Brian Auger is a keyboardist originally from the U.K. who now makes his home in Venice California. As a child growing up in Shepherds Bush England, Brian became fascinated with the family player piano. He would mimic the mechanical instrument and follow it along on different octaves. Brian also enjoyed the benefits of being 14 years younger than his brother and constantly listened to his jazz record collection. As he approached his teen years, he started to play at parties and began to develop his piano chops. After hearing a Jimmy Smith record at a local record shop, Brian went to an organ dealer and ordered a Hammond. This led to more gigs and Brian soon became a sought after musician. One group that he was asked to join was "Stream Packet", which featured Long John Baldry and a young Rod Stewart. After that group took its course, Brian formed the Trinity with Julie Driscoll and Vic Briggs on guitar. (who would eventually join the Animals) It was with this group, that a young Jimi Hendrix would sit in with at a local British club. Blues Legend Sonny Boy Williamson also sat in during one of Brian's performances and that led to a recording session which produced an album. Brian also appeared on the Yardbirds classic song "For Your Love". In the early 70's Brian started the group Brian Auger's Oblivion Express and it is still going strong today. Through the years Brian has performed or share the stage with: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Cream, Tom Jones and so many more. I recently talked with Brian about his illustrious career.
R.V.B. - Hello Brian. How are you doing today?
B.A. - I'm doing good man.
R.V.B. - How's the weather over there on the other side?
B.A. - The weather is absolutely beautiful... the sun is shining. You can't ask for more than that.
R.V.B. - What part of California are you in?
B.A. - I'm near Los Angeles. I live in Venice.
R.V.B. - Back in the day you lived in San Francisco right?
B.A. - I did, when I first moved to the States. I was there from 75 to around 1988.
R.V.B. - Why did you decide to go south?
B.A. - My record company and my agency were here in Los Angeles. I was bouncing up and down the I-5 for quite a long time, so I decided at a certain point that I'd come down here. Lee Michaels... another organ player lives down here in Malibu said "I've got this place for you. Why don't you, the kids, and everybody, have a look at it and come down here. It's probably easier for you to get into town and see all the people that you need to see". We eventually ended up transferring to Malibu. We have an enclave of British musicians and also a lot of artist friends of ours who all lived in Venice, and we jumped to and fro on the Pacific coast highway for a while. Then we decided we liked Venice. It was actually more like the place where I grew up in London. There were people on the street... kids... and stuff going on. It seemed like a little pocket of LA that outlasted becoming a rich ghetto.
R.V.B. - If there's artists and musicians, it sounds like a good place to be.
B.A. - Absolutely. We came here in 89, and we've been here ever since.
R.V.B. - Back when you were growing up in England... you mentioned that it's like where you are now... what did one do for fun back in the day, growing up in England?
B.A. - There were plenty of parks. I was in West London... Shepherds Bush. It was kind of like a mix of where we are... slightly different, because we had rich people... poor people... people from India... the West Indies... People from different parts of the empire. I used to enjoy cycling with my buddies. Eventually I ended up going to Europe, when I was in grammar school with a friend of mine. We put our bikes on the train and went all the way down to Naples and cycled back home. It took us about 6 weeks to do that and it was kind of like a rite of passage.
R.V.B. - Wow... what an adventure. Anything happen along the way?
B.A. - Plenty of stuff. We went back the next year... having cured ourselves of cycling... the map of Italy that we had... everything looked flat. As we cycled up the west coast from Naples to Rome, and up through La Spezia, and further north to Genoa, and then we cycled into France... then Montpellier, where one of our French teachers at the grammar school said "Listen, if you're coming, come by and meet my family". We did, and it gave us a little pause. We stayed at youth hostels... and where ever we could. Sometimes we just camped out and had a little bivouac. If there was nothing around, we would just camp out for the night. We would wake up in the morning and go get ourselves a cup of coffee... hit their bathrooms... get cleaned up... and be on our way again.
R.V.B. - That sounds like a very cool thing to do.
B.A. - It was an incredible experience. We were both Latin scholars, and we got to see Pompeii. Rome was quite amazing... as you could imagine... to see the Colosseum for the first time. I felt like a different person when I got back.
