Eric Sommer is a singer, songwriter, road poet and musical cyclone, so any bio for Eric Sommer is a real challenge: he’s been everywhere… played with everybody! Any biography or musical history of Eric Sommer is difficult at best simply because there is so much too it.
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.
Best of Cincinnati
Eric Sommer is a singer, writer and guitar player with a style that’s a cross between Billie Joe Shaver, Taj Mahal, Willie Porter and Steve Howe, delivered like a velvet hammer – Crown Royal poured over #2 sandpaper.
With a unique style and a set-up that generally includes 4-5 guitars, 3-4 small amps and a stompbox, it is guitar, slide & open tuning stuff wrapped around songs for people who care about things that matter: insane ex-girlfriends, wrinkled shirts, failed love, broken hearts, bad coffee, flat tires, gas station hot dogs, dumb pets… and checkout lines.
My first guitar was a Sears Silvertone, and my Dad hunted around for someone to teach me – I was around 6 years old. But I head “Addison and Crowfoot” at a USIS concert, got up and played Stewball was a racehorse” and never looked back.
Sommer emerged from the Boston music scene in the ’90s 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 Tom Petty, Little Feat, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt; and regular bookings at the renowned Paradise Theatre. Eric eventually played more than 40 shows at The Paradise when he worked for Don Law.
London, Denmark, & Points Continental
Sommer relocated to Europe, drawn by the London music scene; he survived playing the rock circuit along the Northern Germany route of Hamburg, Bremen, Bonn, Munich and into Sweden, Oslo, Norway and Denmark, where he lived for 2 years in Aahrus. Eric was gigging steadily in Aahrus, first at DenHoyt and then at DeGavaritte, local clubs in the downtown center, while working in a laundry during the day.
From this central location, Eric played in the UK, Amsterdam and Paris, during this time he joined up on 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 lofts in South Boston, eventually renting a top floor loft on South Congress Street in the shadow of the Federal Reserve Building on the Fort Point Channel, Sommer played every available open mic he could find. For cash he worked odd jobs as a bartender, a record store manager, a copy shop manager, a waterbed installer, a waiter and a copy writer for Apple, Oracle Direct and ad agencies Needham Harper, BBD&O, Ted Bates and Arnold Advertising in Harvard Square and downtown Boston.
Eric Sommer is a singer, songwriter, road poet and musical cyclone, so any bio for Eric Sommer is a real challenge: he’s been everywhere…
During this time, especially with money very hard to come by, Eric began to collect his notes from his years in Denmark. He also made time to work on his recollections of London. There were reams of notes from histime in Germany and Paris, too. then playing in Boston and New Jersey, notes on music, song ideas, and notes on the things he saw on his journey; he included various characters he met along the way. These notes eventually became his first collection of stories and road poetry titled “Red Chairs” based on his experiences in fine dining at Waffle House.
I got into that habit and I never stopped… Songcraft, writing and singing in particular, has always been my driving force, but I enjoy free-form, non-fiction creative and since this slow-down I have had a year to crisp my notes, do plenty of re-writes and see what could come of it…
He’s developed that part of his writing to the point that his articles and stories are being published in literary journals and collections. New Debris is the most recent collection, and joins Blue Turtle and Black Pancake, both earlier collections of Road Prose.
Returning from 2 years in Arhus, Denmark, Eric was flat broke. While living on the streets and in abandoned lofts in South Boston, Sommer got things going again. He worked relentlessly on his writing, and played every available open mic he could find. Along the way he went to Berklee College of Music, and studied guitar with David Landau and Gary Burton sideman Mick Goodrick. This 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 very successful run.
The Atomics toured relentlessly and shared the bill with the Dead Kennedys and Gang of Four. In the process, they became one of Boston’s best local New Wave outfits. Along the way Sommer was finding constant inspiration in the works of Jeff Beck, Pat Martino, Joe Pass, and Charlie Christian.
The Atomics incredible run ended in Providence, RI at the show with The Dead Kennedys when everyone realized they couldn’t keep up their touring and recording schedule. Everyone had problems with alcohol, and it was becoming impossible to keep it together.
Records, Film Festivals
Then on to New York. Living in Park Slope and working on Columbus Circle for Roulette and Pyramid Records seemed ideal. He worked as East Coast A&R Director for a year before heading to Boston, then Washington, DC.
The Georgetown Film Festival
Eric ended up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where he worked as a writer and designer for software companies. Eric founded a marketing services company in Georgetown where he and Gretchen Speedy created the Georgetown Film Festival and had 11,000 people on opening night!.
The Festival was created as a response to the closing of the beautiful Biograph Theatre, leaving not a single screen in the Georgetown area. They used an empty warehouse next to Blues Alley, and created a wonderful environment. The GIFF ran for 8 years and then was closed when RE prices became prohibitive. The Film Programmer was the wonderfully talented Jeanette Catsoulis
Sommer closed the Ad Agency he founded, sold off the entire contents of the two floors at 3128 M Street, and hit the road, back to singing, playing and working across the US and Europe.
Johnson City Folk Festival
Since then, Sommer has been a troubadour with no fixed address, playing well over 300 gigs a year for the past 10 years. He’s slowed down just long enough to record a handful of brilliant albums, including Rainy Day Karma with his band, Solar Flares, and then Brooklyn Bolero.
Eric also created and ran two folk festivals in the Appalachian foothills of East Tennessee: the Johnson City Folk Festival and its spin-off The Buffalo Valley Music Festival.
If there’s any lingering doubt about Sommer’s supernatural versatility, consider that he’s played with a breathtaking line-up of artists: he has been either in front of, behind or in the middle of shows for Old 97’s, Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins, Bluegrass icon Jerry Douglas, Mates of State, Dr. John, Leon Redbone and Built to Spill.
Eric Sommer is a singer songwriter, and one of the best in the land.
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.