and things, you know, all these crazy things they do -- and it all sounds like it could fit on a postage stamp. .... I never have looked at myself as a guitarist.