Music Star Eric Sommer On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry

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… There are many kinds of success: the most successful artists have a history of hard, constant work on their craft, never letting up, always pushing forward. There was a duet who use to play at a local Farmer’s Market this past year — they were authentic and engaging, had no website, no merch, no attitudes just doing great mountain music. Last week I found out that someone had seen them and put them on a bill at the biggest venue in the area — lightning CAN strike!

As a part of our interview series with leaders, stars, and rising stars in the music industry, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Eric Sommer.

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 set-up that generally includes 4–5 guitars, 3–4 small amps and a stomp box, 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. Not to be missed.

“This multi-instrumentalist bad boy could easily be a superstar in his own right but he seems to be under the spell of Holy Modal Rounders, Guy Clark and others that could have really made it but seemed to make a concerted effort not to. Mixing organic writing and playing skills with personality, he has what it takes to be a massive, under the radar treat. Singer/songwriter? Rocker? Folkie? He’s got all the bases covered and has back up in place to ensure no errors are made. Killer stuff you really must be a grinch to dislike, this cat is the real deal throughout” Midwest Record, USA

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit about your “origin story”. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in SE Asia where my dad was working in Bangkok: I went there when I was 5 years old and my Dad got me a Sears Silvertone Guitar to keep me busy and out of trouble. He found a guitar teacher for me, and by the time I was 12, I was playing in a bar called “The Trolly” in downtown Bangkok on Silom Rd and Rama V. I played there for three years and learned so much! When I returned to the US, I went to College for two years and then back to Bangkok.

When I left Bangkok, I made my way hitchhiking through Europe and ended up playing in Amsterdam and Living on a Houseboat behind the train station on The Dam Square. I moved to Aarhus, DK and played in two restaurants before heading back to the US. I landed in Boston and went to work for Don Law at the Paradise Theatre.

I learned a little guitar at Berklee, but then studied privately with Mic Goodrich from The Gary Burton Quartet. “If there’s a place for musical perfection, it’s wherever you’ll find Eric Sommer — A blistering acoustic style plus a variety of slide and open tuning formats will knock you for a loop…” wrote Studdie Burns, Melody Maker/UK in 2019. “How one guy can do this so well is remarkable, but if you look a little deeper there’s a batch of road miles around this lad… and it all makes sense.”

So, I really started my musical career in the Boston area under the eye of legendary promoter Don Law and was onstage at The Paradise Theatre in Boston for a record 40 appearances. I have been a regular player on many national and international tours and showcases and worked in Europe for two years with Nick Lowe and acts Bram Tchaikovsky and Wreckless Eric; during this period, I worked on Danish, German and British rock stages, returned to Boston and formed The Atomics.

As founding member of Boston’s legendary pop/new wave cult trio “The Atomics”, who toured non-stop with Mission of Burma, Gang of Four and The Dead Kennedy’s and were on the leading edge of several musical transformations I never lost sight of my acoustic roots, returning to my heros and mentors often: David Bromberg, Steve Howe (YES), Duane Allman (Allman Bros.), Bert Yansch, Davy Graham, Robert Johnson. My current project with power trio “The Piedmonts” shakes up Chet Atkins and David Bromberg influences with those of Randy Travis and British Rocker Elvis Costello — a remarkable mix.

I have been on the road, in the studio, on stage, in front of or behind everyone from Jerry Douglas, Leon Redbone, John Mayall, Dr. John to David Bromberg, John Hammond, Jr., Little Feat, Andy McKee, too many to name…

“With open tunings, slide guitar, lap-slap tone guitar and a remarkably aggressive fingering style approach, watching Eric Sommer will make you jump out of your seat and holler for joy! There are very few players who have maintained this authentic American style of guitar and Eric Sommer is one of the very best” Dale Pavlock, Nashville News

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was very fortunate — I found something very early on that I enjoyed and was good at, so I stuck with it.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

This is hard — there are so many stories from so many different aspects of my career…

When I was still in High School, I started working in downtown Boston for WBCN, a new station started by Peter Wolf (J. Geils Band) and I had the early morning shift from Midnight to 7am. That didn’t last long and a week later I had to leave, so they gave me two tickets to see J. Geils and John Lee Hooker at The Catacombs on Boylston Street next to Berklee College of Music and below Jacks Drum Shop. When that show was over and my ears were still ringing, I found John Lee in the dressing room and said I wanted to be on stage like him and if he had any suggestions as to what kind of guitar I ought to get…

