THE BRIAN AUGER INTERVIEW
A Jimi Hendrix Record Guide Exclusive!
Updated - January 2013 - see blue panel.
I recently contacted the legendary keyboard wizard Brian Auger, who was back at home base after a successful European tour with his Oblivion Express (still going strong!) and he kindly agreed to let me interview him about the times he spent with Jimi, way back in the "swinging sixties".
Anyone who has read a Hendrix biography will know that Brian comes into the story at a crucial stage. Right after flying to London with Chas Chandler in September 1966, Jimi got the chance to get quickly integrated into the British music scene thanks to the generosity of Brian who was touring the clubs to create a buzz about his own new band: Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll And The Trinity. This outfit had grown out of the embers of The Steampacket, after their two male vocalists (Rod Stewart and Long John Baldrey) had quit to persue other paths. Julie Driscoll however stayed beside Brian on vocals, and the two found the formula which would bring them great success. It was with this new group that Brian generously agreed to let the unknown Jimi Hendrix sit in, helping him to gain exposure.
It was at the infamous jam that French superstar Johnny Hallyday and his management saw Jimi and offered him a place on Johnny's imminent mini tour of the north of France, culminating in the "Musicorama" show at the Paris Olympia in October 1966. Chas quickly recruited a rhythm section for Jimi in order to fulfil these engagements and The Jimi Hendrix Experience were born.
Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll & The Trinity - 1966
L to R: Brian, Clive Thacker, Roger Sutton (later replaced by Dave
Ambrose), Gary Boyle (who replaced Vic Briggs), Julie Driscoll.
Photo from Brian's site - link below
I began by asking Brian how he had been approached by Chas Chandler in September of 1966, shortly after Jimi's arrival in London.
Brian said that one day, Chas summoned him to his office because he had a proposition:
Brian Auger: I already knew Chas and Mike Jeffrey of course. He (Jeffrey) was somebody who I really didn't like, in fact to put it bluntly, I thought he was an out and out crook. I didn't really want to have anything to do with him. Anyway, I went up and Chas explained that he had brought over this fantastic guitar player and that he wanted Jimi (in fact he didn't even tell me the guy's name), to front my band! As you can imagine, I'd just put The Trinity together, I had an idea of what I wanted to do, and the road I wanted to persue, and my answer to that was, well, a couple of things Chas, you tell me he's a blues player (that was all we knew at the time) and I've just put my band together and I have somebody fronting my band and that's Julie Driscoll, and I also have a guitar player, Vic Briggs. Are you suggesting that I fire both those people and install your guitar player who I haven't even heard?"
Well, I said you can't do that but if you want to present him to the "who's who" of the London scene, here's a club I'll be playing in a couple of days. The phrase sticks in my mind, "Look, If you want this guy to sit in with us we will be playing at The Cromwellian this Friday" (which was only a couple of days after this meeting).
Jim: Was Chas always this pushy about things?
Brian: Well no, he was a very nice guy, he wasn't being pushy or anything, I think he was jumping up and down about Jimi, which is…I mean when I heard Jimi play I thought, "Wow!", you know, he was correct, but it just came right at the time when I'd put the band together. If I'd had been floating around it might have been a different kind of situation. So I said, well what I can do is, on this coming Friday (this was probably around Monday or Tuesday in the week), I'm playing at The Cromwellian Club. This was one of these little clubs on Cromwell Road, very well known, where all the faces from the scene would assemble and I used to play there regularly. A lot of people would come and sit in with me because I was coming off the jazz scene and I could probably play just about anything that anybody wanted to play. So I said, why don't you bring Jimi down and he can sit in with my band, and he obviously thought it was a way to show him in front of the whole scene.
Jim: Did you invite Jimi to come to many gigs or was it just the one?
Brian: No, at that particular time, that was the one gig…that was that, but what it lead to after, when I heard him and everything, was an invitation, like …wherever we're playing, if you want to come and join us, there's no problem.
