Brian Auger – Rhymes with Blogger

Is he a jazz keyboardist? Is he a rock musician? Is he a r&b player? 
Even Brian Auger finds it difficult to put a peg on his particular brand of music.
I’ve always held by the Duke Ellington quote, that ‘there are only two kinds of music, good and bad’, he told the ‘get ready to rock’ website. “I’ve never been able to pigeonhole my music, because there are so many elements in it, right through to strong classical influences …..

Long after most of his keyboard-playing peers have either retired or gone to that Great Jukebox in the Sky, Mr. Auger continues to be in demand.  He has either toured, recorded or played on sessions with Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Sonny Boy Williamson, to name just a few. (Whew! No wonder the beancounters cannot “pigeonhole” the music.) He even toured with Eric Burdon in the early 90s and recorded a live album with him in 1993.  

Raised in London, he came of age in England’s so-called Swingin’ Sixties. According to Spotify Mr. Auger first began listening to jazz on the American Armed Forces network  and his older brother’s record collection. He studied piano as a youngster. After hearing a Jimmy Smith album at a local record shop, Brian went to a music shop and ordered a Hammond organ according to the musicguy247 website.He began playing in London clubs while still in his teens and still has fond memories of those days: “We’d play Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, a sort of East Coast Bop outfit with a blues edge. We’d play Horace Silver stuff for example, and it was an easy switch to playing R&B ….” 
In 1965 he formed Steampacket with Julie Driscoll, Vic Briggs, John Baldry and a promising newcomer named Rod Stewart. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the original line-up of Steampacket didn’t last long
I first became aware of Brian Auger when he formed the group Trinity. With Julie Driscoll on vocals the group had an unexpected hit on the pop charts with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire.”
In 1970 the keyboardist formed Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express. The original line-up included drummer Robbie McIntosh and several other musicians who would later form the Average White Band of “Pick Up the Pieces” fame. I still have an original vinyl copy of Live Oblivion with the group’s classic version of Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’ on Sunset.”
Mr. Auger and his family moved to the States in 1975.  (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,” he recalled for the musicguy247 website,” Lee Michaels… another organ player, lives 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 . We eventually ended up transferring to Malibu … 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.” 
Oblivion Express was revived in 2005 with Brian, son Karma on drums, daughter Savannah on vocals, and Derek Frank on bass. 
FAMILY PORTRAIT: Karma Auger (top) Brian Auger (middle) and Savannah Grace Auger (bottom right)
In 2014 Brian Auger and Oblivion Express played at the KJAZZ festival in Los Angeles and toured in Japan and Europe with Karma Auger on drums, daughter Ali and Alex Ligertwood (former Oblivion Express and longtime Santana singer) on vocals, Yarone Levy on guitar, Les King on bass and Travis Carlton, Larry Carlton’s son, on bass.

It is difficult (if not impossible) to sum up Mr. Auger’s diverse career in a sentence.  With thirty albums to his name, ten of which charted on Billboard, Grammy nominations and sell-out concerts Mr. Auger has nothing left to prove and new horizons in music to explore.(He recently recorded with Latin rockers El Chicano and toured with Italian superstar Zucchero)

Whatever the style of music, the improvisation he first experienced in jazz plays a key role in his ongoing creativity. As he tells, “It’s always important. It’s absolutely important. The reason I keep as much room for solos is because improvisation is where everything grows, all new ideas.” 

To hear some of Brian Auger’s music  click on the link below for a two-part podcast saluting Mr. Auger’s artistry over the decades:

Throwing the Book at ‘Em: “Us Conductors”

us conductors - coverUS Conductors by Sean Michaels is inspired by the true story of Lev Sergeyvich Terman, a Russian inventor who led an incredible life. As Leon Theremin, he invented many electronic marvels and  was  the toast of  New York, He was also a Soviet spy during his time in the States and spent time in a Russian prison camp during the Stalinist era.