R.V.B. How old were you guy at the time.
B.A. - I was 16 at the time
R.V.B. - That's a good age to do it... you have a lot of energy and you're agile.
B.A. - Well I used to race as a cyclist... kind of like mile sprints. My family really had nothing, so a bike is what I got to school on. I went from Shepherds Bush to Chelsea every day. It really did keep me in really good shape. I used to swim a lot. I was always at the local swimming bath. I was in some swimming clubs where we swam against other clubs in London.
R.V.B. - How did you get started with the keyboards and the piano? Were your family members also musicians?
B.A. - No, but my father had this player piano... very Victorian actually. It was a pianola and you put a roll of paper into this thing. It's drawn over a grid which corresponds to the notes on the piano. I was about three years old and this fascinated me. We had a huge cupboard full of these rolls that my dad had collected. I was able to stand on the pedals. There were set pedals like a harmonium. I would hang on to the underneath of the keyboard and pedal away like some demented cyclist. (haha) We had all of the operas in piano roll form, and all sorts of other stuff... Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata... Humoresques... and all sorts of other stuff. He also had some ragtime, which I really loved. As the notes played, I had my nose in the notes. When I got a little bit older, my favorite overture was the William Tell Overture. The notes played... it was in G. I had no idea what anything was musically...keys... or anything. I noticed the pattern of the notes. Then I noticed the keyboard was divided into octaves. If you would have said octaves to me, I wouldn't have known what you were talking about. The pattern repeats... so I thought to myself "If I play the same notes up here... an octave above... then what happens?". I did that, and it was a eureka moment. (hahaha) I could actually play along with these things. I learned some of these melodies, just by watching the keyboard and repeating it an octave up. That really was my introduction to playing the piano. I used to spend hours doing that. My mom and dad had a record player with 78's of light opera and songs from the shows. My eldest brother was my biggest influence because he was about 14 years older than me. We came in two batches. There was 6 of us in all. He had a collection of American jazz records. He was listening to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, George Shearing, and God knows who. (hahaha) It just went on and on and on. I loved that. That really caught my attention. In 1944, just before my 5th birthday, a V1 flying bomb arrived and fell behind our house and took out the whole block.
R.V.B. - That had to be very scary.
B.A. - It always amazes me because I didn't have a vocabulary to explain how it was. My dad had quite a temper and you had to really mind your P's and Q's. My mom was the only person who heard this thing. She grabbed me and shoved me under the living room table. My dad was sitting in a high back chair with wings... fortunately for him. My sisters were coming down the stairs and were in the stairwell... fortunately for them. This bomb went off and it was just absolutely absurd. As I was sitting under the table, all the ceilings came down and just wrecked the house... glass was flying about. It didn't frighten me very much... my mom and dad were in the room. The way I looked at it was, when I saw all this stuff come down and the wreckage on the floor, I thought to myself "Someone's really going to be in trouble now". (hahaha) The thing was, right during the blitz, we got used to being carried out to the backyard where we had a bomb shelter. We had this "Ack Ack" battery in a park, a short distance in back of our house. You'd get the shrapnel chiming off of the roof of the of the shelter. It was a big concrete slab. My brother Jim had a shoe box full of all this kind of shrapnel. He said "I'm gonna look for that tomorrow when it's cold". If you picked it up when it came off the shells it would be really hot. The amazing thing was that everybody took this in stride. I never experienced any fear from my parents or anybody around us... in fact. When that happened, the first thing I did was go in to see if my piano was ok... which it was. (hahaha) It was in the front room.
R.V.B. - You got to get the priorities straight. (hahaha)
B.A. - (hahaha) I often thought "They were bombing us from Peenemunde... maybe they didn't realize that this was a German Piano". (hahaha) It was a Kastner. It was a beautiful piano. I think they're still being made. Then there was a great milling about and my dad had to make some tough decisions. I had to be evacuated away with my youngest sister to Leeds. We were away from the family for at least 2 1/2 years. When we finally came back... we'd been re-housed in Shepherds Bush. I had only seen my dad once in that time. I wasn't sure what the hell was going on. Mum put on some weight... I wasn't sure it was my mom, but I definitely knew my dad was my dad. When I went into the sub-room of the new place, there was my piano and the cupboard full of rolls. I was like "I'm home".
