Vic Briggs, who is now known as Antion, is a guitarist who was very involved in the British music scene in the 1960's. As with most other teens in England in the late 50's and early 60's, Vic took notice of the skiffle craze and decided to learn how to play the guitar. As he honed his skills with the instrument, Vic started networking himself and sitting in with local groups. This led to him becoming a member of The Echoes, which was Dusty Springfield's backup band. As his career progressed, he began to work with other groups like Steam Packet, which featured members Rod Stewart, Brian Auger, Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll and others. In his tenure with Brian Auger and the Trinity, Vic became associated with the young Jimi Hendrix as he invaded the clubs in London in his early days. Vic was asked to join the Animals in the mid 60's and went on to tour and record with them through the "summer of love" period. It was during this time that he became enthralled with Indian music and its tradition. After leaving The Animals in the late 60's, Vic moved to the California and retired from the music business for a period of time. He changed his name to Antion and continued to learn about the Indian way of life. He also spent some time in Hawaii. All this time he would continue to practice music in some form or another. He had a chance to perform in Sri Harimandir Sahib, which is known as the "Golden Temple" and is one of the most holy places in India. Today, Antion has returned to playing the guitar and performs in his local area. I had a chance to speak in-depth with Antion.
R.V.B. - How did you get interested in music? What sparked you to play the guitar? Did you have an instructor or did you pick up things on your own?
Antion - My family was a musical family, albeit non-professional and a bit frustrated. I lived with my mother, my grandfather and grandmother, because my father was killed before the end of the second world war. My father was a musician also - by the way - apparently he played guitar and violin before he joined the army. My grandfather was one of those guys that could get a tune out of a harmonica... we used to call it a mouth organ. My grandmother used to play the piano a little bit - by ear. My mother always knew the words to all the latest records - in particular show songs. There was all of that kind of musical influence, and in those days we used to have parties quite frequently in our house, and people would sing along. It wasn't like today when nobody sings when people have parties. Sometimes someone would play the piano. We had in our house –as did a lot of people in those days. When I was around 5 or 6, I started taking piano lessons but that didn't last long. I started up again when I was 8 - and I did a bit better at it - but again it didn't last too long. When I was around 11, there was this craze called "Skiffle". The Brits get into these crazes... often nobody really knows from where they start, but "Skiffle" had a source, and it was a guy called Lonnie Donegan. Skiffle was American acoustic music played by Brit's on cheap guitars. When I say American acoustic music, most of it was folk stuff - Leadbelly... Pete Seeger... that kind of stuff. There was also a mix of a bit of country... a bit of light acoustic blues... and jug band music. In those days Brit's didn't make much distinction between different kinds of American music. It was all from the States and it was all fair game. A lot of young men got cheap guitars and started singing and playing these folk songs - and I wanted to be a part of that. I didn't have a guitar but in our house I found a banjo ukulele. There was a Brit comedian called George Formby and he was a big favorite in the 30s and 40s... he actually made a bunch of movies. One of his greatest fans was George Harrison of The Beatles. He used to finish his act by singing a bunch of slightly risqué songs on this banjo ukulele instrument. Instead of having a normal wood ukulele body it had this stretched skin body - like a banjo so tt had a much more cutting sound. In my school holiday (vacation), I found one lurking in a closet in my home. It had no strings and no bridge, so I tried to make strings out of fuse wire and a bridge out of a piece of wood - with not very good results. Then it occurred to me that I could go to a music store and they'd have strings, and a bridge that I could buy. I did that, and also got a book on how to play... so I was off and running. I took to it very quickly, and in a few months, my mother got me a guitar for Christmas. I realized that it was pretty easy to transfer the ukulele chords to the guitar. I had enough musical knowledge that I could do that. I took a lesson here and there. At he age of 16, I got myself a mentor. He was a pretty well-known guitarist in England called "Big Jim Sullivan". He was a top studio session man. He lived not too far from me and by very fortuitous circumstances, I met him and he became my mentor. I picked up a lot from him but mostly I was self-taught.
Antion - That's very interesting... at my grammar school - which you would call high school - they had this talent show and they picked me out to sing a Skiffle song. I really didn't know anything about the show and when I got there that night the program said "Hillbilly Briggs entertains". Well I was mortified. The reason being that I knew the guys at school would catch on to that name and never let it go. It happened... there were a couple of guys at school that called me "Hillbilly" up until the time I left there. My spot went ok. I didn't really make a fool of myself, but I was so embarrassed by this whole thing that I quit singing. I suppose it was a bit of a blessing because it allowed me to focus on the guitar. That was my first gig. It wasn't very long after that, I started playing in semi-pro bands, and things took off from there.
R.V.B. - Can you describe the general vibe in England with the music scene of the 50's and 60's? How magical was that musical moment in time?