He is best remembered as the inventor of the theremin, a ghostly musical instrument that can be “played”  without touching it. I’m not a scientist so I won’t even attempt to explain how it works although you have heard its eerie strains if you have ever watched vintage sci-fi or horror flicks (usually accompanying the emergence of alien invaders slithering out of a spacecraft); watched Midsomer Murders ( the British TV mystery series – available in North America on Netflix or on DVDs from your local library – uses a theremin in producing its spooky theme music) or have heard the Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’ on classic rock radio ( challenging listeners to identify the instrument producing those eerie sounds.) Quoting from the book: “Raise the right hand first, toward the pitch antenna, and you will hear it: DZEEEEOOOooa shocked electric coo, steadying into a long hymn. Raise the left hand, toward the volume antenna, and you will quiet it. Move your hands again and the device will sing … that is the secret of the theremin, after all: your body is a conductor.”

The real Lev Termin and an early version of, the Theremin
The real Lev TermaCn and an early version of the Theremin

The best known and most proficient player of the theremin – apart from the inventor himself – was a New York musician of Lithuanian descent named Clara Rockmore.  She first met Mr. Terman as a teen-ager (her maiden name was Reisenberg) and, despite a number of proposals from Mr. Terman over the years, married NYC attorney Robert Rockmore. The book is in part a fictionalized account of the romance between Mr. Terman and Ms. Rockmore and partly how Mr. Terman (in the book) uses his love for Ms. Rockmore to keep his spirit alive during some devastatingly harsh years in Russian prison camps. (“You were wearing amber the night we first saw Duke Ellington. Today this memory is beside me.”) The author also writes about Mr. Terman’s early life in Russia. Throughout it all, the line blurs between fact and fiction. As Mr. Michaels says, tantalizingly, at the front of the novel “This book is mostly inventions”.

Sean Michaels has had a colorful life as well, to judge from the brief bio on the back cover of the novel. Born in Scotland and raised in Canada he has at various times been a blogger, a writer for magazines such as McSweeney’s and The Guardian and toured with rock bands. He is the current winner of the Scotiabank Giller Award, one of the most prestigious and lucrative of all Canadian literary awards.

Author Sean  Michaels accepts  the Giller Award
Author Sean Michaels accepts the Giller Award

Mr. Michaels’ musical experience shines through in his description of a Django-like guitarist “strumming his instrument as though he was shaking a secret loose.

Through the magic of Mr. Michaels’ evocative prose, it is  possible to visualize such legendary NYC hangouts as Harlem’s Cotton Club “where there were usherettes in pink hunting coats, and a band with a blind piano player, and coloured girls, dancing as if they had been listening to these songs all their lives.”

Mr. Michaels also take artistic licence with real figures from the New York social scene of that era. According to the novel, Terman`s house became quite a gathering place: While Tommy Dorsey explained his recipe for ‘Irish spaghetti sauce ‘, Jascha Heifetz would sit arguing with Mischa Elman about tremelo. Glenn Miller would lean by the stairway’s banister, flirting with every girl. Isabella Marx would use a different insult each time they crossed paths.  “You cur”, she said. “You rascal” “You wag.”

Mr. Terman’s time in New York ended under mysterious circumstances in 1938 when he was spirited back to the Soviet Union and somehow ended up in several Russian prison camps, each more brutal than the last. You’ll have to read the book to understand how this could happen under the Stalinist regime.  Mr. Michaels depicts this period in Mr.Terman`s life with such harrowing imagery that reading these passages is what I call ‘reverse escapism’ , in other words, I am glad I am not there.

Even in this somber part of the novel, there are memorable lines I like to quote: As the music rose up, it also vanished. Sometimes, it is like this, listening to music: the steady bars let you separate from your body, slip your skin, and you are standing beside the shuttering slides of memory. Shades of light, skies filled with cloud, old faces.”