R.V.B. - Were you trained? Did you have a piano teacher?
B.A. - No. We had nothing left when the bomb just about destroyed the house and everything else. There was no money to do anything like that, besides I don't think our family... being working class English... was thinking about me being a musician. It was a non profession. It was ok to be able to play stuff at parties. After a while, because I'd seen these patterns on the on the piano, and the movement and how it sounded... to go from G to D and the relative minor... I could hear something on the radio and play it.
R.V.B. - In other words, it was good training for your ear.
B.A. - It was pretty amazing, when I think about it. My parents also left me alone to play with the piano for hours. When I started to listen to the jazz records from my brothers collection... that helped me work out chords for the standard tunes. When I reached my teens, I would play at parties, and I got into a couple of bands after a while. By the time I was around 14, I was listening to Blue Note albums that were released in England. I loved the Jazz Messengers. Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Cannonball... that was really what I aimed at. Then I got into bands that played that material.
R.V.B. - How did you work the logistics out with the piano? Did you play at places that had a piano?
B.A. - Most pubs had a piano. We had a band with fixed members. After a while people would ask me if we could do this jazz gig. We would pick whatever we were going to play. If there was a saxophone player... everybody knew a lot of standards. It was pretty straight forward.
R.V.B. - So you started off in the jazz genre for the most part.
B.A. - Yeah. I started to become seriously involved in this... yes. Before that I was playing some boogie woogie, and people loved that as well. Once I started listing to the American jazz, I thought "Wow, that would be wonderful to be able to play that stuff". I started becoming able to play that stuff, and I joined these local bands.
R.V.B. - You started your own band in 1962 with The Brian Auger Trio?
B.A. - Right. It was piano, bass, and drums, and I called it The Brian Auger Trinity... actually from the beginning. A union of three. Europeans are famous for rhythm sections where everybody's unloading every lick they know... and not playing the groove. There were two rhythm sections that I liked to play with that got the message. In the Brian Auger Trinity, we had Rick Laird playing upright bass... a phenomenal bass player. You probably recognize the name because he turned up in a friend of mine's band "The Mahavishnu Orchestra". He was playing bass guitar with John McLaughlin. I would be playing some of my own compositions at the time. We would do stuff like Oscar Peterson... who I was crazy about. A little bit later on we would do some of the Miles piano players stuff, and some Coltrane. Later on some Bill Evans... I loved the way he approached the harmonic content of things. That went on to around 1964 when I was playing in town...
R.V.B. - I see that you did very well in a poll in Melody Maker at that time.
B.A. - Yeah... there was a readers poll every year and I won it in 64.
R.V.B. - You must have been doing something right.
B.A. - (haha) I must have. I was always playing at Ronnie Scott's club, and other jazz venues around. I was strolling in my local record shop in Shepherds Bush market and they would play music on little speakers outside the shop. I heard this sound and I couldn't figure out what it was. I thought it was amazing. I was always in the store bothering them... asking for stuff that they didn't have. I rushed in and said "What the hell is this playing?". They showed me the cover to the first Blue Note release of Jimmy Smith... "Back at the Chicken Shack". I said "Wrap that up". I took it home and listened to it for a few months. It eventually led to... in 1965... actually buying a Hammond organ. That really changed my whole situation around. I was invited on to sessions with a lot of the local people. I was asked to start a band with Long John Baldry and that became "The Steam Packet". We featured an unknown Rod Stewart in it... and an unknown Julie Driscoll. There was nothing like it, and it lasted nearly two years.
R.V.B. - A quick question... did you get a B-3 right from the start?
B.A. - No. I went to a music shop where they sold Hammond organs, and I said "I want a Hammond organ"... (haha) thinking that they all sounded like Jimmy Smith. They sold me an L-100... which was more like a classical organ. I tried to make it sound as near to Jimmy Smith as I could. I was never really satisfied. There were musicians that worked the liners going back and forth to New York. They would make for the nearest music store. A guy brought me back a Jimmy McGriff album... "Jimmy McGriff live at the Apollo". Here's Jimmy McGriff sitting at this huge organ on the front cover. I went "That's it"... and I went to Hammond and I showed them the cover and I said "What's this organ?". They said "Oh, that's a B-3". I said "I want one of them?". They said "We don't have any of them in England". (hahaha) I said "You must be able to get one!". Being English... there was a big intake of breath... "Oh, I don't know... we'd have to phone the factory... wouldn't we?". I said "Well phone them... I'll pay for the phone call". They eventually caved in, and they told me they could get a B-3 here. They would send it over in separate pieces and we'd have to put it all together. They were talking about 10 weeks, and I said "Go ahead and order it"... and they did. When I got the Hammond B-3, and started to play it, I thought I must of died and gone to heaven. (hahaha)
R.V.B. - I can imagine. Do you still have it?
B.A. - I don't have the original. It took quite a battering being hauled around. I sold that one and bought another B-3 in 68, and that one I still have. That one goes out on the road in the States, and I have another one in Europe. A mirror image setup for when I go out on tour in Europe.
R.V.B. - Pretty much early on, you got to play with a blues legend... Sonny Boy Williamson. How did that come about?
B.A. - Well before I got the B-3, I would be doing gigs around town and I was playing at the Marquee one night... on Wardour Street. I heard this kind of chuckle while I was in the middle of this steaming solo on "Rock Candy" by Brother Jack McDuff. I looked up to my left and there was Sonny Boy Williamson... reaching into his pocket. He had this kind of tails suit made... striped trousers and a tail coat. He looked like some old Englishman in a bowler hat. He had this large pocket inside this jacket in which there was stashed a bottle of Johnny Walker Red. He pulled it out and offered it to me. I was trying to handle this really ridiculously up tempo thing. (hahaha) "I'm a bit busy right now Sonny Boy." (hahaha) He got up and sat in for the rest of the set with us... and became a good friend of mine.
R.V.B. - You wound up playing on a record with him.
B.A. - He was telling me that he got this gig on the radio in the US. This was 8 or 9 months after I first met him. He'd follow us around and find out where we were playing. He told me he'd be leaving to go back and I persuaded my manager... Giorgio Gomelsky... I said look "Sonny Boy is going back to the States". I asked him how old he was and he said " I don't rightly now?". They never really kept any records. (hahaha) He drank about a half a bottle of scotch before he got out of bed in the morning. I thought "He's not going to be around that long". I said to my manager "For God's sake, he's not going to be around for long. Let's do an album with him before he goes". Fortunately, we managed to get that together. I wanted Alan Skidmore and Joe Harriot on sax. I used my rhythm section - Ricky Brown and Mickey Waller on drums. Mickey turned up with "The Faces" later on. We also got Jimmy Page. He did a lot of blues sessions at the time. There was no charts or anything. We got to the studio at 9 o'clock in the morning. Sonny Boy had to leave to get to the airport at 1 o'clock. I thought "We'd better get on with this then". I asked him what he wanted to play and he pulled out a harmonica and went "bam, bam, bam, bam... Ba dump. That's it Bri-" (hahaha) I said to the rest of the guys "Well you heard it". So we started the rhythm section off and we just jammed the damn thing. All of the tracks were like that except for one song "Don't Send Me No Flowers" (when I'm in the graveyard, 'Cos Baby, then I can't smell a thing.) The song was written by Louis Jordan, and I talked the band quickly through our arrangement, as I was the only one who knew the tune. The first line of the song wound up being the title of the album.
R.V.B. - When you're in Rome you got to do what the Romans do.
B.A. - When you got to roll, you got to roll.