Jim: And he did take you up on that ?
Brian: He certainly did and he came to Blaises, Scotch Of St. James, The Bag Of Nails, several places around there, just before he put his own band together.
Jim: Are you sure the first jam was at The Cromwellian ?
Brian: It was The Cromwellian, yes.
Jim: Some say it was Blaises, and I think Vic Briggs said he was convinced that it was The Scotch Of St. James!
Brian: Yeah, but it wasn't. I'm afraid Vic kind of rewrites history a bit, (chuckles) but it wasn't The Scotch Of St. James, it was The Cromwellian. I have a mental picture of Jimi being introduced to me and looking out across the stage at the staircase that goes up from upstairs to the first level of The Cromwellian. We definitely played at Blaises but that was later.
Anyway, he came down to The Cromwellian and Chas introduced him to me in the break and he seemed like a very nice guy. He asked me if he could sit in and I said absolutely, yeah, what would you like to play ? Jimi showed me a chord sequence and said, can you play this ? And I said yeah, it's pretty straight forward, and it turned out to be the chord sequence for "Hey Joe"!
Jim: …which you'd never heard ?
Brian: I'd never heard "Hey Joe", this was my first trial run. So I said OK, give a tempo and let's play. When he started to play, this was like, we were all shocked! Most of the British guitar players at the time, although they were pretty famous, in their playing you could still hear their influences which were basically a lot of American players like B.B. King, Freddie King, and Albert King, Albert Collins and Muddy Waters, but Jimi was a unique voice as far as I was concerned, I'd never heard anything quite like that.
Jim: Just from the moment he set off? Even if he was just playing rhythm or the introduction to the song, straight away ?
Brian: Yeah, just straight in, you know, he just played the chord sequence around and then he started improvising and we all kind of went, oh gee ! I enjoyed the hell out of that. Apparently, I think Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck were there, and Albert Lee was there as were certain other guitar players, Spencer Davis Group were there,… all sorts of people.
Jim: You haven't got a tape of that have you ?
Brian: I wish I had (laughs). At the time if we had the kind of technology and recording capabilities that we have today, there would have been some amazing things going on. I can only describe it in words.
Jim:You played "Hey Joe", what else did you play?
Brian: I can't think of anything else. I think we played just straight kinda blues stuff.
Jim: Just improvising with no vocals apart from "Hey Joe" ?
Brian: No, he wasn't singing at the time! Later on, Chas told me that he had to talk to Jimi and say "Look, you're going to have to sing!". Then all of a sudden he found his voice and eventually made his first album, of which he gave me a copy to check out (I've still got it actually), and he said "Hey Brian, listen to this and tell me what you think." I put it on and there was so much going on in terms of the production and the playing that I had to put it on twice to try and get the overall scope of it all. It was like "Oh man! ", definitely something new.
Jim: When you played these jams, was Johnny Hallyday there one night ?
Jim: There's a story that Hallyday was there and he asked if Jimi could be on the Olympia date of October 66.
Brian: This is very strange because I don't remember Johnny Hallyday being there at all. I'd have to check what the dates were on that record that he made. He made an album including "Got To Get You Into My Life" (recorded with French lyrics as "Je Veux Te Graver Dans Ma Vie"), Beatles stuff, but I was unaware that he was in England at that time. (That Beatles song was recorded with Brian on keyboards during Hallyday's summer '66 sessions at Olympic Studios - Jim).
Jim: We're talking September '66 here yeah ?
Jim: Because all the books say that Johnny was down in this club and he saw The Trinity and Jimi was there jamming, and he approached Jimi to say, could you be on my short tour of France? But you don't remember it that way ?
Brian: I don't remember that and I would have definitely known if Johnny he had been around. I don't remember him being there. Who knows man, it's a long time ago and I was on stage playing but I would have seen Johnny in the club, I mean he's hard to miss.
Jim: It is said that it was at Blaises in fact.
