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A Talk with Legendary B3 Man, Brian Auger

According to the All Music Guide, Brian Auger was raised in London, where he took up the keyboards as a child and began to hear jazz by way of the American Armed Forces Network and an older brother's record collection. By his teens, he was playing piano in clubs, and by 1962 he had formed the Brian Auger Trio with bass player Rick Laird and drummer Phil Knorra. In 1964, he won first place in the categories of "New Star" and "Jazz Piano" in a reader's poll in the Melody Maker music paper, but the same year he abandoned jazz for a more R&B-oriented approach and expanded his group to include John McLaughlin (guitar) and Glen Hughes (baritone saxophone) as the Brian Auger Trinity. This group split up at the end of 1964, and Auger moved over to Hammond B-3 organ, teaming with bass player Rick Brown and drummer Mickey Waller. After a few singles, he recorded his first LP on a session organized to spotlight blues singer Sonny Boy Williamson that featured his group, saxophonists Joe Harriot and Alan Skidmore, and guitarist Jimmy Page; it was Don't Send Me No Flowers, released in 1968.

With his hot new release, VOICES OF OTHER TIMES, we see Brian back on the top of the charts again. Brain does this release, "family style". Read on to see what we mean.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: During your childhood, what music did you listen to?

BRIAN AUGER: In my family, my father and mother liked light opera and some of the more popular concertos and arias. My older brother Jim listened primarily to jazz-- Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Lionel Hampton, Mugsy Spanier, Bunny Berigan, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, George Shearing, Benny Goodman And Many Others. My older sisters listened to Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Glen Miller and other artists. There was a lot of great music going on around me. Then, my father kept a player piano on which I learned to play by playing along with the piano rolls in his collection an octave above the melodies. This began when I was three years old. Dad had many operas, concertos, and ragtime piano rolls and so I must have assimilated a lot of music in my formative years. By the time I was nine, I could, for instance, play Rossini's William Tell overture and I would open the downstairs bay windows and my pals would sit on the windowsills while I held forth!

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Did you listen to much radio as a child? Any shows in particular?

BRIAN AUGER: We did not have a television service in England until the early 50s, so radio was a big attraction. I always listened to the Goon show, the radio forerunner of Monty Python, Journey Into Space, an early BBC space adventure program, and when I was about ten years old my brother Jim passed down to me his old Superheterodyne Ferguson radio. While dialing around the stations one weekend at about one o' clock in the morning, I heard the stirring words, "This is the American forces network in Germany, we present the jazz hour." What followed was the most extraordinary selection of music that kept me up late at night and got me grounded many times when my enthusiasm would get the best of me and I would turn the volume up too loud and wake up mum and dad who were not amused.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Were you raised in a musical family?

BRIAN AUGER: Dad played a little piano and always managed to keep a piano in the house, although resources were slim, and our house was destroyed around us by German bombs in 1944 just before my 5th birthday. My brother Jim dabbled a little on piano and my sister Daphne sang. Mum and dad really enjoyed music but I was the only one to be taken by its power.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Were there any childhood influences?

BRIAN AUGER: Mainly the ones I mentioned earlier, but when I first heard Oscar Peterson on AM, I was so amazed by his technique and sense of swing that I tried to play like him, or at least to swing like him.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Was there any specific event in your life that made you decide that music would be the path you would follow?

BRIAN AUGER: Being a musician was not a ''Real" profession in the UK in the 50s and early 60s. We were recovering from World War II and having won a scholarship to one of the best grammar schools in London, it was impressed upon me, and I’m sure on most young students to study hard and get a really good job. I worked for six years in business and denied any thoughts of being a musician. Then my dad passed away in 1963 and this was a watershed for me. I was playing in jazz clubs every night and I realized that I was much happier playing. I decided to take the plunge and never looked back.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: What musical instrument did you play when you were young? Were you naturally drawn to it, or were you sent to school to learn it.?