B.A. - They were amazing. This spread of jazz... particularly in Europe was like rock with new clothes. We were asked to do the Berlin Jazz Festival. That was the purest of them all. I remember stepping on stage, and we had to follow the Dizzy Gillespie big band. Dizzy was fantastic... I went up and shook his hand. I got the "Dizzy in Greece" album and a few other ones. He said "You should have come up and played with us - man". The audience was full of purist's. The place held about 3,000 and about 50 or 60 people stood up and booed. I went up to the microphone... I wasn't having that... in Germany... (haha) I told them "You could shut up. If you think you can boo because you don't like my clothes... that's fine. I don't mind that, but until you've heard my music... keep quiet. If you don't like it... afterwards you can boo". This started a near riot of our supporters cheering, and the booing of the others. Afterwards, the head director of the festival came up to me and said " I like this... you're very authoritative. It was very good that you did that". (haha) Then we did other festivals in the same year.... Zurich... that went off great. Rome was another zoo... my wife is Italian and I speak Italian... I used a word... at the time that you didn't really use in public. It wasn't anything real terrible but it was a really slang kind of idea for a mess. There was just madness going on and I said "I apologize for this casino" (an Italian word for mess) and that made everybody laugh. They started laughing and getting over that, and then they started listening to what we were doing. Then it was fine. 1968 really was a year of watching some boundaries being crossed... very positive and Trinity did an amazing job in it all.
R.V.B. - You also had your first tour of the US with them?
B.A. - Yes in 1969... with the "Street Noise" album. We came all the way across from the east coast. We did Boston... New York at the Fillmore East... Philadelphia... out to Chicago... then out to the west coast. We opened for Led Zeppelin. They were on the same label as us... Atlantic. I knew Jimmy Page and a couple of the other guys. We played 2 or 3 nights in San Francisco at Winterland, and then we went down and played the Rose Palace in Pasadena a couple of nights. I went early because I wanted to check them out, and when I heard the sound check... they broke into the "Whole Lotta Love" riff... "Oh boy... these guys are going to be huge". I still think they're one of the best rock bands I've ever heard.
R.V.B. - They were in the heart's of everybody growing up. I go down the list of people that you've played with and it's very impressive. It's one great musician after another... the Stones... Zappa... Pink Floyd... you shared the stage with a lot of rock and roll royalty.
B.A. - One venue where they were all there was Alexandra Palace in London. I still have the original poster for that. It was just amazing. Pink Floyd... The Stones... Van Morrison... The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. That was the height of the psychedelic period.... flower power.
R.V.B. - You were a part of that and you should be proud of it.
B.A. - When I look back at it, it was such a long time ago. I remember the venues and playing. It was amazing... the amount of music talent that was coming out of England. In the end, the Americans called it the "British Invasion"... when they all started to come over to the States. The Stones and The Beatles generated this megalomania. We were glad to be on the same bill as them. There was a lot of fun going on between everybody. There was no arrogance... it was just music. We used to all come and jam with one another. Everyone knew everyone. It was a really great period.
R.V.B. - I understand that you played the keyboards on the Yardbirds song "For your Love". Was that just an average session thing?
B.A. - Yes, in a way it was. I got called by The Yardbirds... and they were in the same agency as me. I think it was Paul Sanwell Smith who called me in the early afternoon... "Brian... what are you doing this afternoon?". I said "I'm free this afternoon. What's going on?". He said "Do you want to play on a single?". I said "Sure... where are you?". He told me that they were in this little studio opposite Broadcasting House on Upper Regent Street... near the BBC. I had never heard of this place, but I said "Ok". I got on the tube... went up there... got in the studio. Paul comes up and says "Hi Bri... listen to this song". They played this song "Yeah fine, ok... well...". Then I look around the studio and said "Well wait a minute... where's the organ?". They said "No, there's no organ". I said "Oh". Then I look around a little bit further... "What the hell man... there's got to be a piano here!". "No, there's no piano either". I thought it might had been a dubbing studio or something. I said "Ok, you got me". I thought it was a joke. (haha) Paul said " No... no, we've only got this". "This" was this shape in the corner, covered over with a tarpaulin thing. We whipped that off, and it's a double tier harpsichord. It made me suspect... yes, this really was a joke. (hahaha) They said "No, that's all we've got. We want an intro, and then we want you to juice it up with some rhythmic comp". I said "Wait a minute man. You have to give me ten minutes. I've never played one of these things". It's not like a piano where you strike it, and there's a hammer that strikes the string. It actually plucks the string and it's a different feel all together. I had a listen to the song, and I told them what I was going to do take the chords to the tune and I'm going to make these arpeggios. "Wang... Wang... Wang...Wang... Wang". That would be kind of an intro, and then when we get into it, I'll just make it go as much as we can. They said "Fine". We finished the thing in about 2 hours. I remember getting back down to the tube to get home... thinking to myself "Who is going to buy a pop record with harpsichord on it?"... boy was I wrong.
