His first band Testors played with Iggy Pop, The Deadboys and Suicide. He’s toured around the world in multiple bands and made records with Bob Stinson, Moe Tucker, Sterling Morrison, and Scott Asheton. He’s been in reform school, been deported from Canada, been in jail. And now, 35 years after he started writing and playing music, he’s launching another tour of Europe with a new band under simply Sonny Vincent. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know who he was before Cortina Bob declared him a “1977 New York Punkrock Legend.” He’s a punk icon. And he’s playing around the corner from my house, holy fuck.
I step through the black velvet curtain separating the innards of Cortina Bob from the outside world. It’s dark as I go around the corner following the smell of stale beer and smokes. And then I step into red lights, a sold out crowd and Sonny Vincent with a band of merry men onstage jumping around and pounding on guitars and drums.
Berlin is the first stop of the tour. And the band plays like it’s the first show of the tour – excited, eager. Hot and bothered. A little loose. They’re feeling each other out, getting used to playing together on stage. Sonny is tight. He’s knows his shit, plays it with vengeance. Spits and snarls. Eggs on the moshing, pushing crowd made up of all ages – 20 year olds shove 40 year olds around the packed dance floor. They’re all drinking, screaming and smiling.
Sonny sings songs about the streets, the city, the decaying world, love, death. His voice is full of melting soul – raw, deep and beautiful. Better heard on recordings than in this small bar where the band’s screaming guitars bury his lyrics somewhat. But that’s rock and roll, baby.
I’ve heard people say you just can’t play rock after you turn 35. But anyone who’s seen Martin Rev, the Bellrays, or Sonny Vincent knows this is utter bullshit. Sonny is pumping out music that is as relevant now as it was in the 70’s. It’s genuine and meaningful to him and to anybody into punk, then and now. Fame hasn’t tainted his edge. He’s not in the limelight. He’s living his life true to his music. And this has kept his songs real.
I often wonder what’s happened to other musicians responsible for amazing music back in the day, musicians who as they’ve gotten older their writing has turned to crap. I don’t wonder about Sonny, that’s not him and it could never be. His clothes are not a costume and his attitude is not a show. Watching him play is intense and inspiring. He lives what he is. He’s the real deal.
words, photos: Tristen Bakker