Antion - There are a couple of movies and documentary's you should check out. One is called "Absolute Beginners", which glamorizes the scene in London in the late 50's. It makes it much more alive and more fun than it really was, but there was anpowerful energy just waiting for an outlet. There's another documentary that the BBC did which is called Rock "n" Roll Britannia". It looks at rock and roll in Britain before the Beatles. Rock and roll in the UKpre-Beatles was so different from rock and roll after The Beatles. The Skiffle thing is looked at quite thoroughly in that documentary. It talks about the Beatles started as a Skiffle group called the Quarrymen. There really wasn't much for kids in those days. There wasn't much entertainment on television and the radio was pretty morbid. There was a lot of well performed and well played music by professionals. It was mostly light orchestral... which I enjoyed but certainly was not what I wanted to play. Nevertheless I still appreciated the music and the musicians. In terms for music for the kids - there was almost nothing. "Rock Around The Clock" came around and changed things radically even though the transition took a while! I remember when I first heard it... it certainly changed me. Otherwise, things were pretty dismal. One thing that I've never really seen written about - and when I do get around to getting my book done, I'm gonna put it in there - is how rock and roll musicians in Britain... pre Beatles... were absolutely regarded as the lowest of the low. Everybody looked down on them and they even looked down on themselves. If you see interviews with guys in those days - even The Beatles said "This may not last very long". Some of the teenage British idols that came up at that time like" Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde, thought "I'm gonna change into an all-around entertainer". They did... Cliff Richard did... Tommy Steele did... a guy called Joe Brown did. Was it magical? It became more magical when the Beatles hit. For me, the magic really came with The Beatles. Up until then... yeah we had fun... a lot of gigs... a lot of playing. There weren't any drugs in those days -not in the circles I moved in. The magic really took off when The Beatles came along. Up until that time, it was hard work. Like I said, rock musicians were really looked down upon, especially by the remnants of the dance band musicians, who were still around in those days.
R.V.B. - What would you say was the first break for you to be majorly involved in the British music scene?
Antion - There's two things I want to talk about. When I was 16, I was still in school but I was on a holiday and I got a call from this guy called "Laurie Jay". He said "Look I have this group called The Echos... we're professional... Jim Sullivan told me you're a pretty good guitar player - would you be interested in joining the group?". At first I wasn't but all of a sudden, I had a big bust out with this semi-pro band I was in and I said "Yeah I'll give it a shot". So I joined this group - The Echoes. We went to this theater in Chester to play "Variety"... in the States it would be called "Vaudeville". We played a Variety show for a week, and while we were there, one of the musicians in the band - a guy called Iain Hines - had spent some time in Liverpool. Chester was not too far from Liverpool and he called some of his friends. The next night, these two guys showed up at the Theater. They were both wearing leather jackets and had greased back hair. One guy was tall - blonde - he had a bit of a stammer when he spoke, and the other one had a ring on every finger... well that was Ringo Starr - the drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Rory Storm was the tall blonde guy. They said to us "You know there's this great club in Liverpool, and they have lunchtime sessions. You guys should get on a train and go up there during some lunchtime session, play a little bit and then come back and do your show at night. Sure enough, the next day we were on the train and we went to the Cavern and the band was Gerry and the Pacemakers... we did a spot and people really liked us. We had this singer working with us - a guy from India called Rolly Daniels. We said "Let's come back tomorrow and bring Rolly with us. Bob Wooler - the emcee at The Cavern Club said "That's fine". We came back the next day and the house band was The Beatles... with Pete Best... which was pretty interesting. That was my first encounter with The Beatles and frankly I wasn't impressed, but it was interesting that I met those guys when they weren't famous yet, although at that time, they were the top band in Liverpool. We finished that Saturday night and we got on the train to go back to London - which was packed - I spent the night sleeping on the floor of the guards van... what you guys call the baggage car. We got to Euston station in London at 7 o'clock the next morning... feeling like death warmed over. When we got off the train we saw this limousine driver. He came to us because we looked like musicians and said "Excuse me guys, I'm looking for Cliff Richard and the Shadows, can you help me?". I don't know if you know how big Cliff Richard and the Shadows were? They were huge in the late 50's - early 60's... the biggest thing in the UK and Europe. The lead guitarist - Hank Marvin - was my idol. The funny thing was Laurie Jay... the guy who called me... had filled as the drummer for The Shadows. Their drummer had gotten sick so Laurie had gone to Scandinavia to do a tour with them. Just after this Limousine driver said this, we looked, and walking down the platform was Cliff and the Shadows. Of course they'd spent the night in the first class compartment and we spent the night in the guards van. Laurie introduced me and I was suitably star struck but they were friendly as you would expect them to be at 7 o'clock on a Sunday morning. They were doing a summer season in the north of England somewhere, and the reason why they had come back to London was because that afternoon was the biggest concert of the year - The New Musical Express poll winners concert at Wembley Pool - and about 10,000 people were going to be there. We... Laurie, Doug Reece (the bass player), and myself, went to Doug's place, cleaned up and had a bit to eat. Then we went to this concert and went back stage. Laurie and Doug were well connected in the business and they introduced me to everybody who were big in the charts in those days. Guys like EdenKane, John Leyton, Billy Fury... Georgie Fame was there - he was playing piano with Billy Fury. I was beside myself because you could imagine a 16 year old kid who has just met anybody who is anybody in the music business. When I got home that night, I told my mother I wanted to be a musician. She freaked out and we had a knockdown drag out fight. The net result was, in a few days I was back at school. The first really big break where I really felt I was making it was in February in 1965 when I joined The Echoes again. Laurie Jay was not with them but Doug Reece was still with him and he was the band leader... and they had become Dusty Springfield's backup band. I had joined them and that was really, really great. 1965 was one of the most amazing years of my life - working with Dusty - going to the Motown TV special, when the Motown people came to England for the first time. Going to the "In" clubs in London... and going back to Wembley back in April of 1965. Ever since I saw that NME poll winners concert in 1961, I had wanted to play that concert. Then in April of 65, I played it with Dusty. That was achieving one of my ambitions.
R.V.B. - Can you give me a few stories of your times with Steam Packet?