R.V.B. - That song made a big wave over here also. It's just a great song to be a part of... it's a classic. I have to ask, because on your resume it said that you played with Hendrix. Where did that take place?
B.A. - The deal was that when Hendrix first came to London, I got a call from Chas Chandler... who was the bass player for The Animals. He was another buddy of mine. He said to me "Could you come up to the office?". Hendrix was managed by this guy called Mike Jeffery. He was somebody I thought was the biggest crook in the UK at the time. I thought "Well I don't want anything to do with this, but I'll go up there". (haha) I presented myself and Chas says "Look, we just brought this fantastic guitar player over from the States. We want him to front your band". You have to understand, I had already put The Trinity together with Julie and Vic Briggs... who was on guitar. I had this rolling for at least a couple of months. With not wanting to do anything at all ever with Mike Jeffery, I said "Well listen, my band is fronted by Julie Driscoll, and also I've got Vic Briggs on guitar. Are you seriously saying that I should fire both of them and install whoever it is?". I didn't even know the guys name at the time. "You're asking me to put somebody in the band who've I never heard. I'll take your word for it that he's a great player, but I already have a band, and I don't really want to change it. What I can do for you is this... (this is Monday afternoon or something)... if you come down to the Cromwellian Club on Friday... I'm playing there, with my band... he can sit in." The Cromwellian Club was one of those late night clubs... when everybody had finished their gigs they would all roll into the Cromwellian... where you could drink till about 2 o'clock in the morning. Anybody who was anybody on the scene, was always there. Including people like Dusty Springfield... Lulu... and all the English guitar players... Jeff Beck... Eric Clapton... Alvin Lee... The Spencer Davis Band... Zoot Money... a couple of the Stones. He could sit in, and if he's as great as you say, I'm sure that the audience would be absolutely delighted. They settled for that. Jimi is introduced to me after the first set and he seems like a really, really nice guy. He said "I'd love to sit in". "Yeah, absolutely... what do you want to play?". He said "I'll show you this chord sequence... tell me if you can play over it". He showed me this chord sequence and I said "Wow, that's really cool". It turned out to be the chord sequence for "Hey Joe". I've never played Hey Joe before but I thought that the chord sequence was great. I said "Ok fine... give us a tempo and we'll start". He counted it... and he started to play... and we were astounded! (hahah) It was like "Wooooo... who is this guy?" It was just something else. All the British guys were there and they were already playing like demons. You could still hear B.B. King, Albert King, and Freddie King... all the American influences in their playing. They hadn't quite got to themselves. Jimi Hendrix was absolutely like a unique voice. I've never heard anything quite like that and neither has anybody else. We played a few things and then he became a good friend of mine. Apparently Eric Clapton went home in despair. He said "That's it... I'm done". (haha) Jimi would find out where we were playing and he would come by and sit in. He would come by various London clubs like "The Bag of Nails", "The Roaring 20's" (on Carnaby Street)... "The Marquee". We knew each other and we used to hang out with a big gang of people. Some of The Animals and Jimi, at Zoot Money's place by Earls Court. We used to spend the nights by playing new albums and listening to stuff. When he died I thought to myself "I just can't believe that his kind of talent would be around for such a short time".
R.V.B. - It was a real shame but he did have quite a bit of recorded output... thank God. It was to everybody's benefit. So eventually the Trinity came to an end and that's when the Oblivion Express started. What was your idea behind that band?
B.A. - I wanted to push on with this mix of jazz and the rhythms of the moment. The kind of rock stuff - funk stuff rhythms and develop that. We had a single in England for Polydor. I don't think Polydor was attracted to move away from that particular formula. I thought to myself "We can either stand still here or we can push on". I wanted to push on... thinking that I am wading against the commercial tide. I might be headed the quickest was to oblivion. So I called the band The Oblivion Express. (hahaha) The amazing thing is, we're still going actually... even after all these years.
