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 hit-channel.com, “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: