A Rock n’ Roll Rebel in Crisis: Andrew Waterman on Sonny Vincent
While living in Gander, NL, I was working at a large “Canadian” retail store. At the beginning of the sales day (my day started at 5 am but we opened at 9 am) we had a meeting. A ‘show and tell’ where a bunch of adults stood in a circle listing off product numbers and faking enthusiasm over windshield wipers or plant feed or whatever. For obvious reasons, my mind wandered and I started thinking about a part for a violin to put over a song I had written.
With the meeting finished I started to walk away until I heard large footsteps behind me. I’m pulled aside by a middle-aged gronk with Styrofoam hair (and personality) who owned the store. He interrogates me over what had been presented in the morning meeting. I only got three out of four ‘show and tell’ items right and he threatened me with my job. That night I went home, plugged in my guitar and told myself to play like Sonny Vincent. Thinking about the intro to the live version of the Testors’ “Aw Maw”, I attacked my guitar like it had murdered my family. It was cathartic, to say the least.
I heard about Sonny Vincent and the Testors because of John Reis (Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt, just to name a few of his bands and contribution to the overall health and well-being of rock n’ roll) who runs an amazing, non-traditional, somewhat inactive, possibly not a record label but still a record label called Swami records, out of San Diego. Swami helps to record and release some of the best music of today (Dan Sartain,Mrs. Magician, Beehive and the Barracudas etc). He has also put out three amazing retrospectives of otherwise little known bands who had a major impact on the people who witnessed them during the bands existence: Crime, the Penetrators and the aforementioned Testors. I can’t remember which album it was, but the mail-order website sent me either the Testors or Crime album by accident and I had to get them to send the one I actually ordered later. In hindsight, I’m incredibly glad they fucked up my order, because both continue to wax un-philosophically on my turntable.
Sonny’s love for rock n’ roll seeps through with every strum, down stroke or note that he bends upwards and away from some unnameable tempest in his gut. His songs cut through all the fat to settle upon a rusted, golden brown platter of stripped to the bone, no bullshit, rock n roll. He’s been doing this since the 1970’s.
One of Sonny’s first bands named Distance asked Suicide to play their first show. He’s played with Moe Tucker’s band (actually, that’s Sonny to the right, in the picture on Moe’s wikipedia page) and everyone from Wayne Kramer, Captain Sensible, Bob Stinson, Thurston Moore, Ron and Scott Asheton, Rocket from the Crypt, Richard Lloyd and way too many more to list, have been on his records. Suffice to say, your favourite band or guitar player is probably into Sonny Vincent. The last record he put out was recorded with Rat Scabies, Glen Matlock and the late Steve Mackay (BLOW STEVE!!!) for god sakes. A legend reflected through the eyes of legends, truly. If it weren’t for the fact John Reis was such a fan, I wouldn’t have a goddamn clue who Sonny Vincent is.
With all this in mind, Sonny should be rolling around on a waterbed filled with hundred dollar bills soaked in champagne and the blood of extinct animals. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately? For the animals I mean. I don’t know…) that’s not the case. He’s not homeless but he’s not a rich dude by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t know the in’s and out’s of the music industry or why people’s tastes are so narrow and dismissive; but unlike many rock stars, Sonny is actually in love with rock n’ roll and his inability to compromise his art, or rather the inability of the masses to accept his art for what it is (brilliant), has left him on the peripheral.
There are a few stories floating around that exemplify this. For instance, at least according to this youtube video, when a record executive told the guys from the Testors that he’d like to sign them on the condition that they ‘tone it down’ and be more ‘radio friendly’ they left wrote the song “Hey You” – one of the more biting, volatile and direct songs in the band’s discography – recorded it soon after, put it in a brown paper bag and mailed it to the record label with a picture of Jimi Hendrix. Badass.
And then there’s this gem, from his website: 2003 – Sonny gets arrested for smashing a decibel meter. The decibel meter is a handheld device to measure how loud the music is. Sonny took and smashed it. After being arrested he said: “Of course I smashed it, that’s an anti-rocknroll device.” Brilliant.
Sonny is a hero to me. If it wasn’t for songs like “Purpose”, “MK ULtra”, “Black Book”, “I See”, and so many more, it would have been harder for me to realize that I wasn’t the only one in the world, who felt the way I did. I wasn’t the only one with some fucked up experiences behind me; who felt deeply, intensely afraid sometimes, and because of that fear, pure anger for the things that were pushing me into a tiny corner like a rodent, be those things real, or imagined.
So it weighed on my heart when I read his Facebook post the other day and saw that he was in trouble. His son, grandson and daughter-in-law are all in hospital after being in a gas fire. The pictures he posted on his page are heartbreaking and incredibly hard to take in. When he heard, he flew immediately to where his family was, Weaverville, NC, to take care of them with nothing but the clothes on his back.
Monsterbator will be getting together with some friends to spread joy, playing our particular brand of rock n roll at the Levee on February 19th to help raise money for Sonny and his family. There will be more bands announced soon. Please come out, have a rocking good time, showing your support for a true legend (and gentleman) and his family, while you’re at it. Or, if you can’t make it and have a few extra dollars you can send it to the his GoFundMe campaign link below or directly to Sonny on his paypal, email@example.com.
If you want to follow the story, Sonny does keep updates on his Facebook page. Many of the pictures he posts regarding the situation are very graphic but serve to show the severity of his current situation. With this in mind, if you are sensitive to imagery of this kind, more specifically images of victims of fires, it’s probably best to stay away.