Music News

Sonny Long Is a Legend in His Own Mind

It's a mild Friday evening in May, and the patio at Pure Sushi in downtown Scottsdale is packed with patrons in business casual, sipping sake and discussing everything from the economy to fashion.

Sonny Long is standing inside the restaurant, looking out at the plush, white leather couches through the establishment's all-glass walls. Smooth elevator jazz seeps from the sound system, adding to the surreal vibe. The walls, tables, chairs, even the patrons are all white, and the big, flowing white drapes over the patio resemble drifting clouds. It feels as if Mariah Carey could prance through here at any moment, all covered in glitter and paparazzi camera flashes.

Long's dark skin and clothes contrast with the dreamy, alabaster surroundings, but that's not the only reason the R&B-fusion artist stands out tonight.

For one, he's got a huge guy wearing all black standing beside him, whom Long refers to as his bodyguard. He's also accompanied by a spiky-haired brunette in a curve-hugging dress. Long says she's his publicist.

As they make their way onto the patio, the trio receives a few curious glances from a couple of middle-aged women seated nearby. They look over Long as much as they're able — his "bodyguard" stands in front of him until he's seated and then stands silently beside him with his arms crossed. He looks patient and dutiful, ready to spring into action — just in case any of the aging hipsters here decide to try to lob raw fish at somebody's face.

When you know you're a superstar, you gotta be ready for anything.

It was Long's choice to meet at Pure. He leans back on one of the restaurant's white leather couches and says that he's got only 30 minutes for an interview because he has something to do somewhere else in Scottsdale — but he won't say what or where.

With his pearly white smile, ripped physique, and slick swagger, Long seems part smooth salesman, part cheesy lounge singer drunk on his own act. He's dressed in designer jeans and a new AC/DC "Highway to Hell" T-shirt tight enough to accent his biceps. He's also wearing sunglasses. He's always wearing sunglasses, even when it's dark outside or he's inside a dim nightclub. The way he's ordering around the wait staff at this swanky Scottsdale sushi joint, you'd think he came here regularly and dropped a lot of cash.

Long's just getting warmed up, talking about how he received a key to the city and was honored with "Sonny Long Day" by Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, when a couple of employees at Pure start moving around some tables near where he's sitting. Long, apparently concerned that the sound of the tables scraping across the concrete will drown out what he's saying, halts the project.

"Excuse me, guys, can you wait a minute?" Long says. "We're doing an interview here."

Long's bodyguard turns toward the staff and holds up his hand to say, "Stop." The restaurant staff obeys and shuffles off with puzzled looks on their faces. Best not to upset the patrons, especially when they're paying $15 per California roll at the trendy restaurant.

But Long hasn't ordered any food tonight. He says it's the first time he or his companions have been here, but all that they've ordered is water. Maybe Long spent all his money on his entourage or maybe they're just not hungry, but it's unusual to see a musician make such a grand entrance and not holler for a bottle of Cristal (or at least a bottle of wine) for his crew.

He compares his entrepreneurial ambition to Diddy's, his eclectic musical stylings to Prince's. But Diddy probably would have ridden in on a 20-foot flatbed truck with a bevy of dancers in silver spacesuits, and Prince, in fact, is the only other musician we've met who had a bodyguard with him. But Diddy can pay for the dancers with his $346 million fortune, and Prince probably needs a bodyguard because he's sold about 80 million records and is worth about $250 million.

So how much is Sonny Long worth? And why does he need a bodyguard? Is he for real?

"Hey, I'm gonna answer the question like this: Sonny Long, I do me," Long says. "The things that I do in my life, in my world, may not apply to what you do in your life or your world, but . . . We shall see. The music speaks for itself."

But there hasn't been much music.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions make a long journey to the Emerald City to visit "the great and powerful Oz," whom they believe can give them whatever they lack. They finally arrive in the wizard's chambers, shivering at the sound of his booming voice and a large, smoking hologram, only to find that the wizard is actually an unremarkable little man behind a curtain using special effects to appear god-like. The wizard orders them to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."