Antion - Just around the same time that I started working with Dusty - in February in 1965 - I made the acquaintance with Brian Auger. You've interviewed Brian so you know who he is but unfortunately a lot of people don't. Brian is an incredibly talented musician. Somehow or another we became friends. He had the Trinity with Micky Waller on drums and Ricky Brown on bass. It was kind of a weird scene there... those two guys were pretty negative against Brian. I never really figured out why? Brian didn't have a guitar player so occasionally on gigs where I wasn't working with Dusty - I didn't work with her that much because she didn't have a lot of gigs - I started doing gigs with Brian... obviously he would do gigs without me but if I was available, he'd have me there. I think I added to the sound a lot because it was just organ bass and drums;the guitar made it a fuller sound... plus Brian was playing the kind of music that I really wanted to be playing. Not that I didn't love playing with Dusty. At the time, this Blue Note organ jazz was getting to be really happening. There was Jimmy Smith... Big John Patton... and others that were recording on Blue Note. It was a very funky groove and very blues orientated. It was the kind of music I wanted to be playing. It was like walking the line between blues and jazz, and that's where I wanted to be. I'm not sure who's idea it was - between Brian's or his manager Giorgio Gomelsky, Long John Baldry or his manager, I don't know - but they came up with the idea of Steam Packet. It was Brian Auger and the Trinity with me on the guitar. Giorgio Gomelsky wanted Julie Driscoll in there and Long John Baldry wanted Rod Stewart in there. John had a real soft spot for Rod. They were all talented singers, although I don't think Rod was anything to write home about in those days. Julie turned out to be a great sensation for a while. One time we played a double gig somewhere in the north - maybe Sheffield... one of those God forsaken cities in the north. We played this gig in one club and then we all got into our cars - with the equipment - and took off to this other gig. Between the two gigs Micky Waller drank a whole bottle of Yates' Australian white wine which was super plonk. When we got to the next gig, he was totally out of it. We got up on the stage... Brian counted in the first song and Mick took off like a rocket. It was incredible how he was playing with so much fire. (Haha) We got to the end of the song and Mick raised up his sticks for a big flourish of the cymbals and he fell off his drum stool to the ground. (Haha) We all roared with laughter and everybody seemed to enjoy it... except Long John Baldry. You know sometimes when everyone around you is having fun and you get into a low space? Well that happened to him. He got on the stage and went up to the mic and said "Ladies and gentlemen, we'd like to apologize for certain members of our organization, who allow themselves to drink too much.". Brian went up to the mic and said "Baldry, how many times have I seen you on staged pissed?" Pissed in those days in England meant drunk. Yeah, it was a fun. We were working like mad. One week, we did 8 gigs. Most weeks, we did minimally 4. In those days - in mid week - the clubs would close pretty early...usually at 11. If we weren't too far out of London, we'd just head back to the "in" clubs... generally the Cromwellian - sometimes the Scotch or the Speakeasy. The way we were living was insane. We were young... we all had our health. We were just out every night looning... it was crazy. I don't know how we did it but it was a lot of fun - a lot of good music. If we weren't out doing gigs, we were in the "in" clubs jamming. We'd be hanging out with guys like Zoot Money, Eric Burdon, Georgie Fame... a lot of the guys on the soul and R&B scene at that time in Britain. We all knew each other, it was a very tight scene. It was all very fun. Rod got the boot from the Steam Packet; I'm not exactly sure why. I know that we did this late night gig somewhere up north and got home real early in the morning. Rod went to play soccer instead of going to bed. When he turned up for a gig the next night, he didn't have a voice. I don't know if that's why he got fired, but he did get fired. It may have been a financial thing too because supporting a band in large numbers is quite hard. In July of 1966 we went off to France Saint Tropez, to do a month at this club called "Papagayo", which was the "in" club in St. Tropez. The first night we were up on the stage playing and Brigette Bardot came in with this guy she was hanging out with at the time - Gunther Sachs - and she didn't like the band. She said "We were too jazzy", which I thought was a little unfair because we weren't really playing jazz. So that kind of spoiled the whole month. We did finish the run - we played every night - but apparently the club owners were not very happy because they weren't getting the business. We finished on July 31st and on the 7th of August, we were booked at a jazz festival "Comblain -la- Tour", which was in Belgium. Giorgio Gomelsky had arranged for Brian, the band, and Julie Driscoll to do a few days in this French seaside resort called "LesalleDelome". We played in this club owned by a real sweet guy from Algeria, although he wasn't Algerian. He was what you call "pieds noirs" - black feet... the French people who grew up in Algeria. We played this club for a few days and then we headed up to Comblain-la-Tour for this jazz festival. This was a for-real jazz festival. Stan Getz was there with Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. Benny Goodman was there. I actually got to see Benny Goodman. I still have the program somewhere. We were booked to play on Sunday afternoon and right before we went on they had this Belgian guy organ player. He had a group very much like ourselves. They played a few songs and on the last song of his set, he played something that was a bit rock orientated. The next thing you knew, there was cabbages... carrots... flying on the stage. The audience was going nuts because they didn't think it was jazz. Brian couldn't let this go by so he got up on the stage and did this organ riff (mimics loud organ) and we went into this quite fast song. Brian was all over it and we were playing the crap out of it. This poor Belgian organ player was sitting by the side of the stage with his head in his hands as he was watching Brian play. So we played a couple of songs and Julie Driscoll came on. It was rather funny because she was singing "Jeannine", which was originally done by Oscar Brown Jr. - Georgie Fame later recorded it. It really is jazz (sings it)... oh but the crowd didn't like it. There were more cabbages on the stage. Then Long John came out and started singing blues - more cabbages - and finally Long John and Julie left the stage and they left it to us and the crowd. That was Long John's last gig with the Steam Packet. After that, it became Brian Auger and the Trinity.from Algeria, although he wasn't Algerian.