Intriguing, romantic, vividly written and impeccably researched, Us Conductors is more than a novel – it is an experience. I wish I could say that I was looking forward to his next book. But I fear that having proved his point with his debut novel Sean Michaels may already be off to his next adventure.

us conductors - giller

KWIK KWOTES: Roger Angell on the Disposable Art of Blogging

Mr. Angell Made Me Do It!
Mr. Angell Made Me Do It!

“I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window.”

Roger Angell, from an essay entitled This Old Man” published in The New Yorker (Feb. 17,2014)

9 Things Destined to Die a Slow Death (Probably In Our Lifetime)

"Don‘t Tell Me! I Don‘t Wanna Hear It"

Your friendly neighborhood blogger has been detailing some of  the seismic changes going on in traditional media in this space for awhile now.

A recent email I received seems to crystallize the shifting nature of stuff many of us have taken for granted in our popular culture.

I have edited the content  for space (and attention spans)

Each of the institutions on the list below has an expiry date.

To quote the author (I tracked down the content to a site called Images Newsletter) “Whether these changes are good or bad depends in part on how we adapt to them. But, ready or not, here they come …

1.    Post Offices Email and Fed Ex are wiping out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of our mail these days is junk mail and bills.

2.    Cheques Plastic cards and online transactions will replace paper cheques. (Britain is making plans to dispense with checks by 2018.)

3.    Newspapers It is a sad fact for those of us who grew up reading (and, in my case, writing for) them but  newspapers as we know them are fated to die a lingering death. There is a whole generation out there who get their news online. The daily paper is something Mom and Dad read. Newspapers and magazines are already transitioning to online models with publishers  scrambling to develop an app for paid subscriptions.

4.    Books You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy. The price is usually less than that of a real book. And, according to the folks who compiled this list (all of whom obviously own an e-reader) “once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story and forget that you’re holding a gadget instead of a book.”

5.    Land Line Telephones Let`s face it. Most people with a land line phone simply keep it because, well, they’ve always had it. The rest of us traded in our land line phones for cellular models years ago.

6.    Music It is no secret that the music biz in its present form is in trouble. Unrestricted downloading is cutting into the bottom line of both record labels and artists. Mainstream radio formats and music video channels have become freeze dried, leaving the door open to more unconventional methods of exposing and developing new artists. Most of the CDs sold in stores are  ‘catalog items’, meaning old school favorites by established artists.

7.    Television. Network revenues have taken a dumper as more people (including this blogger) watch TV episodes streaming on their computers, play video games and/or do lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching the tube.

8.   The Stuff You Own. Savvy software owners can now store pictures, music, movies, and documents on the hard drive of their computers.   (Software is on CD or DVD, and can easily be re-installed.) That’s now. With Apple, Microsoft, and Google putting the finishing touches on so-called “cloud services”  the Internet will soon be built into the operating system of the computer. In other words,  Windows, Google, and Mac OS will be hotwired into the Net.  Click an icon and it will open something in the Internet cloud.  Save something and it will be saved to the cloud. (Note: You may pay a monthly  subscription fee to the cloud provider.)  In this  virtual world, a person can access his or her music, books and personal stuff from any laptop or handheld  device.

That’s the good news. However, the authors of the list have tacked  some sobering thoughts onto the list.

Will you actually own any of this stuff or will it all disappear at any moment in a big “Poof?”, they ask. “ Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical?  It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.”

And finally, there is this … the last item on the list ….

9. Privacy If ever there was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically it will be privacy, the authors warn, adding that already  there are cameras in the streets, in most buildings and built into computers and cel phones. You can be sure that 24 /7 `they` will know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS co-ordinates and  the Google Street View. If you buy something your habit is put into a zillion profiles.” And, the authors conclude, the ubiquitous `they` will try to get you to buy something else.  Again and again.

All we will have that can’t be changed are our memories.

Scary stuff!

“ R.I.P. Privacy “