Fletcher Henderson “Sonny” Lott, October 17, 1941 – December 12, 2013

by Steve, May 12th, 2014

SonnySonny Lott (I never knew till today that he was named for Fletcher Henderson; he was always just “Sonny Lott” to everybody I knew) died late last year. Much like Dennis Jones, who died this year, every musician in Iowa City knew Sonny.

I first met him when I was playing bass with a rag-tag group known at the time as “Sky Truthhawk and the I-ones” (Scotty “Sky” Hayward on kalimba, Terry “Truthhawk” Hale on keys and vocals, and anybody else who showed up). Sonny, an ace drummer, played miscellaneous percussion because Terry had a one-man-band set up, playing kick drum and snare with his feet. Sonny didn’t care. He always had a great time, and his attitude was contagious.

We were playing a campaign benefit concert for Karen Kubby, who was probably running for city council for the first time (this was probably 1988, I’m thinking). I don’t think Sonny liked the name of the band. He said to me, “I told Terry we should all wear afro wigs on our butts and rename the band ‘Terry Hale and the Hairy Tails.'”

Yeah, you probably had to be there, and know something about the situation to appreciate how hilarious that was.

I didn’t know Sonny’s history at the time, just that he was always around, always making music. (He played with Patrick Hazel’s legendary Mother Blues back in the mid 70s, where Bo Ramsey also got a start.)

He was also night janitor for a time at the co-op where I was working produce. We’d hang out after work sometimes, just relaxing and bullshitting. Tony D. probably has some stories from those times. Seems like we ended up at Tony’s place more than a few times.

When Totem Soul was active in the late 80s, Sonny played drums with our friendly rivals on the scene, Divin’ Duck. When Nigel fell gravely ill on the afternoon of a gig at Gabe’s, we briefly considered going drumerless but instead called on Sonny. He showed up, played his ass off, and never missed a beat.

It was always about the music for Sonny. In a room full of egos, Sonny would be the one cracking wise, keeping it real, and laying down the groove.

I’m not going to write a song about Sonny, because Greg Brown beat me to it. Here’s Greg and Joe Price (another Mother Blues alum) singing about Sonny at the Mill back in 2010:

Sincere condolences to Sonny’s extended family.

One Response to “Fletcher Henderson “Sonny” Lott, October 17, 1941 – December 12, 2013”

  1. Comment from Tony D.:

    He lived like a Spartan but partied like a Bacchanalian. He often did not have a car and would rent a room in one of those houses on Linn St or in Black’s Gaslight Village. In the room he would have a mattress on the floor, a black and white TV, and a dorm refrigerator. I could bring my friends from Mark Peters to CL over to his place and he was equally accommodating.

    He had what Peters called “a wealth of knowledge” and could lecture at length about topics as varied as the Kennedy assassination, music, his time in prison, and old movies and TV shows. ( One time we watched the film “Hell’s Angels,” produced by Howard Hughes, and Sonny explained that it was the first movie to show aerial combat in a realistic way. There were shots of zeppelins advancing on cities and bi-planes attacking each other, all filmed using real zeppelins and bi-planes. It was particularly stunning since it was made in 1930.)

    In his room you might hear Jimmy Cliff, Alfa Blondy, Thelonious Monk, Roy Haynes, Eric Clapton, Son Seals, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Bo Ramsey and the Sliders, Greg Brown, Max Roach, John Coltrane, Toots and the Maytals, Totem Soul, Bob Marley and the Wailers, or King Sunny Ade as he sat on the floor like a Buddha talking about different generations of people he knew in Iowa City or his childhood in the South.

    Above all he was a drummer who could swing any kind of band, from blues to reggae to rock to jazz. That’s how I remember him–either sitting on the floor of his room alone or driving the rhythm and beat for a room full of people.