BRIAN AUGER INTERVIEWED (2002): Still on fire, still rollin down the road

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BRIAN AUGER INTERVIEWED (2002): Still on fire, still rollin down the road

How's this as a measure of a man's modesty: it is only in the closing overs of a lengthy conversation that Brian Auger mentions in passing he plays on an album which is nominated for a Grammy in the contemporary jazz category.

And so, three decades after he took the sound of his rocking and swinging Hammond organ into the vanguard of jazz fusion, he is still on the cutting edge.

That alone would be remarkable enough, but London-born Auger has also found a new audience among people who weren't even born when he and Julie Driscoll recorded a swirling, psychedelic treatment of Bob Dylan's This Wheel's on Fire, a version of which is used as the theme to Absolutely Fabulous and has now, belatedly, become his signature tune.

Auger has had a remarkable career -- from playing jazz and blues in London in the early 60s (he contributed the harpsichord on the Yardbirds' For Your Love), through the paisley-coloured hippie years with Driscoll, and then on to a creditable career in the States, playing an amalgam of jazz and rock which became known as fusion.

brian1At the start of his career he had Jimi Hendrix open for him at the guitarist's London debut, in the middle years he was sharing stages with the likes of jazz luminaries Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, and now with drummer Dennis Chambers, bassist Buddy Brunel and guitarist Tony MacAlpine he's up for a Grammy with the album Cab 2 at the ceremonies in a fortnight in his adopted home town, Los Angeles.

At 62 and with a mid-Atlantic accent Auger still enjoys the itinerant lifestyle. After eight years in San Francisco there were two years back in Europe (his wife is from Sardinia so their three children spent a year in a school in Italy and speak and read fluent Italian), then home to London for a year, and eventually back to California.

All the while playing jazz fusion, recording albums and earning a fine reputation for his distinctive style of organ playing.

And it's a style which has caught on with the hip-hop and dance generation.

His music has been sampled by the likes of French hip-hopper Kid Loco and, probably thanks to Absolutely Fabulous, he is in demand at 60s-styled shows. Last December he played at a festival for Mods in Spain.

But he admits the revival of interest in his early work caught him by surprise.

"After about 15 years of not playing in England, a few years ago we were booked to play in London and I was stunned that this younger generation was turning up with my old vinyl records for me to sign and asking for tunes I hadn't played in 25 years.

"It was wonderful and flattering. What's been happening over the past two or three years has been a resurgence of 60s culture. We played a club in London recently where it was like an acid flashback, all the girls in Biba fashions and the guys in Italian mod suits."

To accommodate the interest Auger has progressively changed his set to include music from all points in his long career and with daughter Savannah on vocals he can reach back as far as material he recorded with his band Trinity in the early 60s, around the time he was voted best new jazz artist by Melody Maker.

And of course he will deliver This Wheel's on Fire with more authenticity than the version used for AbFab.

"I wasn't contacted about that at the time and what they'd done was, because they didn't want to pay for the original track or couldn't get a licence, they paid the musicians' session fees.

"Those people should have fired their managers. That show is making millions of pounds and they couldn't afford to throw a few pounds at the musicians? But that's the way this industry is.

"Of course I haven't seen much reaction to it in the States because the show had only a very small following there, but I was asked to recut it with the new band so we have that as a promotional single now."

brian2Not that Auger needs much help in the promotional department.

He has written himself into the history books alongside his heroes such as Jimmy Smith ("the gateway to all modern organ playing and a great influence on me"), helped to define a style of jazz and his albums with Oblivion Express are much sought after, had Rod Stewart in one of his earliest bands and counts among his friends and admirers an illustrious roll call of jazz giants.

And a week after he gets home he'll be holding his breath at the Grammys.

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