Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express w/ Special Guest Frank Gambale - 5/3/19Friday, May 03 2019 6pm Doors / 8pm Start
Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express w/ Special Guest Frank Gambale - 5/3/19
at City Winery The Wine Garden at City Winery
$30 In Advance & $35 At the Door
Brian Auger, the London born keyboard genius & musical pioneer, lauded and loved by everybody from Herbie Hancock to Mose Allison, from the Brand New Heavies to The Beastie Boys, whose tracks have been sampled by Mos Def, Common, Air and Kid Loco, and his original compositions covered by Sarah Vaughan, Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes and he is the proud recipient of a US Congressional Award For Services to Jazz!
For over fifty years, Brian Auger has been a musician’s musician. Jazz pianist, bandleader, session man, Hammond B3 innovator, and a 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 catalog that has won him legions of fans all over the world.
Playing in clubs, Auger won the Melody Maker jazz poll in 1964 and was now a known commodity in swingin’ London’s burgeoning music scene. Interestingly, this success in playing American music in Britain coincided with the British invasion in the US, and some jazz clubs started playing rock and roll, which also intrigued Brian. "I was kind of taken by the Beatles, it was kind of a phenomenon, you know," he remembers. . Auger was still more intrigued with technique, however, and, 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 session work. Upon arrival, he said "what do you want me to do?" and they said ‘We need an intro, and also a comp throughout the tune’ and I said fine, but where’s the organ?" They looked around the studio, but "they said "we don’t have an organ"—just a harpsichord. said ‘come on, you guys, you’ve got to be joking’ 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 whose 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, Brian’s exposure got a huge boost when he got a call from Long John Baldry (who had been on Beatles Christmas shows. John had seen him play in a club in Manchester with the organ trio, and asked Brian to put a band together. So Auger rounded up guitarist Vic Briggs, and John got Rod Stewart. Brian also recruited a young, mod singer named Julie Driscoll, telling John "why don’t we add Julie because there’s nothing else out there like this." Auger was attracted to the new band because of the wide range of influences. "Julie was a range of things from Nina Simone to Motown, where Rod was a mix of Chicago blues and Sam Cooke," Brian laughs. "Long John was straight Chicago blues or gospel, and we all sang backup on the stage for everybody else and it turned out to be a huge success."
In 1967 Brian Auger and the Trinity released their first album, Open in France, and the French just went crazy. "All of a sudden we were booked at the Montreux Jazz Festival as the headliner in 1968—no rock-jazz band had ever done that, these were pure jazz festivals. Following that, we got the Berlin Jazz Festival the same year—one of the most purists of all." Despite the crowd’s initial reaction being somewhat less than favorable, Auger’s incredible band won the crowd over, as well as many fellow musicians. Dizzy Gillespie, who was so impressed with Brian’s band he said, "‘hey man, you should come jamming with us.’ I figured he must have been kidding. I was totally in awe," Brian laughs.
The next album, Definitely What, was Brian’s solo album and was the same year that Brian and Julie’s hit "This Wheel’s On Fire" went to number one in England. After the success of "Wheel’s," the Trinity obtained a large following, particularly in Britain.
Streetnoise, the third album, was done in 1969 in preparation of Auger’s first US tour which was "a musician’s dream, especially if you’re a jazz [or R&B] musician, I never, ever, you know, imagined that I would be coming over to play in America," Brian fondly remembers. Creating their own works, along with a take on the Jose Feliciano version of "Light My Fire," it all fell together: To this day it is considered one of the Trinity’s finest albums, and contains a number of stand out tracks including a take on Richie Havens’ "Indian Rope Man," Miles Davis’ "All Blues," Laura Nyro’s "Save the Country" and "I’ve Got Life" from the musical Hair.
The euphoria of the American tour soon dissipated, however, when the manager’s mismanagement dealt Auger another blow upon returning from the U.S. He did one more album with the Trinity called Befour, which came out in 1970 before starting the new Oblivion Express. Versatile Jim Mullen asked to be the guitar player and Barry Dean was selected as bass player, with Robbie Macintosh (who later found fame with the Average White Band) as the drummer. Brian initially did the vocals, but ‘my voice never held up night by night" so we asked Alex Ligertwood to join us as lead singer. He joined up in ’71, after Oblivion had already done one album, A Better Land, so Ligertwood’s first album as vocalist for the Oblivion Express was Second Wind.
The band collapsed suddenly when Alex moved to Paris and MacIntosh was hired by AWB. "I was broke and I thought, I’ve got to go out to Europe, man," Auger remembers. "We had an agent out there, and I called him, and he said, ’sure, yeah, and we will get dates together for you.’ All of a sudden we got, Godfrey Maclean on drums and Godfrey asked if he could bring conga Lennox Laington to rehearsal. When I heard Lennox I immediately hired him."
Jack Mills appeared, and "Jack wasn’t as strong a solo player as Tim Mullen, but his rhythmic playing, his rhythmic ideas were just tremendous, and he fit straight in." Brian continues. The new line-up of Oblivion Express rolled into the 1970s, cutting Marvin Gaye’s "Inner City Blues," as well as originals "Light On the Path" and "Happiness Is Just Around the Bend" on the Closer To It album in 1973. Believing in his music, Brian contacted his agency to see if they could book a tour of America.. They could and as the band hit Cleveland, the Closer To It album broke on its own. 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 1976 and’ 77, Brian was voted the Number One Jazz organist in the world in Contemporary Keyboard magazine, largely behind the strength of his live playing with Oblivion Express. Visiting London in 1977, Auger invited Julie Driscoll to do an album, which became Encore After a year off, he did Planet Earth Calling after being approached by Head First Records.
From 1979 to 1983, Brian settled in California and took it easy for a while, taking music courses at Marin College and San Francisco State. It also gave him an opportunity to spend more time with his family, playing occasionally in local clubs. "People weren’t knocking the doors down at the time because punk and disco had suddenly come in, you know, and "anything that smacked of jazz, you can forget it," Brian remembers of the dreaded disco era. In the mid-80s, however, Brian toured Europe again, especially Italy and Switzerland, and released Keys to the Heart in 1987.
Brian would have been content touring Europe occasionally, but fate intervened once again. In ’89, he got a call from Eric Burdon (of the Animals), who "sounded like the Steampacket days all over again, you know, ‘I need someone to put a band together’," he recollects.
In 1993, Auger decided to leave Burdon and concentrate on his own music. In the mid to late 1990s, Auger formed his own family version of the Oblivion Express, with his children Karma on drums and Ali performing, as the lead vocalist, along with a bassist and guitarist Auger has selected. Before releasing Auger Rhythms. His first career retrospective, Brian toured Europe, where he drew large crowds at several jazz festivals, including a two-night gig at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival. And for fans in the States, Brian, and the revamped Oblivion Express have started touring all over America at clubs and festivals as well.
So the career of this most incredible man has come full circle. In so doing, Brian is always amazed at the undying affection his fans have for him and the body of work he’s created in nearly forty years of recording and touring. "It always amazes me," he laughs. " We’ll be playing in some small town in Europe and a small club or town hall. We’ll be loading in and doing sound check and I’m always a bit nervous that no one will show up. Then the sun goes down, and suddenly the hills are alive with the sound of my B3, and fans come out of the woodwork. Many have the old albums they want autographed."
There is no one on the planet quite like this amazing guy who still comes to a gig ready to play, and not just walk through a set of oldies, but inject his music with the fire and passion that only a true original brings to the bandstand or studio. Brian Auger is a true original, and we are fortunate to have him and his musical legacy as a vibrant part of today’s music scene.