He put two hands on my shoulders and said to me in a voice that sounded like Crown Royal poured over rough sandpaper: “Man, it ain’t never the guitar, it’s ALWAYS the player…” I have remembered that ever since.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was just starting out in Harvard Square, I would play anywhere for anything at any time… There was a restrauant in Holyoke Center, across from Harvard Yard, that asked if I would play there on a Saturday afternoon. Naturally, I said YES!! I forgot it was December, it was cold and I didn’t think I’d be outside, which was exactly where they put me. Sitting on the steps in freezing temps, playing for 4 hours straight was a liberating experience. I realized I had the stamina and the ability to withstand temps and inclement weather to work on songs and playing live.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Now I have a number of projects on the board, and they are all interesting and engaging and fairly long term. Over the years I was on the road touring, I kept notes, poems, stream of consciousness scribbles, songs and song titles in school exercise books, the old school black and white kind, and I am publishing a collection of the works I call Road Prose. Then, along those lines, I have been writing essays and short stories, and while the Road Prose is available on I will begin posting the new stories and essays on the website. During this past year I began putting together a home studio, and it is up and running now and I have a new collection of songs that I am working on for the next record.

There is a wonderful cymbal company in Osaka, Japan called “Koide Cymbals” and I am putting together a series of acoustic guitar pieces that will be sent to Australia where one of their percussionists works and he will add cymbals to the pieces… just cymbals and acoustic guitar.

And I’ve been using my new studio! I have begun composing for television and video and independent films, and the freedom and creativity that’s been coming out of the shop is wonderful, inspiring, and so amazing! My mind is full of new projects, new applications, and new compositions… all waiting to be worked on!

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music, film, and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Sure, diversity is exciting, and it can be incredibly enriching, but it must be based on merit, on the quality of the work and the volume of work produced. Diversity for the sake of diversity is hollow, and a false god and broken idol, and means nothing; it creates resentment and unrest since it’s clutter and gets in the way of artists and creators who have worked for years to produce a body of work. Diversity, based on merit, is a wonderful thing and welcomed everywhere.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

I had to think hard about this, and after a lot of careful thought, here’s what I say about it: I never look back with regret. I look at my journey over the years and every road I took led me somewhere that gave me something. It was all valuable since it truly is all about the journey. What I learned by taking the road less traveled has, as the Poet Laureate Robert Frost put it “made all the difference”. Here are 5 things that I was told that I was incredibly grateful for:

