Payin' Dues: Brian Auger

Brian Auger honed his craft in Steampacket, an R&B revue featuring Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart and Julie Driscoll, then the Brian Auger Trinity, before helming his Oblivion Express, which sees the release of Live In Los Angeles featuring Alex Ligertwood on vocals this month. A best-of, The Brian Auger Anthology is also issued.

What are your musical memories? My dad had a piano, I’d stand on the pedals when I was three, hang on to the underneath of the keyboard and pedal like mad. From the piano rolls, I learned to pick out tunes on the top octave.

The Cottage Club in London was pivotal in your musical education. I was set to go to university, but my father got ill and I had to look after the family. I was 18, I started work at a print house and two weeks into the job a guy asked me to play a gig with him at the Cottage Club in Litchfield Street. That’s how it started. You could drink there until 1am, so all the musicians would finish their gigs then make a beeline there. Billie Holiday came down, Count Basie’s band, Duke Ellington’s band. I played there for two years.

Rod Stewart was dressed to the nines

Jimmy Smith was important… I was a jazz snob, I played piano in my own trio, then I heard Jimmy Smith’s Back At The Chicken Shack. I was walking past WG Stores in Shepherd’s Bush market, they had these huge speakers outside and it sounded so hip and I got to thinking maybe I should buy a Hammond; then [promoter] Rik Gunnell called me up, frantic. Georgie Fame was due to play the Roaring Twenties and he’d been in Cornwall, fallen asleep on the beach, got sunstroke and was carted off to hospital. I got roped in to cover, played his M1 organ, continued on after that. This was 1964.

You played with Rod Stewart… Yes, with Long John Baldry. I was playing at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel in 1965, John was in the crowd, said he needed a new band. He said he had a protégé, Rod Stewart. I knew him from Carnaby Street, he was always dressed to the nines. I’d played with Julie Driscoll on her early recordings, she could really sing, so we became Steampacket. When they disintegrated, I formed the Trinity with Julie. We had a hit with This Wheel’s On Fire in 1968, then I formed the Oblivion Express.

You’re still in them today. I love it, I can’t imagine doing anything else. A wonderful way to spend your life.

The Brian Auger Anthology and Live In Los Angeles are out now on Freestyle.