Brian: Well, we definitely played at Blaises and Jimi definitely came and sat in with us and also at The Bag O' Nails, Scotch Of St. James,…
Jim: And The Kilt perhaps… (which is where Kathy Etchigham said she was sitting next to Hallyday)
Brian: I don't remember playing at The Kilt. I remember them opening it. I know the club, I think it was owned by the same guys that owned The Scotch Of St. James. We may have been there, but I don't want to tell you something that I can't remember. These people may have seen us but I think it was after The Cromwellian. Every time I say "The Cromwellian", people sort of jump up and down (laughs).
The Kilt/Cromwellian/Scotch/Blaises muddle
Trying to clearly remember events that happened 40 years earlier, especially during a period when things were moving so fast and with such excitement, is obviously not easy. From the various accounts of the people who were there we are still not 100% sure of exact series of events.
There would seem to be several different things going on here: the first meeting of Jimi and Johnny Halliday's entourage, the first meeting with Brian Auger & Trinity and the infamous Blaises jam.
In the Saturday 1 October 1966 issue of Melody Maker it only lists the Blaises gig for The Trinity on the Thursday 29th:
Brian later came back to me about the Hallyday/Blaises/Cromwellian mystery saying this:
Brian: Presumably Jimi would have joined us to jam on the second set as usual. If Johnny came in, it would be possible that I was already on stage. After the gig I had to help remove my Hammond from the club and so I could have missed him, during that busy time. The fact that I don't remember seeing him does not mean that I think he was not present, in fact I believe the books are correct, and he definitely was. In any case we are discussing something that occurred some forty odd years ago and while many details are clear in my mind, this one is not. I'm sure that Johnny would never invent something like this and so I must extend to him, (along with my very best wishes), the benefit of the doubt, and to reiterate that I believe he and Lee Hallyday were indeed present.Very recently (January 2013) Kathy Etchingham had this to say in response to questions by fellow Hendrix researchers Yazid Manou and Maurice Tarlo (brumepourpre website). I sent Kathy's comments to Vic Briggs, who's replies I include:
Kathy Etchingham: "The Brian Auger Trinity were the house band at the Cromwellian where I used to be the DJ."
Vic Briggs: "Well, no. We played the Cromwellian – and the Scotch – quite often, maybe once every other week. But most of the time we were on the road with the Steam Packet."
Kathy Etchingham: "I'm sure it was the Cromwellian on 29/9. I was there. I think what happened was that Chas and Jimi and I were at Le Kilt Club and met Johnny Hallyday and Chas told him to go to the Cromwellian later that evening to see Jimi jam with Brian Auger. Hallyday may have come to the Cromwellian that night to see him. I didn't remember Johnny Hallyday very well and didn't pay much attention because I didn't know who he was - he was completely unknown in England (that's why he was at Le Kilt which was a French club like Die Fledermaus.)
Chas was keen on the idea of working in France because Jimi still didn't have a work permit for England and that's why he latched onto Johnny Hallyday. He still hadn't got the Experience together but worked on it very quickly. The Trinity may have gone to Blaises the next week but it was the Cromwellian that night. People used to get the two clubs mixed up because they were both out of the centre in South Kensington."
Vic Briggs: This is going to be my final word on the night (Wednesday September 28th, 1966) that Jimi Hendrix was introduced to Brain Auger and myself and jammed with Brian and the Trinity at the Scotch of St. James Club in London. I see no reason to rehash this any more.
If other people have different opinions that’s up to them. I am 100% certain of what I saw that night and, more importantly, where I saw it.
In my interview with Vic Briggs (link at bottom of page), he also insisted that the first meeting with Jimi happened at The Scotch Of St. James.
Vic had a clear memory of seeing Jimi for the very first time at the Scotch, standing at the bottom of the stairs opposite the stage. He said that at the Cromwellian, the stairs were not visible from the stage. This seemed to clinch it but Kathy contradicts him saying:
Kathy Etchingham: "You can see the top of stairs from the stage but then the people coming down the stairs from the ground floor (first floor american) are temporarily hidden by the DJ booth and a wall before they come round the end into the main part of the disco. He would have been able to see them.
