For nearly 60 years, Brian Auger has been a musician’s musician. Jazz pianist, bandleader, session man, Hammond B3 innovator, and key player in the rise of jazz/rock fusion, Brian has done it all and then some. An incredible gentleman with one of the most varied careers in music, he has incorporated jazz, early British pop, R&B, soul and rock into an incredible catalogue that has won him legions of fans all over the world.
Lauded and loved by artists as diverse as Mose Allison to The Brand New Heavies, his tracks have been sampled by Mos Def, Common, Air and Kid Loco, his original compositions covered by Sarah Vaughan, Richard 'Groove' Holmes and The Main Ingredient.
Auger’s unique musical career started at a very early age. Growing up in London during World War II, his family’s house had a player piano, and, at the age of three, he was already fascinated by it.
The Auger family’s home was bombed in 1944. "We were actually very fortunate, because the house was absolutely ruined, plastered, but none of us were hurt," he recalls. Evacuated to the Leeds/Valley area for nearly two years, he lived with another family, and, as fate would have it, "they had a piano, and I would play it a little bit on there. When I got back home the thing that really grounded me was when I walked in the room, there was my piano." Once home with his family, Auger became the entertainment for the neighbourhood. "I used to have little concerts. We had a bay window, and my friends would all sit on the window sill, so I would play with all these little piano rolls, you know, and, and have these little concerts."
As a child of eight or nine Auger’s brother gave him an old radio, and he was able to hear American jazz played over Armed Forces radio. With his fondness for jazz piano Brian came to an early musical decision. "When I heard those various guys I said ‘this is what I want to play’ and the early bands I got in when I was 16 or 17 years old, we were playing Jazz Messengers material”
In 1965, when he heard Jimmy Smith albums, he decided to get involved with a Hammond B3, an organ few British musicians could play, largely because the bulky organs were virtually non- existent in England.
Around this time, the Yardbirds called Auger for working on a harpsichord intro ‘come on, you guys, you’ve got to be joking’ said Auger, and they said ‘that’s all we’ve got’ and so I did a rolling intro with this harpsichord thing, and I left, thinking these guys are nuts, I mean who's going to buy a pop single with harpsichord on it? It went to number one, so what do I know?" The song was "For Your Love," which kicked off the Yardbirds recording career, and also made Brian an in demand session man around London.
In 1965 Steampacket was formed by Long John Baldry with Rod Stewart, Julie Driscoll, and Brian Auger. They never really recorded anything and Steampacket collapsed in 1966 after one year.
In November 1967, Trinity´s first album, "Open", was released in France. Later "Definitely What", Brian’s solo album.
In 1969 the third album named "Streetnoise" came out, in preparation of Auger’s US tour.
Up in 1970 Oblivion Express started up formed by Jim Mullen, Barry Dean, Robbie Mcintosh and Alex Ligertwood. Releasing a "A Better Land" and "Second Wind" before the band collapsed when Alex moved to Paris. Alex and Jim where replaced by Jack Mills and Lennox Laington and they released "Closer To It" album in 1973. The album broke on its own and it becomes a hit on the jazz and R&B charts at the same time.
"Closer To It" was followed by "Straight Ahead", which also landed on both the R&B and jazz charts. The Express opened for Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, ZZ top, Led Zeppelin and others, bridging rock, jazz and R&B genres, and sometimes did straight R&B gigs.
Oblivion Express kept rolling through most of the 70s, until the group finished touring in 1977.
In 1989, Auger was able to tour the world with Eric Burdon (of the animals). Later, Auger´s son Karma joined the band when the drummer quit two days before a European tour. Karma, working as a drum tech, was the only person around who knew the all the material, and Burdon was kind enough to give him the drum chair.
In 1993, Auger decided to leave Burdon and concentrate on his own music. In the mid to late 1990’s, Auger formed his own family version of the Oblivion Express, with his children Karma on drums and Savannah performing, as the lead vocalist.
The 90s saw Brian hailed as the ‘godfather of acid jazz’, this Grammy Nominee is also the proud recipient of a US Congressional Certificate of Special Recognition for his ‘contribution to the American art form of Jazz’ and is championed by several generations of musicians and fans.
Photo credit: Elde Stewart