Sonny Smith brings you "100 Records" — and the jukebox to play them
"There are a couple of balls-out, crazy 'Louie Louie'-type numbers, and Spencer [Owen] played drums on those," Smith says, describing the sessions. "It was some of the best drumming I've ever played with. He had these bizarre beats and fills. I thought, 'This is so perfect — this is probably how a song like "Louie Louie" happened.'"
A spaghetti-narrative project like "100 Records" is a natural for Smith, a storyteller who has documented his life in comic book form and written plays. Later in the interview, with the Rolling Stones' Tattoo You on the stereo at my apartment, he tells me that one of the first singles he bought was by Mick Jagger. "I didn't buy it because I knew anything — the guy at the record store just told me to buy it," he says. "It was a record store in Fairfax that was Van Morrison's parents' record store. He just bought the store and put his parents there to run it." This anecdote then spirals into a funny one that a member of Morrison's band told him about being stuck playing an endless version of "Domino" on a darkened arena concert stage while Morrison secretly caught a cab and a plane to L.A.
Smith has a keen eye for the mythologizing involved in music, and how a college radio DJ can build the guy down the street into a mysterious cult figure. Around the release of one album, his label pestered him to write a fake Pitchfork review, but he declined. "I'd be more into writing a fake Playboy interview," he says. Ironically, Pitchfork has come calling of late, writing about Sonny and the Sunsets.
Internet career-makers come and go. For now, Smith is more concerned with opening night of "100 Records" and the debut of his own art contribution to the show, a customized jukebox. "It's a hell of a thing, " he says, after breaking down the differences between Wurlitzers and other brands, and explaining that a rat-infested jukebox buried under stacks at Adobe Books first inspired the idea. "My friend who is a master carpenter used this German '50s jukebox as a reference. It's almost like a joke — like making a stove from scratch. Why would someone do that? But someone did." That someone is Smith, and he's hosting a jukebox party this week.
SONNY SMITH: 100 RECORDS
With music by the Sandwitches and Sonny and the Sunsets
Fri/9, 6–9 p.m. (through May 14), free
501 Third St., SF