The Day the Police Fired Their Original Guitarist
Every loyal rock fan knows that the Police found multi-platinum success in the ’80s with a lineup consisting of Sting on bass and vocals, Stewart Copeland on drums and Andy Summers on guitar. But what a lot of people don’t know is that Summers wasn’t the band’s original guitarist.
For most of 1977, the position was held by Henry Padovani, a former Jimi Hendrix disciple from Corsica who shaved off his hippie-length hair and beard and joined the punk flock after catching a Curved Air performance. He soon landed a gig playing guitar for the band London, playing briefly alongside future Culture Club drummer Jon Moss before being wooed away by Copeland, who convinced Padovani to quit London and join the Police.
“He couldn’t speak much English, but he’d picked up some musicians’ slang and he used to say ‘Where can I put my homp [amplifier]?’ or ‘Where do I put my rope [lead]?’,” Copeland later recalled. “He knew a few chords and he was really enthusiastic, and when he’d had his hair cut and stuff, he really looked the part. I mean, he could play guitar better than I could, and I could play guitar better than Joe Strummer … well, in those days. So I reckoned he’d be okay, but I didn’t figure Sting would see it that way.”
Indeed, Sting didn’t see it that way. The band made it through the recording of one single (“Fall Out,” backed with “Nothing Achieving,” which was released in May 1977) before he and Copeland met Strontium 90 guitarist Andy Summers and convinced him to jump ship, creating a brief four-piece Police lineup. It didn’t last long, however — Summers wanted to be the band’s sole guitarist, and Padovani was unhappy about playing side-by-side with someone whose skills outmatched his own. The band was destined to return to a trio, minus Padovani.
But unlike a lot of musicians who served early and mostly forgotten tenures with bands that went on to great success, Padovani’s story only gets more interesting after the Police. He stayed musically active for years, joining a series of bands before starting his own, the Flying Padovanis. And though none was ever as big as the Police, Padovani eventually acquired another claim to fame, landing a VP position at I.R.S. Records, the label founded by Police manager (and Stewart’s brother) Miles Copeland.
After departing I.R.S. in 1994, Padovani recorded a 2006 solo album that featured Sting and Copeland on one track. The following year, he joined the Police for a performance of “Next to You” during a stop on their reunion tour. More recently, he’s served as a judge on the French version of X Factor and found himself in the tabloids. He’s also written a book, titled Secret Police Man, looking back on his brief time in the group.
See the Police and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the ’70s