Sonny sharrock guitar

Decades and an upswing in his popularity didn’t necessarily change all audiences. When he and Henry Kaiser took the stage to play duets at an Italian jazz festival in 1987, following the staid Modern Jazz Quartet, “the audience was like a tidal wave,” Sharrock recounted. “We cleared the room instantly. My [second] wife, Nettie, cried, because she’d never seen anything like that before.” He laughed, gently. “I said, ‘C’mon, that’s nothing! Do you want me to clear out the ushers, too?’”

Humor was another of Sharrock’s trademarks. And his friends and bandmates loved him for his wicked one-liners and playful skewerings. “It was as if I was on a laughing-gas high,” recalls Pheroan akLaff, one of the two drummers in Sharrock’s juggernaut Seize the Rainbow band. “If we went on the road, there would be continuous Don Rickles-style jokes hurled about you from the moment of airport check in until we said goodbye. In fact, I don’t ever remember him saying goodbye, unless it came in an insult. That was his way of expressing love.”

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