Although Brian Auger has more than fifty years of music production experience, he is still on a journey. If evidence of this was required one need look no further than the two current projects with which he is involved (Brian Auger's Oblivion Express and Brian Auger Trinity featuring Savannah Grace) or of course to his current album, the excellent 'Language of the Heart'.
Listening to Auger throughout the interview, there is a distinct feeling that he is enjoying performing as much today as he has, with some of music's most accomplished musicians, over the past fifty years. The journey is not yet complete but, like the logo of the Express suggests, Auger is not content with simply sliding into his place in history. Rather, he is pulling into the station, wheels screeching and steam hissing, with a fine performance that will leave jazz aficionados breathless.
'Language of the Heart' nods and reflects a bit of that background, but also shoots forward with new sights in mind. Said Auger, "There was enough quiet and beauty around me when I walked the beach recently and it triggered a lot of music which I always thought was the language of the heart. I was listening to the language of my heart during those walks and the album is another page in my musical diary."
If 'Language of the Heart' is indeed another page in Auger's musical diary, there are literally tens of thousands more for music lovers to enjoy. Over his career, Auger has been a part of recordings and musical performances too numerous to mention yet, not surprisingly, has a story for each and every one of them. One such recollection illustrates Auger's place in music history.
"Chas Chandler of the Animals came to me one day" Auger told me. "Most of the major artists at the time knew one another and he tells me that his manager wants a guitarist named Jimi Hendrix to play in my band. I told him that I already had a guitarist but that I would be performing late night at the Cromwellian. We agreed to meet in-between one of my sets. Well, that night Clapton, Spencer Davis, Steve Winwood, Beck, and Alvin Lee were all there. That was the kind of normal crowd that used to assemble at these late night gigs. After the first set, I'm introduced to Hendrix and I asked him what he wanted to play. He lays out these sequences of chords and I told him to lay down a tempo and we'll go at it. He started to play and my jaw fell, I mean all of us fell to the floor, it was just so incredible. It was nothing we'd ever heard at the time. I heard that Clapton went home afterwards and was going to more or less give up playing."
Auger had one last shot of recording with Hendrix, just six months before his death. "I was recording and Hendrix was in the studio and he came in and we talked and he asked me to record an album with him. I said I had other contracts and couldn't do it. Then he takes out a piece of foil and snorts some heroin. He was pretty far gone by then. His skin was grey and I told him that stuff was no good for him. He said, you know Brian, I need more people around me like you."
One of Auger's fondest memories came during a performance at the legendary Fillmore East in New York City(commonly referred to as the 'Churchof Rock and Roll') in 1969. Auger recalls with a touch of nostalgia in his voice, "It was every English musician's dream to come to America and play. I couldn't believe I was playing in New York. That night we got two encores. Two encores were normally something that was reserved for my good friend Jimi Hendrix. I still have this picture in my mind, standing on stage, looking out on the audience, who were on their feet looking for another encore. I thought to myself "my God is this really happening? Pinch me, I must be dreaming."
There is a sense that Auger wants to tell more, share the literally thousands of stories from his musical journal. He's rifling through pages of his mental diary, telling one story after another in beautiful, rich detail that could fill the pages of a biography worthy of any read. It is hard to believe that the first instrument he ever learned to play, the piano, could lead him through such an incredible career. Yet, as 'Language of the Heart' comes back into focus, it is clear that Auger, who grew up playing jazz piano and was afforded the accolade of Melody Maker's best jazz piano player, has, of sorts, come back home.
"The music in my heart is always there. Sometimes I get to write it down and sometimes it is just ideas that I need to turn into music" Auger explained.
It might be the influences from early in his music career (he rushed out to purchase Jimmy Smith's 'Back of the Chicken Shack' when he heard his local record store playing it in 1963) that has allowed him to search inside himself for the recording of 'Language of the Heart'.
"I put down some solo work for Tea" Auger said. "They were producing a world music album titled 'Dreams' with artists from Africa. It started a working relationship with Phil Bunch and Franck Balloffet that led to them asking me if I would be interested in doing an album with them. They produced about fourteen backtracks and sent them to me. About half of them triggered immediate pictures for me."
For Brian Auger 'Language of the Heart' is not a career culmination. Neither is it a compilation of past success but rather the next chapter of a continuum that started more than fifty years ago and has a beat all its own.