BRIAN AUGER: I played piano and because I was not expected to earn a living doing that, I was not sent to school and taught myself by listening to records. Exposure to music at an early age is so important to the future development of a person. The most important thing I learned was that my brother would play Duke Ellington or Stan Kenton and I could not understand some of this music, but the more I heard the piece, the more I came to be able to pick out a phrase, and finally to be able to appreciate the whole piece. This was a revelation to me. I knew that when listening to music that I might not understand it until I had heard it several times. When I finally knew the piece I could decide if I liked it or not. As a young kid this was like having a magic power, and obviously was an expansion of my consciousness.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: What is it about the piano and the Hammond B3 that has inspired you through the years?

BRIAN AUGER: I have been playing piano since I was three and so it has been my friend and inspiration throughout my life. The B3 was an instrument that I immediately felt at home with, and always has provided it's rich powerful and exciting sound that made it possible to play across the styles of jazz, rock, R&B, funk and blues, and to fuse these elements into a modern style of my own music.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Who are you favorite pianist /organist in any style of music?

BRIAN AUGER: I would say, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Victor Feldman, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, Horace Silver, Bill Evans, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Richard Groove Holmes, Larry Young, and Jimmy McGriff.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Who are you favorite musicians of any style?

BRIAN AUGER: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, Klaus Ogerman, and Jimi Hendrix.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: If you had to choose your top 10 desert island recordings, what would they be?

BRIAN AUGER: I would choose Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, My Funny Valentine by Miles Davis. A Love Supreme, Africa Brass, Ballads by John Coltrane. Cannonball Adderley’s Live At The Lighthouse. Donny Hathaway Live. Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace and Steely Dan’s Aja.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Miles Davis's various groups and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers were known as training schools for young aspiring Jazz artists. Your bands have been known to feature young talent as well. What are your views on keeping this tradition alive?

BRIAN AUGER: It has always been important to me to pick new talent for my bands, and to see that talent develop. In this way I have had the pleasure of working with Robbie McIntosh, Steve Ferrone, Clive Chaman, Alex Ligertwood and others who have gone on to play with Average White Band, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Chaka Khan and Santana. Imagine then what a great and added pleasure it is for me now to have my son, Karma and my daughter, Savannah in The Express and getting better every time out. Also we are recording my eldest daughter, Ali, who loves Sarah Vaughn, and we are making an album of standards, with me playing piano, Karma playing drums and producing, Dan Lutz our bass player from The Express on upright bass, and a great new trumpet discovery, Larry Williams.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: How did Steampacket come about? Was Rod Stewart the first choice as vocalist?

BRIAN AUGER: Early in 1965, just after I started to play organ, long John Baldry saw me playing with the first organ trinity. He asked me to meet with his manager. At this meeting he asked if I would put together and run a band for him. He was a household name in the UK at that time. He wanted to include his protégé Rod Stewart with whom I had jammed several times. I agreed, but suggested that they consider adding Julie Driscoll. Julie and I had the same manager; I had met her when I was called to play on a couple of her singles, and she was waiting to get out on the road with a band. John agreed this was a good idea as there was nothing like this group on the scene. I kept Mickey Waller on drums, Rick Brown on bass and added Vic Briggs on guitar, who later went to the Animals.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Did you ever play the legendary Marquee club on Wardour Street in London? So many bands from the Kinks to the Who played there during their careers. Describe what was so special about that club.

BRIAN AUGER: Many times. The Marquee Club presented bands right across the musical spectrum. I played there accompanying the bebop legend Babs Gonzales, then with Sonny Boy Williamson, opposite the Ted Heath Big Band, finally certain bands had their own night of the week. Steampacket, Spencer Davis, The Who, The Move and any visiting American blues, jazz, and R & B artists. It was a very eclectic atmosphere.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Any nonmusical influences that have inspired you throughout the years?