The Scotch has nothing to do with it. That was earlier."
Vic Briggs: "I would agree (with Kathy about the stairs), however you will remember Brian’s comment. He talks about seeing the stairs “ACROSS FROM THE STAGE.” The Cromwellian stairs were at the other end of the room.
Kathy should know because she was one of the Cromwellian DJs at the time. Also, in her book, Kathy explains that "Le" Kilt was frequented by many French people so that would one of the reasons that Hallyday was there (probably to relax after his long day in the studio with Giorgio Gemelsky - see below).
Jimi had of course played at the Scotch earlier as Kathy states: on the night of his arrival in London (September 24th - brief solo demonstration performance); and then three nights later on September 27th for an impromtu jam with The V.I.P.s (who along with The Animals were managed by Mike Jeffrey!).
Chas Chandler: "Jimi sat in one night with Brian Auger at Blaises, and French pop star Johnny Halliday was in the audience. He wanted us for a French tour which finished up at the Paris Olympia" (New Musical Express 16/11/1968).
The intrepid Hendrix investigator Yazid Manou contacted Giorgio Gomelsky to get his side of the story.
Giorgio Gomelsky: "Johnny Hallyday" had come to London to record and I was producing the record. After the studio I took them to Blaises, a club in South Kensington my company was handling public relations for and where every Thursday, Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll (who I was managing) were playing. Their performance always ended up in a sort of jam session with many of the relevant musicians in London at the time; people like Jeff Beck, Stevie Winwood, Eric Clapton and many others participated regularly.
The club was in the basement and as we were descending I thought Eric and Jeff were playing together, which somewhat surprised me. So when we got to the basement I immediately checked up who was playing the guitar like the devil himself and there was this black person I had never seen... I was totally spellbound 'cause he was letting go of incredible phrases, had a lot of original and effective technique and generally put out a hell of a good sound.
I took Johnny Hallyday and his group to the restaurant and they settled down to a meal. Chas Chandler (whom I knew from The Animals times) was also sitting there and I asked him if by any chance he knew who the musician was and then he told me his story... I was knocked out! I went back into the music room and listened some more. Then I returned to the restaurant and told Lee Hallyday, who was managing Johnny at the time, he should get this guy for Johnny's 'comeback' tour he was planning for the autumn. I introduced him to Chas and the deal was set up there and then, immediately.
I was very glad to have been able to help, because Jimi Hendrix's playing was truly amazing and his talent was way past challenging"
Giorgio went on to say:
"Brian played the Cromwellian either before or after Blaises. Johhny Hallyday (and myself) were not at the Cromwellian and neither was Brian as far as I know. I was producing Johhny Hallyday and we got out of the Studio around 11pm after which I took the French gang to Blaises to have a meal. I don't know what the scene at The Cromwellian was but there wasn't a restaurant big enough to receive the whole French team and I had no clue Hendrix was meeting Brian there.
Vic Briggs: All I can say here is that from the press clipping we played Blaise’s on the 29th. I don’t remember that gig at all but I can assure you, if Jimi had shown up, I would have remembered.
One notes here that Johnny Halliday himself does not seem to be a key player in the decision to take Jimi on the tour. It was apparently a meeting of minds between Chandler, Gomelski and Lee Hallyday. As soon as Jimi became famous, Johnny Hallyday enjoyed telling the press about how he had "discovered" Jimi Hendrix in a London club and offered him a place on his tour.
As detailed above, Kathy remembers that Chas and Jimi met Halliday at Le Kilt. Giorgio's reaction :
"I doubt that as I don't remember The Kilt, I never visited that place and dragging 15 Frenchmen around in London was not my job!! Besides after Blaises Johnny went to bed, he was tired, been at the studio since 11am!!! SO it might be possible that Brian met Jimi at The Cromwellian first and later played with him at Blaises. Those 2 clubs were just a block from eachother."