  1. There is plenty of opportunity, but it must find you working. Working on your goals, being creative and giving life to your creative vision is you being true to YOU! And there is no better solution for boredom, creative blocks, sullen dispositions, or any oddball worldly malaise. If you are working every day, the opportunity will find you. When I was starting out in Boston, I played everywhere I could, and as I wandered the Boston music scene knocking on doors, there was a very odd character who I kept seeing around Harvard Square. He always had stacks of paper with him: notes, clippings, pages from newspapers, TV Guide schedules, and he seemed homeless. He was always scruffy, and wandered the streets reading his clippings, and reciting stuff in a low rumble you had to be close to him to hear. He did this for several years, always the same thing — clippings, mutterings, wandering about. Then I got wrapped up in tours and national shows and was out of town for 5 years. When I came back, I was on Newbury Street and just walking towards Boston Common… and I looked across the street and there was a crowd of people outside a very spiffy brownstone that had been converted into a bookstore: inside at the counter was that little wandering clippings reader, directing the crowd to seats for a Stephen King book signing. It was his own store.
  2. There are many kinds of success: the most successful artists have a history of hard, constant work on their craft, never letting up, always pushing forward. There was a duet who use to play at a local Farmer’s Market this past year — they were authentic and engaging, had no website, no merch, no attitudes just doing great mountain music. Last week I found out that someone had seen them and put them on a bill at the biggest venue in the area — lightning CAN strike!
  3. When I was working at WBCN (my short radio career!) Peter Wolf gave me tickets to see a show and opening the show was John Lee Hooker. I never forgot what he said to me when I asked him what guitar I should use — “It’s never the guitar, it’s always the player”. That has stayed with me — it has guided several musical, artistic and “Life” situations for me and it resonates today as I write this — it’s not the words, it’s the writer. And it’s never the guitar… it is ALWAYS the player.
  4. One of the most important relationships I had in my short college career was with an ART instructor named Brooke Larsen. He was — and still is — a creative giant, and his emphasis was on work — producing, creating, constructing, output — that was his mantra. Output. Robert Rauschenberg said “take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” I read that as a clarion call for me to start being constantly innovative, constantly pushing the boundaries, always looking further, going farther… and the work and insight you’ll gain will be its own reward. Picasso put out an extraordinary amount of work — his catalog is vast, and there are few who equal or come close to his level of his output. Want opportunity? “Opportunity must find you working”!
  5. There was a woman who lived behind us in Middlebush NJ who the village acknowledged was a bit on the odd side — they just whispered about her. One day I went thru the fence and up to her porch and as I got to the top of the steps… she appeared in a cloud of Old Gold smoke, one of which she always had between her lips. I was 5 years old, and we became friends — she had a huge house that was classic New Jersey Victorian, and it was full of everything a 5-year-old could dream of. One of the most striking things was a cardboard castle on the stairs going up to the 2nd floor. It was made of toilet paper tubes as towers with dixie cups on top as spires. Her son was one of the creators of POP Art and Happenings, and this castle was one of his projects. It used cereal box cardboard for it sides and walls and had bit of shrubs in the center courtyard. Seeing that castle on the stairs echoed with me for years — it was meant to show me that creativity can come from anywhere at any time using anything at hand to make a statement. She had rows and rows of glass jars filled with marbles in her windows and it was a cathedral of light and colors, and she would hurry about her kitchen, bathed in this magnificent light, smoking constantly, and dodging the clothes drying from the clothes lines crisscrossing the large room. She was living an authentic creative life, free as anyone could be.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Always be creating, always be looking, always be aware of your own presence… and work with joy and recklessness but when you can’t create, work anyway — re-write, review the days compositions… and then go for a walk and clear your head. As the great Sumi-e painter Sha Lau said” “Let go worries, go on a journey” … Burn out is like a rocket when it run’s out of furl — you gotta keep feeding you head so new ideas can grow and survive. Eat right, get plenty of sleep…

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would inspire people to Truth and Beauty — honesty in all forms of government, urge people to speak out against injustice wherever it appears, and abstain from violence of any kind — it gets you nowhere.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many people have helped me along the way, so many showed me kindness when all seemed lost… and none of them — without exception, without caveat — asked for anything in return. I learned so much from the most unlikely people, people who lived on the edges of the human universe, people who would seem to have nothing to say of any value at all, were many times the most helpful and the most uplifting.

I once ran out of gas on Rt. 70 in rural Ohio and tried to hitchhike for hours to a gas station — but there were so few cars that it seemed a lost cause. Then one little woman pulled over and gave me a ride to the gas station, let me use her gas can in the back of her little car, and drove me all the way back to my car… I asked her if there was anything she needed or if there was something I could do for her, but she said no. She said she’d had a terrible week, a lot of drama and a bit of tragedy, and she needed to do something nice for someone to get her balance back.

During her own turmoil, amid all the disruption and pain, she wanted to rise above it all and cleanse herself and her soul of all the bad, by doing something wonderful for someone else who might be in need. Amen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When my mom was at the end of her life, she had a vast library of books and manuscripts and paintings collected over a lifetime of work; she was anxious to see they went to a worthy library. Two University Libraries took most of her library, and they asked if she had an insert to paste in the back covers that said who the gift was from. She chose a line from Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene III of Hamlet, and she placed it above one of her beautiful illustrations of a Horse in the traditional Sumi-e style, and it read “To thine own self be True”.

She had done exactly that — she followed her hear and as a young girl growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, she became a figure skater, joined the Ice Follies during WW II, went to the Art Institute of Chicago, and then spent 50 years in SE Asia, becoming a Master Sume-i Artist at 85…. She was always a great inspiration.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have two different people in mind:

Elon Musk

When I was 6, I wrote to President Kennedy and let him know I wanted to be the first boy on the Moon. He wrote back, and the local paper did a story on it. I have always loved the idea of Space exploration, and I have followed Elon Musk and would love to let him know I support all the wonderful things he is doing.

Shania Twain

I love what she has become, I am a fan of her catalog, and I appreciate her story — the hardships, the determination, and the remarkable success she has achieved. She and Mutt changed Country Music, and I’d like to make her a cup of coffee and sit around the table for an hour.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me at

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Music Star Eric Sommer On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.