R.V.B. - Did you have interactions with Jimi Hendrix? Could you elaborate?
Antion - Oh yes! In September of 1966, we occasionally - without Julie - would play the "in" clubs, like the Cromwellian... the Scotch... and they really liked us because we were really, really, good. People would get up and jam with us. Very rarely did any guitar player or even drummer would get up and jam, but singers would often get up... Eric Burdon... Zoot Money. This particular night, which I think was September 24th, I got there a little bit early... the Scotch of St. James, which was the "in" club at the time, and one of the waiters comes up to me and says "You should haveseen this guy that Chas Chandler had down here last night. He looked like the wild man of Borneo." I really didn't think anything about it. In London, nobody had frizzed out hair at that time. Not long after that I saw Chas Chandler trotting in with this skinny little guy with frizzed out hair. I thought "Um, this is interesting". It was really early - like 9 o'clock - things didn't start happening there until 10:30 - 11, the earliest. Chas came right up to me and he said "I want you to meet Jimi. He's going to be sitting in with the band tonight". I said "Oh, that's nice". He said "Is it ok if he borrows your amp?". I said "Sure! Do you need a guitar?". He said "No man, I'm left handed". We shook hands and he was quite pleasant and friendly. I didn't really know until the last 2 or 3 years that Chas had already arranged it with Brian. He called Brian and asked if Jimi could sit in... knowing that Jimi would get real good support from the guys. I thought Chas was there spontaneously. Jimi did do a little bit of rehearsing with Brian. They did Hey Joe because I remember him telling Brian it was the same 4 chords over and over. The Scotch is a tiny club and I had this Marshall stack. it wasn't a huge stack but it was big enough. Jimi walks over to my amp with his guitar and turns every knob up to eleven. He said to me "Don't worry man, I'll turn it down on my guitar". That was the night that Jimi took London by storm, and he used my amp. There was a book that was written in the 2000's, and it actually talks about that night that he sat in with Brian Auger. It says “There was this guy Vic Briggs on guitar and Jimi remembered him as a really friendly and helpful cat”. I thought that was pretty nice. That night, Johnny Hallyday - the French Elvis Presley was there. Earlier that year, in the summer, Brian and I had recorded an album with Johnny which Giorgio had produced. Giorgio was the kind of guy... even though he had no financial interest in Jimi whatsoever... he pushed Jimi because he believed in him. He was always doing that - pushing people whom he believed in. There was this guy Bob Lind who wrote a song called "Elusive Butterfly", It was quite a big hit in the States. This very straight and square Brit singer covered it. Giorgio Gomelsky, and a few other guys, took out an ad in the papers saying that the original recording by Bob Lind is authentic, sincere, and just wanted to say that this is the real thing... don't buy the cover version. I think Giorgio pushed Johnny Hallyday to take Jimi on a tour with to France, and he was just about to do it... Jimi didn't even have a band. He really didn't have the "Experience" at that time. In the next few days he got a hold of Mitch and Noel. On October 18th, We - Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, and the Trinity were booked to play at the L'Olympia, which is probably the most famous music hall in France. We were booked to play there with Johnny Hallyday, and Jimi Hendrix was going to be on the show too. By that time Jimi and been on tour with Johnny and had done quite a few shows in France. This was to be the last night of the tour I believe. So we went over there... the show was on a Tuesday night... We left on Sunday night, got there on Monday morning and hardly had any sleep. Giorgio dragged us out of bed to rehearse. Then we got some sleep and we rehearsed again on Tuesday. I knew Mitch because Mitch and I were in a band together in 1962. It was the first time I met Noel. So it was about 5-5:30 the night of the show, and Mike Jefferey (The Animals manager) and the co-manager of Jimi, with Chas Chandler, came over to me and said "You want to go get a cup of coffee?". I was quite surprised because Mike Jefferey was not the type of guy to approach you unless he had something important to talk about. I knew him but I had never really spoken to him. So we went to this cafe, ordered coffee, and made small talk. After the coffee came, he looked me right in the eye and said "How would you like to join The Animals?". I thought for about a half a second and I said "Yes!". Then we went back and did the show. The French and I guess the Belgians too are kind of fickle. The show was opened by Johnny Hallyday's band "Le Blackbirds". Then Jimi came out and he did his thing and then we followed Jimi. We were doing a song called "The Freedom Highway"... Julie was singing... and the French guys started booing because we were too jazzy. We came from a festival where we were too much rock and roll, and at Johnny Hallyday's show – and in St Tropez - we were too jazzy. So they didn't let up with their booing. I was sad for Brian and Julie but I was off in a different space, feeling totally detached from the scene. I was off in Freedom land because I knew my life was about to change. A week or so after that I gave Brian notice and within a couple of weeks I was rehearsing with The Animals. We would rehearse at The Scotch of St. James where Jimi had made his big debut. Because I was now under the same management, I saw a fair amount of Jimi. We did some gigs together. We played a gig in Hounslow, at the Ricky Tick club of all places. It was the second gig I did with The Animals. When we got there, Jimi was playing. I think they just pushed him in there because The Animals’ management was like, "Let's get this guy some gigs", since nobody knew who he was. The woman I was with that night was very impressed. She said "Who is that sexy guy?". I said "That's Jimi Hendrix".
R.V.B. - How did joining The Animals change your life?
Antion - You know the Eagles song "New Kid in Town"? (He sings) "Even your old friend treats you like your someone new". That's how it is man... as soon as I got in the Animals. I had a certain standing in the music business - being with Brian - because Brian was very respected... also being with Dusty. Although when I was playing with Dusty, I was kind of new on the scene. Even though I had been pro for a couple of years, nobody really knew me. Being with Brian and Dusty kind of elevated me a bit because these were quality artists. Then being with the Animals it was a whole different thing... the money... it was fun and good for the ego. Now there's a whole downside to it but I'll think I'll skip that. The final analysis, it cost me a lot in terms of happiness, and certainly money. I got incredibly ripped off but in the same token, it changed my life and put me in the other side of the world in the US. It put me in the recording studios in Hollywood which was an amazing, amazing, experience. Being in the Animals during the Psychedelic revolution - "The Summer of Love"... I experienced "The Summer of Love" in LA, San Francisco, and London. I was there for some of the major events in those major cities. I knew a lot of the key people, and it was pretty amazing.
R.V.B. - How was the adventure of doing world tours with The Animals?
Antion - We actually did one world tour. We did the States, Australia and New Zealand. It was very neat going to Australia and New Zealand. In January of 1967 - I had only been in the band for a short time - I was in this pub in London which was across from where Polydor Records was - and Giorgio Gomelsky's office... Marmalade Records. It was a big hangout place and I used to go in there often. I was in there one night and Mike Jefferey walked in... I don't think he was looking for me but he said "I'm glad to see you". I said "Why". He said "Come on over to Eric's with me, I want to try to persuade him to go to Australia and New Zealand". When he said that, I got kind of excited. Australia - New Zealand, that's on the other side of the world. Wow! It shook me up... in a good way. We went over Eric’s but he didn't want to go to Australia, and New Zealand. He said "That's where people go when they're washed up. We pointed out to him the he could sell records there and he eventually agreed. So we did a tour of the States and then we flew from the States to Australia and New Zealand. Australia was tough, we had a lot of problems in Australia. In the fall of 1966, my first gig with the band was November 25th in Birmingham. Then we went to Munich... went to Holland... went to Scandinavia... we did the European thing... Paris, back at L’Olympia. It's funny because I was there with Brian Auger in October ’66 and in December or January ‘67, I was back there with The Animals. It was nice... it was good to be back there. I speak a little French so I did some announcing in French - which people seemed to like. We did a French TV show. After that, it was mostly the States. I went to India for a few days on the way back from Australia which was interesting. I didn't really try to make any changes to my life. We went to Monterey for the Monterey Pop Festival. We played San Francisco and went down to LA. We eventually moved to LA and changed management. Eric fired Mike Jeffrey... which was a whole hassle. After that I left or got fired... whichever way you want to construe it... in July of 68.
R.V.B. - How was your experience at the Monterey Pop Festival?
Antion - The Monterey Pop Festival was really one of the most amazing experiences of my life. In May of 1967, we had just returned from a long tour. We had been around the states and toured Canada a little bit, and then we went on to New Zealand and Australia. Then we came back around the world to London. It was a good time in London. "The Summer of Love" was just starting. May is probably my favorite month of the year in England... not that I go there anymore. The days are long and everything is in bloom; it feels like something good is going to happen... summer is coming. One day I went over to John Weider's place... I had a little flat under a news agent’s shop right across the street from where John lived with his dad..John looked at me with a gleam in his eye and said "Have you heard? We're going back to the States for the Monterey Pop Festival." I didn't even know about the Monterey Pop Festival. I did know about the Monterey Jazz Festival. We had played at the Monterey Fair grounds – the same venue for both the Monterey Jazz and Pop Festivals - in March, just a few weeks previous. We had just really come back from there. John and I had a very soft spot for the Monterey Jazz Festival. We were really into this guy called John Handy. One of our favorite albums at the time was John Handy at the Monterey Jazz Festival. It was a happening, exciting new wave jazz thing. We were already excited about the Monterey Jazz Festival and now we're going to be at the Monterey Pop Festival. I'll never forget the sheer joy when he told me - I felt like I was floating 6 feet above the ground. I had already started becoming attached to California and its people. I was so excited. Our manager Mike Jeffrey had to cancel some upcoming dates that we had in Italy but we did a few shows there. The next day after we returned from Italy, we went back to Heathrow to fly to California (in those days, it was called London Airport). When we got on the plane we found out that we were booked in first class... which was real cool. We took off on TWA and we landed in Chicago it was like 102 degrees. I remember walking on the jetway and breaking out in a sweat because it wasn't air conditioned. Then we changed planes and flew off to LA. When we got to LA, we were met by our American tour manager. We were shattered with all the traveling we had done. He took us to this hotel and when the desk clerk saw us he told our manager there was no reservation - and the hotel was full - which was bullshit. So we went around the corner to another hotel. Kevin went in and booked the rooms by himself, came out and gave us the keys to our rooms and then we all went inside. The next day we were up pretty early to catch the flight to Monterey. We checked into our hotel there and I found out I'd be sharing a room with Mitch Mitchell - who was an old friend of mine. That was Friday - the first day of the festival. That night, was the night we were on. It was a very