R.V.B. - I don't know if you remember playing on Long Island but I saw you guys at The Suffolk Forum (Commack Arena). You opened for Blue Oyster Cult. I believe The Strawbs were on the same bill.
B.A. - Yes I do. There were a couple of places there. There was Commack.
R.V.B. - That's where I saw you.
B.A. - There was another place called "My Fathers Place".
R.V.B. - That was a club in Roslyn. The Commack Arena sat approximately 5,000. I think the local band from around here Blue Oyster Cult was headlining.
B.A. - It was really strange when we got to the States. We'd get invites from... I had never heard of Blue Oyster Cult. I was in the same agency as them, and they had requested that we open for them. So I had to go and get the album and listen to it and figure out what it was. We crossed several boundaries.
R.V.B. - Well as a 15 year old kid, I was blown away by the name Brian Auger's Oblivion Express.
B.A. - (haha) In the mid-west we were very strong, and we opened for Earth, Wind, & Fire for about 6 or 7 concerts. That's the most amazing music show that I've ever seen. They came down to the sound check... Maurice White came down and introduced himself, and they couldn't have been kinder. I was really blown away. We had ridiculous other things happen like in Richmond Virginia at one point Rush opened... we were in the middle... and then Kiss. I had to go outside the venue... it was so loud. (hahaha)
R.V.B. - Sometimes you get teamed up and you wonder what the promoters were thinking?
B.A. - It was great to meet those people and to be in the thick of it all... it was cool.
R.V.B. - Any other interesting American tour stories?
B.A. - Well the Earth, Wind, & Fire thing was pretty amazing. I stood in the wings, and all of the musicians were amazing. The vocals and the harmonies were just unbelievable... it was spot on. I enjoyed playing in the States and the reason I moved out here was because all of my idols were from the black community in America. We would play in clubs in England, we house have 50% people in the white community and the other 50% would be from the West Indies... Ghana... Africa... it was just a normal thing. On the weekends, it was bolstered by a lot of G.I.'s, who would come into town looking for music. It was a pretty eclectic audience. When I came to the States... after a couple of gigs that we had done... a guy took me aside and said "Well this is a strange audience". I said "What do you mean?". He said "Black acts draw black and white acts draw white." I said "What about my buddy Herbie Handcock?". He's another crossover guy. This term "crossover artist" started to appear... where we crossed the boundaries. We eventually ended up touring with Herbie Handcock's "Headhunters". It was really fantastic.
R.V.B. - That was a trendsetting genre that was being born. What was that TV project about that you did in Germany with Pete York and Maria Muldaur?
B.A. - It was called Super Drumming. I think they got on by saying it was an educational thing. I played on the first series and I was also on the last series. I think we did 6 to 8 -1/2 hour shows. The idea was to present all different types of drumming. I got to play with a lot of people. Ed Thigpen... one of my idols who played with the Oscar Peterson Trio. There were some guys from town, like the guys from Colosseum... Louie Bellson... who was another idol of mine. I played some trio stuff with him... that was filmed. We played a version of his "Skin Deep", which was his big hit. It was really funny because he busted his bass drum pedal, and we had to put a halt to everything and do it again. He was saying to me "You know that was really scary Brian? That's what happened when I did the original recording. I broke my bass drum pedal." You never know what's going to happen.
R.V.B. - That's rock & roll... stuff happens.
B.A. - That's rock & roll... absolutely man.
R.V.B. - I see that you spent some time with Eric Burdon... that must have been fun.
B.A. - Yeah, as long as you didn't approach Eric with reasonable facts that made sense... it was fun. (hahaha)
B.A. - When he called me, and asked me to basically put a band together for it, he was working probably about 2 weekends a month, and he re-built his career. That was ridiculous for the kind of profile that he actually had. I put this band together and we blew the doors off Europe. It was ok until it got really weird. I think there were several nefarious substances involved. The thing was, I was in charge of it all. We had an agent but there was no manager. I was manager... road manager. We did new arrangements of things. I didn't mind playing Animals covers. There were certain things that his fans wanted to hear but we could re-arrange some things and make some modern arrangements out of things... which worked really well. The band eventually ran its course and it was time for me to step out. Then I decided it was time for the Oblivion Express again. In the meantime, I collected all of my masters and got them back. In 1995, for the first time... I was able to convert them and put them out as CD's. There were around 20 of them. That helped re-establish the band, and we've gone from strength to strength.
R.V.B. - I understand that you have your son and daughter involved with the band.
B.A. - That's right, my son plays drums. He turned into a great drummer. If there's one thing I can thank Eric for... is for giving Karma a shot. That is where he first started to play drums. Karma would collect the board tapes, and then bring them home and practice to them. Eric came by at one point, and the music was blasting away, and he said "Hey, whose that playing drums?". I said "Oh, it's Karma". He said "I didn't know Karma played drums?". I said "Yeah, he's learned all of our tunes". Low and behold, three days before we were going to a month's tour in Germany... the drummer quit. He'd been offered a job editing tapes for one of the video companies. I thought "Three days... oh my God". At that point getting all of the logistics together was a task. I called Eric and said "Look, I don't really know how to approach this. I don't really want to lose any concerts because the promoters had put up a lot of money and advertising. The only thing I can suggest is... the only guy that knows all the tunes is Karma. If you'd like, we can get him to play the first few concerts and when we get to Europe... there's plenty of people I know who could sit in." Karma played so well that we didn't need anybody to step in.
R.V.B. - You guys did a tour of Japan, fairly recently? It always seems that the Japanese people really like their rock & roll.
B.A. - They like that and they like jazz. We did a whole day of press. These people knew more about my career than I did! (hahaha) The reaction to the band was fantastic. It was just a great experience. I've been to Japan several times to play before that. We'll probably do it again at some point.
R.V.B. - What do you have going on these days?
B.A. - I'm writing my autobiography. We have several concerts in town here. I will be in town until April, and that will give me time to write a few more chapters. In May, it looks like we'll be doing an east coast tour. July starts the festival period in Europe, and we'll probably be out for about a month... in Spain... Germany... Austria... Switzerland... and Italy. In October, we'll have our club tour in basically the same countries. We'll see what else comes in because we've had offers from Romania and from Hungary as well. I don't know how we're going to fit those in.
R.V.B. - It sounds like you're staying very busy. There's one thing that I forgot to ask. Was there some kind of large project where you and Jon Lord and a bunch of other people got together?
B.A. - I played together with Jon Lord on the Super Drumming series. We played some of Jon's stuff. He was a really, really nice guy and a great player. I really enjoyed his company. When he was ill, he couldn't do a run of concerts in Germany... with this blues project that he put on the road. He told the band "Give Brian a call and ask him if he'll do it". I had to scramble to get all of that together because I had to learn about 30 pieces of music in a few days. I really enjoyed the concerts. After Jon had passed away, they asked me if I would do the Albert Hall concert for the "Sunflower Project". Jon generally handled the keys, and I said "Of course I'll step in". We did a special tribute to Jon as well.
R.V.B. - Your level in the rock & roll and jazz world is up there with the world class players... Keith Emerson... Jon Lord... you're all in the same group as far as I'm concerned.
B.A. - Keith is an old buddy of mine. He lives about a mile away from me... here in southern California. He lives in Santa Monica. He'll call me up and say "Hey Bri, there's a great 'big band' playing at the Typhoon. I've already booked a table for us". (hahaha) He's a great guy... very humble. He tells me the funniest stories. It's a great pleasure to have those guys around because they're my peers. Being English, we have all of these ridiculously funny stories to tell each other.
R.V.B. - Do you have any other buddies that you pal around with?
B.A. - I see Andy Summers, but I don't really hang out that much because I'm pretty busy. I was just at the NAMM show, and I ran into a bunch of people there. I try to get around to see the sponsors. It should only take a couple of hours but you run into so many people that I got in around 10:30 and escaped at 5:30.
R.V.B. - I hear that's a really big... happening... event.
B.A. - Yes it is. I buzz around and play peoples pianos. I don't play for the NAMM show itself. I play way to loud for them anyway.
R.V.B. - (hahaha) You should be proud of your career and what you've accomplished, because the music community is. Keep up the good work and keep pumping out new material so we can enjoy more. Thank you very much for spending this afternoon with me.
B.A. - Your welcome man.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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