So from what we can gather, I think this is actually what happened:
Saturday 24 Sept - Jimi arrives in London and in the evening plays a brief solo performance (no vocals) at the Scotch of St. James club.
Monday 26 Sept - Scotch of St. James: in his book "Jimi Hendrix - 50 Years On: The Truth", Rod Harrod (who was the manager of the club) insists that it was this night that Jimi jammed with The VIPs.
Wednesday 28 Sept - Scotch of St. James: the barman tell Vic Briggs about this amazing black guitarist with wild hair who had played there with The VIPs on the previous night (he must have said "the other night"). Chas walks in and introduces Jimi to Brian and his band who are there (without Julie Driscoll) for a warm-up gig before the important (and press anounced) Blaises date the following night. They let Jimi jam with them and Brian is very impressed and agrees to let Jimi appear at the Blaises gig.
Thursday 29 Sept - While having a drink at The Kilt Club before going to Blaises, Jimi and Chas meet Johnny Halliday (and not yet Gomelski apparently). Later in the evening at Blaises, Brian introduces Jimi to the crowd for a jam after the interval - Chas meets the enthusiastic Gomelski and seals the deal for the brief tour Halliday of France with Jimi as one of the support acts.
In a 2015 Mojo interview, Dave Gilmore remembered this about how he first saw Jimi: “I saw him playing live at this club called Blaises in South Kensington. He jammed with the Brian Auger Trinity with Julie Driscoll singing,”
Back to the interview:
Jim: So on these London club gigs, did you come on first, did you introduce Jimi as a guest, or did he come out with you straight away for each gig?
Brian: No, generally what happened was, as you are playing, either he would wait until the second set and just step in and play. It was a very casual thing.
I remember at Blaises one night, he just sat in with us while we were getting our gear out and his girlfriend came to us…there were four South African white guys and they didn't like it when Jimi got up on stage, they'd had a few to drink aswell. Then Jimi was about to go up the stairs (it was a downstairs club) and these guys were waiting for him at the top of the stairs, shouting all sorts of nasty racial stuff. So Jim's girlfriend came running in saying "Brian, Brian, Jimi's in trouble. Can you give him a hand". So we grabbed our roadie and a few other people and assembled around Jimi at the foot of the stairs and looked up at these guys and said "What's happening ?" and told tham to clear off, which they did fortunately because these were very big guys.
As I say, at these jam sessions it wasn't only Jimi, other people would come and sit in sometimes. I can remember at the time, one jam at The Scotch Of St. James, Chas Chandler on bass, Mickey Waller on drums, Eric Clapton playing guitar, myself and Stevie Winwood singing…it was so off-the-cuff and there were a lot of jams going on like that all the time.
Jim: When you were doing these jams in London, Georgio Gomelsky must have already booked the Paris Olympia. Were you aware that the Olympia was coming up, while you were doing these club jams?
Brian: Not really no. Not when we played The Cromwellian anyway. Later on, I would have been informed.
Brian then went on to talk about the connection with Johnny Halliday:
Brian: Julie and I went to France at one point in '66 with The Steampacket. We were actually in San Tropez and we got a call from Johnny Halliday. He had seen us and wanted us to play on his record. He was making an album and was going to come to England to do that. So I met Johnny and this is the connection between the Johnny Halliday thing and myself.
Georgio Gomelsky was the manager of the Trinty and the sound engineer on the Olympic Studios sessions for the Johnny Halliday album "La Génération Perdu" on which Brian had played. Some sessions were done in late August/early September and final recordings began the day after the Blaises jam with Jimi. The album was released the day after the gig at l'Olympia.
Gomelsky was also the stage director for the concert at l'Olympia.
(Photo credit: Jean-Claude Monet/Serge Mayer/Yazid Manou)
The very first photo of The Jimi Hendrix Experience !
They are believed to be pictured outside the Grand Hôtel in Nancy.
