The legendary Brian Auger has a goldmine of rock tunes and anecdotes
He fell in love with jazz at the age of eight, listening to American stations on a radio that his older brother gave him. Seeing Duke Ellington interviewed by Joan Bakewell on the BBC reinforced his conviction: “that’s what I wanted to play”.
He cut his teeth on the live circuit playing jazz piano in East End clubs with Tubby Hayes, and switched to the Hammond B3 organ after discovering Jimmy Smith, becoming one of the only musicians in the Kingdom Kingdom to master the instrument.
His harpsichord contribution to the Yardbirds single For your love cemented his reputation as a session musician and he was soon in demand in jazz and rock ‘n’ roll circles. He joined the band Steampacket in 1965 with Long John Baldry and a then-unknown singer called Rod Stewart, and three years later formed The Trinity with Julie Driscoll, releasing the hit This wheel is on firelater re-recorded for the opening credits of absolutely fabulous.
Then came his aptly named jazz-rock fusion band Oblivion Express, which captured the attention of American audiences and led to tours with artists at both ends of the sonic spectrum, from Herbie Hancock to ZZ Top.
Auger perhaps tells his own anecdotes with a note of disbelief. For him, the rock ‘n’ roll hype has always been peripheral to the music itself. He continued to follow his curiosity from the heyday of Oblivion Express in the 1970s and beyond, recording albums like 1981’s explosive Research groupand the beat-y, dancing language of the heart in 2012.
His playing is always exuberant and forward-looking, both chaotic and intentional. Although his sound has evolved, at 82 he looks surprisingly like he did in 1968; he attributes this to a discovery he made early in his career that alcohol made his playing imprecise, giving him the impetus to resist temptations that many of his peers failed to do.
Auger’s extensive and varied back catalog is now slated for re-release on UK label Soul Bank Music. A compilation, Auger Incorporated, was released earlier this year, featuring music remastered from original tapes, live tracks, TV show performances, and collaborations with Sonny Boy Williamson.
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It serves as a highlight reel for what’s yet to come. “Since the catalog was signed,” Soul Bank boss and longtime friend of Auger’s Greg Boraman tells me, “the full extent of this musical gold mine has become apparent – unearthing alternate takes on material from classic Oblivion Express album he forgot to record.”
Although Auger’s primary concern has always been the music itself, Boraman hopes the re-release project will help his friend reach new audiences and garner the appreciation he deserves after a prolific 60-year career.
“He championed an open-minded, gender-focused approach which, at the time, did him a disservice in some quarters,” he says. “Brian was at the forefront of it all – and if it were up to me, there would be a statue of him on Goldhawk Road.”
Deb Grant is a radio host and writer
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