strange bill that night. First off was The Association... and then Johnny Rivers... then there was Lou Rawls... then there was us... and then there was Simon and Garfunkel... there wasn't any rock and roll. You could call Johnny Rivers rock and roll. I don't think the crowd was that interested in seeing Johnny Rivers or The Association for that matter. We're talking about a mostly northern California crowd. So we had it made because we went out there after Lou Rawls. I'm not saying that all those guys are not good; Lou Rawls was very, very, good... but he did a Las Vegas lounge act. It was so different from what Otis Redding did the following night - where he just tore the place apart. We could feel that the crowd was really hungry for some rock and roll when we went on. We tore into our set and it felt really good. We started off with "Every day I have the blues". That went over well, and then we did "Paint it Black" - with John Weider featured on electric violin... that also was well received. Then we wanted to do "San Franciscan Nights" because we hadn't previously performed it in the States. We figured if there was a crowd that would appreciate that, this would be that crowd... that also went down well. We finished up with "Hey Gyp" in which we used to go into a bit of a Psychedelic rave up. "Paint it Black" is in the Monterey Pop movie. We got some very good press reviews. It was a good night for us. On Saturday, the weather closed in - it was cool, very cool. Southern California is known for its good weather but if you ever go to southern California, you don't want to go in May and June... most of the time, they have what is called this "June gloom". It's clouds that have descended to sea level. Monterey has that for most of the year - it gets very little sunshine. It's rather a cool place and I remember being cold for most of that Saturday. That weekend was no exception. It wasn't really raining but there was a light drizzle - off and on. It was definitely not warm and you felt that on stage. I don't remember much about the music on Saturday. I didn't see a lot that impressed me. I did see Janis Joplin on her first go around... she played twice. I've got to tell you that every time I saw Big Brother - the band - they were out of tune. Janis was so far above them which is why she eventually left them and got her own band. I do remember seeing Otis on Saturday night. He was backed by Booker T. and the MG's with the Memphis Horns. Otis killed it. He came out and did his usual thing, with songs like "Respect" and "Shake" and the crowd went nuts for him. Quite a few years after... I think it was 2000... Wayne Jackson, the leader of The Memphis Horns, came for a visit to Kauai where I was living and somebody introduced me to him. I had recorded with Wayne in 1970 so I knew him a little bit. On Kauai I had a radio show and so I invited him on for an interview. I had the CD's for the Monterey Pop Festival, which Wayne had never heard. I put on Otis' set and he started off with this song "Shake", which I think is a Sam Cooke song. Wayne says to me "God, that was so fast. I can't believe how fast we played it!". On Sunday afternoon, there was Ravi Shankar. I really wanted to see Ravi Shankar. I remember there was an enclosure in front of the stage for the artists/performers of the festival. I went in there about an hour early to make sure I had the absolutely seat in the house... and the arena filled up around me. Again the weather was miserable and cold. The fairgrounds were situated in the flight path of the Monterey airport and every 10 minutes or so a plane would take off. The roar would blot out most of the sound from the stage. The planes would be flying low and occasionally you'd see a dark shape looming through the clouds. Ravi Shankar came on stage with his long time tabla accompanist AllaRakha. By the look on his face, it looked like he really didn't want to be there. I know what it's like when an artist doesn't want to be at a place where he's committed to perform, and Ravi Shankar had that look. He sat down on the raised platform in the middle of the stage with a carpet. They were burning incense and there was an electric heater. Every time a plane roared across the sky, Ravi Shankar looked up with utter contempt. I happened to glance at my watch when he came out on stage. He tuned his sitar for a full half hour. It seemed to me like he was procrastinating... not acting like a man who was wanting to play. But then something magical happened. When he finished tuning his sitar the crowd stood as one and gave him a standing ovation. Ravi Shankar said "If you like the tuning so much, perhaps you'll enjoy the music." They began to play and it was great. The energy built, and built, and built. Finally, towards the end of the program, another plane came across and the two of them were just enjoying it so much, they just laughed, shrugged it off, and carried on playing. After they finished the crowd rose to their feet and gave them a standing ovation. There was a wonderful feeling that just maybe the world could be healed through music. Then came Sunday night, and that was pretty interesting. I was under the influence of certain substances so I didn't go out into the audience. There was a clubroom in back of the stage for the artists with a bar and a closed circuit television. I spent most of the evening in that bar - watching the whole thing on TV. The Who... it just blew me away that they were smashing their instruments. It seemed petulant... it seemed unnecessary... it seemed incredibly wasteful... I wasn't impressed at all, rather disgusted. Jimi Hendrix however, was like "Wow" It was so heavy - watching him burn his guitar. You know, when you're under the influence, it seemed to be symbolic of man involving from a primitive state, to a time where he can affect his own destruction through his knowledge. It seemed to me that Jimi was symbolizing that. When he got down on his knees and paid homage to his guitar, it was like a fire sacrifice. It was beyond impressive. So that was the music program and we eventually made it back to our hotel. The next morning, when we went to the airport, Ravi Shankar was there waiting to catch the same plane as we were. I went over to him and told him how much I enjoyed his concert and chatted with him. I felt quite self-conscious but he was very gracious and actually made more conversation with me than I made with him. It was an amazing weekend.
Antion - Well, that's a very good question. I don't do drugs... I haven’t in a long, long time. I don't condone drugs, but on the other hand, I think the criminalization of Marijuana is a travesty. Why are all these guys in prison for victimless crimes? Did doing drugs help my creativity??? Well, it certainly opened my mind in lots of ways. When I started with Eric, he had sampled the psychedelic scene in San Francisco and probably LA too... in the summer of 66. When I joined the band in the end of 66, Eric was very influenced by the psychedelic scene. He brought Frank Zappa’s "Freak Out" album back from the States... which I borrowed from him. I listened to it and said "What the hell is this?". It was so different than anything I had experienced before. When we started recording in England at Olympic Studios (December ’66) Eric was looking for a new sound. He wanted to go outside the box of the old Animals. Eddie Kramer was the engineer for the first recordings that we did. I think the first one was "When I was Young". Then we did a B side called "Ain't that so" for a movie. It was a James Mason movie "Stranger in the house"... terrible movie. Bobby Darin was in it too. We were recording some stuff for the first album "Winds of Change". We recorded the song for the movie "Casino Royale" with Woody Allen. Hal David rejected it because Eric hadn't learned the damn thing. He obviously didn't care about it. That got canned and it pissed me off. So we did a lot of experimental stuff. You see, it was really Eric's band. I felt that my job as musical director - I assumed the position myself - was to get his ideas, make them come to life, and interject our own ideas where we could... but Eric really was the boss. We did a lot of stuff on that first album that was kind of strange... spoken word stuff. Those were the times, we were just trying to push the envelope. That was definitely influenced by the substances. But I do wish there had been someone who could have said to Eric “You know Eric, this is interesting and maybe ground-breaking but do you think it’s going to stand up to repeated listening?” For my part, I don't think it hindered my creativity. I was looking to learn whatever I could. I was particularly interested in orchestration - writing for strings and horns... that type of thing. I was also very fanatic about not being under the influence in recording studios.
R.V.B. - Did your change over to Indian music happen fast or were you gradually influenced by it?
Antion - Well back in the spring of 66 there had been "Paint it Black", George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, and there was a lot of buzz about it. I didn't know anything about Indian music. I was over at Eric Clapton's place - the one and only time I ever visited Eric Clapton - and Eric was very hip - he always wanted to know what was going on... I said "Hey Eric, What's this deal with the Indian music thing?".So he pulled out two albums and he said "Take these and listen to them"... which I did. He got them at an Indian import store on Oxford Street in London. I immediately went to the import store and bought the same albums that he lent me and I gave him his back. I still have them today. I started listening to them and buying a few other albums. Ravi Shankar wasn't on the first ones I bought but I soon bought an album of Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. Ali Akbar Khan gradually became a huge influence in my life. He has since passed away. So my interest started picking up steam, and by the time I was touring with The Animals, I was listening to a lot of Indian music. It was touching me very deeply. There have been points in my life where I wanted to give up everything, just to go and study Indian music. Now I'm studying a lot here in New Zealand, with a professor of music from India and it's having a great effect on me. It's kind of funny, I'm 71 years old and I'm a better singer than I ever was. That's the way things go. For a while, when I was in the studio in Hollywood, I put Indian music on the shelf, because I had to focus on Western music... studying harmony... orchestration and that type of thing. When I quit the music business, I made Indian music a priority in my life.
R.V.B. - What was your game plan to totally learn this new music? Which instrument did you concentrate on? Do you play different instruments?
Antion - I didn't have a game plan. I had no idea how it was done. I concentrated on an instrument called the sarod. I had mentioned Ali Akbar Khan - he was a master sarod player. His father, Allaudin Khan, was Ravi Shankar's musical guru. For some years they were brothers-in-law because Ravi Shankar married Ali Akbar Khan's sister. They were later divorced. I did like the sitar but the sarod was just a much deeper instrument for me. Ali Akbar Khan had a music school up in the SF Bay Area which is still in existence. I actually managed to squeeze in one session there but because of financial pressures of having a new wife and family, I couldn't do more than that. I would have like to have studied a lot more. I did study sarod there and I started studying voice. I went to England to teach yoga in 1970. When I was there I started to study Sikh sacred music, which was primarily vocal. I started learning to sing using a harmonium as an accompaniment. That is really my main instrument apart from guitar. I'm still playing guitar and I'm a better guitar player than I ever was. I've been practicing a lot over the past 2 years. Here in New Zealand, I have a regular gig playing with these professional musicians from India. On Sunday I go to a Sikh temple and I sing a couple of songs with a harmonium and then they take over and I accompany them on guitar. It's a lot of fun and very satisfying. So I basically play the guitar and harmonium now. I stopped playing the sarod because it was too much of a commitment to master, with everything else I had going on in my life.
R.V.B. - Was it a major move for you to move to the States?
Antion - I don't know if you know this but I'm American. My father was an American serviceman. Right from the time I was born, my mother got me a US passport, even though I grew up in England. I first traveled to the US when I was real young. I came here when I was 2, and I don't remember that visit. I came again when I was 7, and I remember that trip very well. It was a fantastic experience for a young boy. I was only in the States – New York City - for about a week; then my mother took me to Canada for about three or four months... the whole summer of 1952. Did I ever take to the North American lifestyle. WhenI went back to England Ifelt like a fish out of water. I grew up spending my teenage years in England. When I first came to the States with The Animals, the first few weeks of the tour was pretty miserable because we were there in New England, Canada, Chicago, and it was colder than hell. I'll never forget, we got on this plane in Chicago and it was freezing out. It was so cold, with the wind coming off the lake. We got on a plane and flew down to New Orleans. When we got off the plane it was 75 degrees. I said "75 degrees in March? I can get used to this real quick!". Things started to lighten up when we got to the south. We did some gigs in the south and went to Texas for a few days. Then we got to LA. Our first gig on the west coast was in Santa Barbara and, when I saw the Pacific Ocean, that was it! I was hooked on California. From then on, I just couldn't wait to get back there. We were all somewhat like that. Out of the 5 of us in the band, Eric stayed in the States... John Weider married an American and he stayed in the States... Both of them in California, by the way.Danny McCulloch went back to England - he's dead now... and Barry Jenkins went back to England. I haven't seen Eric since 68 or 69.