BRIAN AUGER: The boys of the Royal Air Force who prevented Adolph Hitler from invading Great Britain. The generation that fought on the beaches of Normandy on D-day. The generation of Americans whose generosity and courage helped us to liberate Europe. Mahatma Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, Lech Walensa, Nelson Mandela, Joseph Campbell, Sri Satya Sai Baba and a cast of thousands.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Outside of music what are your passions in life?

BRIAN AUGER: My family!

JAZZREVIEW.COM: You are fortunate to have musical children. When did you first notice that they would be musically inclined?

BRIAN AUGER: I first noticed the kids at an early age liked music that I was playing. Savannah would react, at the age of two, to Weather Report with ooohs and aahs to the track mysterious traveler. Also she liked the Brecker Brothers sneakin' up behind you, and would get up and dance when I put this track on. Karma played piano from about 4 years old, and when he was 8, he made his musical debut playing Sister Sadie at Keystone Berkeley with myself Paul Jackson, Mike Clark and Ho Young Kim on guitar. Ali has always sung with a clear, powerful and tuneful voice. In her teens she found Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway and her idol, Sarah Vaughn. Her upcoming album is going to knock your socks off.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: How did the recording of your latest release "Voices Of Other Times" come about?

On, Voices of Other Times for three years I tried different musicians until I arrived at the present lineup. Karma on drums, Savannah on vocals, Dan Lutz on bass, Chris Clermont on guitar. I then started to write and assemble material with Karma's help. The new album is the result. I am very happy about the album and I am having the best play of my life with this band.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: What advice can you share with up and coming musicians about what have you learned in terms of music and the music industry?

BRIAN AUGER: Never allow the record label or record producers to gain control over the artistic decisions concerning your music. They can advise you, but you should always be free to make the final decision. This may result in some confrontations! If you intend to play for the long run, music must be your passion. Follow your heart. Try to get better every day. Learn to hang in there during the tough times. Live simply. If you earn a lot of money, save some for the lean times. Learn all you can about the business, about record royalty, music publishing and how to read a contract. Remember, you are going to sign it, not the lawyer. If you make a mistake, learn by it and don't spend a lot of energy complaining. Most important of all, be positive under all circumstances and above all-- be kind to everyone without exception.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Musically is there anything you haven't done yet?

BRIAN AUGER: The thing about music, and indeed all the arts, is that you are never going to know everything. The more you learn the bigger the vista that opens in front of you and the more you come into contact with the infinite. I would love to write a world mass and perform it with a full orchestra and chorus. I would like to make a modern big band album. I would like to try my hand at some film scoring. I look forward to the next Oblivion album, and touring with the band. I still love to play live.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: When composing where do you draw your inspiration from?

BRIAN AUGER: Sometimes I think that there is a parallel universe out of which all creativity flows. If we can quiet our internal chatter and tune in our receiver to the right frequency, creative ideas come through. I have often in the middle of a solo realized that my hands are playing, and had time to ask myself who is actually playing! Your question is a difficult one to answer.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: The '60's were an interesting decade. How did the '60's affect your life? In other words, what was it about the 60's that you found interesting?

BRIAN AUGER: I feel very privileged to have been a musician and to have experienced the 60s. In the UK for the first time young people in the music, fashion, and art worlds gained power and overturned the old stuffy image of the englishman. New ideas were sought after. A generation came of age and for a time the message of brotherhood and sisterhood across the planet had wings. A wonderful atmosphere existed for a time. Race, class and creed barriers were seen to be unimportant as a new pop culture driven by music and didactic lyrics established itself around the world. It proved the awesome power of music and the arts for radical yet peaceful change. I think that after Woodstock however, the corporate world began to control the music industry and things began to change. But it was a great moment and I hope it may come again. I still believe its message to be valid-- there is only one caste- the caste of humanity there is only one language--the language of the heart there is only one religion-- the religion of love there is only one god -- and he is everywhere

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  • Artist / Group Name: Brian Auger
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