R.V.B. - Were there good times and bad times at Capitol? Was there anything that happened there that may have benefited you later on in life?
Antion - Well there were mostly bad times. (hahaha) There wasn't anything good except I made a fair amount of money. That’s not entirely true. I had the opportunity to work with some great musicians during my time there. But nothing to do with Capitol Records itself. The thing that benefited me in life was I got fired. (hahaha) I got fired in December of 1969. That firing prompted me to get out of the music business, and precipitated my spiritual metamorphosis... or epiphany. It all happened very, very quickly. I got fired right before Christmas and December 26th I decided to be a non drinking... non drug taking... vegetarian. I decided I was spiritual and was done with the music business and that was that!
R.V.B. - Is there a mystical feeling inside of you when you perform Indian music?
Antion - Yes. Like all music, you’re on some days and not so hot on others, but you do the thing anyway. Almost all of the Indian music I play is what the Sikhs call Gurbani Kirtan - which is a representation of Hymns from Sikh scriptures generally set to ragas. That's really, really powerful for me to do. I've been doing it for 45 years now. I'm still working on it... I'm still practicing... I'm still learning... I'm still studying. I think I'm getting better... I think I'm making progress. Indian classical music, with guys like Ali Akbar Khan had a way of creating a mystical vibration with just one or two notes. So yeah, It's always brought me a feeling of deep spirituality... of deep commitment to God... when I hear and play Indian classical music.
R.V.B. - What was the process of creating new names for yourself?
Antion - My first name was a Sikh name that was given to me by the Sikhs. When I got away from Yogi Bhajan in 1990, I still wanted to be a Sikh but I wanted to be different. I wanted to create a new me, really, without losing what I had gained. There was a very powerful energy that was focused on the Earth in 1991/92... a lot of stuff in the inner plains. Unfortunately most of humanity didn't get at all... that didn’t stop it being extremely powerful for those that did. I had an experience on the beach of Del Mar, California on January 4th 1992. There was a solar eclipse that was happening out above the ocean and that is when my name of Antion came to me.
R.V.B. - How was the experience of playing in Harimandir Sahib?
Antion - I went to India with a group of students and I didn't really expect to do this. It was thrust upon me, I suppose, and I was excited but scared, very scared. I was freaked out because I realized what a weight I was carrying on my shoulders. I was going to be the first "white boy" to sing there and I knew that all eyes would be upon me – can this Gora (white guy) really do this? - and I'd better pull it off. I sang there twice, at 2:30 in the morning on consecutive days. The second day... after I finished... I went out back where there are steps that lead into the tank and all of a sudden it just hit me - it was like the load of responsibility was lifted off of my shoulders - I could feel the ecstasy. I just burst into tears and started sobbing there. It was very, very powerful moment for me.
R.V.B. - Was the Hawaiian experience a different learning experience for you or an extension of your learning curve?
Antion - I'd say it was an extension. It was different. Hawaii... it's customs... it's music... is very different from Indian culture. What carried over for me in was a sense of honoring. I had to learn to honor the Sikh culture and it was the same way with the Hawaiian culture. I had that sense of honoring already in me which made things a lot easier. I didn't make too many gaffes. I was very observant in what was going on around me. I had a teacher, a man called Blaine Kia who was 20 years younger than me. He stuck his neck out a lot for me and answered a lot of questions... encouraged me... and really pushed me. Sometimes he pushed me further than I expected. It was an extension of the learning curve but it was new things and it was fun. I had some interesting experiences.
R.V.B. - Describe the power of Hawaiian chanting.
Antion - Whew! I have to say that, in using the human voice, I never found anything yet, that changes a group of people’s energy as powerfully and as swiftly as Hawaiian chanting does... and I don't know why. There's a certain power to it, maybe it's the words... maybe it's the tone... maybe it's the manner. I've had the experience so many times when I've come in front of a group of people and by the time I finished chanting, they have been gone... you can see the blank looks on their face. It's very, very powerful. It's a big subject. There's many different styles of chanting. In Hawaii, chanting used to be a way of life. They used it on every occasion - to introduce themselves and greet friends - it was an amazing thing.
R.V.B. - Is there anything that you would do different in your life if you had a do over?
Antion - Well, I had to get out of the music business in 1969, I was going a bit nuts. I was definitely losing my health because I wasn't taking care of my body. I felt like I was losing my sanity. But looking back, it was an amazing time for me. It was heaven and hell at the same time. Heaven, was working with all the incredible musicians in my life... big names in their own right. They were working for me and playing my music. Most of them were really good guys - I had some good relationships. The hell part was the business. The music business is a very dirty business. It's a low conscience... backstabbing... cheating... lying business... and that is what did me in. In retrospect, I wish I had been able to spend more time working with musicians... writing new music... and learning more about orchestration. I wish that earlier in my life I had been able to study Indian music the way I'm studying now. It was something I always wanted to do but it wasn't meant to happen. I wish I hadn't sold my guitars that I had used when I was with The Animals. I wish I had all my guitars back from the 60's. I have some nice guitars now but those guitars from the 60's were really special to me. I sold them because I felt I had to cut all ties with the music business. I went 19 years without owning a guitar. I wish A. - I'd gone back to the guitar much earlier B. –That I had learned the stuff that I l have earned over the last 3 or 4 years to practice when I picked the guitar back up in 1989. Now I'm a way better guitarist than I ever was. I wish I had started that in 1989. That's about it. You'll notice all these things have to do with music. Thank you very much for these great questions, Robert.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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