Johnny Halliday, Chas Chandler, Jimi Hendrix - Nancy (?) 1966
(A short film of this scene exists with Jimi and Johnny competing to blow the best smoke rings).
Jim: Did you play on the three or four dates in France before the Olympia ?
Brian: No, I didn't do any of those. The Olympia thing we did and we were already pretty strong in France. We'd done arenas in the south of France, in Frejus and along the south coast. I think we did about three huge concerts in the summer of '66 with Johnny Halliday. We had a great time.
Jim: I sent you a photo from Olympia 66 and we see you on stage. Jimi's there, and everyone is on stage together. Was that the climax of your set or Johnny's set ?
Brian: Yeah thank you very much, I didn't have those photos. I think that was the climax of the evening, like an encore jam.
Jim: A bit like Sunday Night At The London Palladium. (A successful variety show on British TV in the 1960's - Jim)
Brian: Yeah, it was one of those where Johnny invited everyone on stage and said "Let's Rock" you know.
Jim: No idea what you were playing there ?
Brian: I have no idea.
You know, the Parisien audience was a pretty tough crowd. They would bring vegetables and tomatoes,…and if they didn't like you they would hurl this stuff at you on the stage. I watched Jimi play and they absolutely loved him. and I thought, wow, this guy's going to be a huge star.
Anyway, that was kind of the start of my friendship with Jimi which went along for quite a while.
L'Olympia, Paris, October 18, 1966 - Julie Driscoll takes the front of the stage and behind, Jimi is flanked by Chris (a.k.a Long Chris) on acoustic guitar and Mickey Jones (future Foreigner, on tamborine here). The dancers were The Ralph Tobert Mod'Dancers.
…and Brian Auger on keyboards (extreme left)
Olympia 66 photos: Jean-Louis Rancurel
Check out the programme of the evening here.
Photos of Halliday on stage that night here.
This rare Halliday CD features his October 66 performance at l'Olympia.
Johnny, like Jimi was quick to adopt the latest fashion of military jackets as can be seen from this January 67 French magazine cover.
The Johnny Halliday, Long Chris, Blackburds & The Jimi Hendrix Experience tour dates:
Thursday 13 October 1966 - Novelty cinema, Evreux
Friday 14 October 1966 - Le Rio cinema, Nancy
Saturday 15 October 1966 - Salle des fêtes, Villerupt
Tuesday 18 October 1966 -l'Olympia, Paris, where Brian Auger & The Trinity are added to the bill.
A Luxembourg date has been listed in some books but no proof has been found that it took place. It would have been a Sunday which sheds more doubt. In fact Villerupt is very close to Luxembourg so that must be how the confusion arose.
Reims is also mentioned in some accounts but again no evidence supports this.
> I contacted Julie Driscoll, to get her recollections of these early days with Brian Auger and her memories of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Unfortunately, she told me that her memory was blank and she was amazed about how much Brian and Vic have remembered.
Brian: Vic Briggs left the Trinity after all that and Gary Boyle* was with us. Jimi took a shine to Gary Boyle's Strat and borrowed it for about three months (laughs).
So anyway, Jimi and I were around the scene and a friend of mine, Zoot Money used to live in Barons Court, which was about half way home from the West End. After we'd been raving around the clubs, we would all go back to Zoot's place and play records all night. Jimi had a flat upstairs so he would come down and join us. There would be a whole collection of people, Eric Burdon and Chas and people from the Animals and Zoot's band including Andy Summers, Jimi and his girlfriend,… and at one point Brian Jones, before his fatal accident, which was a great shame because he was a really nice guy actually. You know, we would all hang and just put on records, stuff coming in from the States,…like the first time I heard The Mothers Of Invention and all the new Dylan stuff, all sorts of stuff. We were in fairly close contact for quite a while.
* Gary Boyle, like Vic Briggs, was a terrific guitarist and he later went on to form the excellent jazz-rock band Isotope with ex Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper - Jim.
Jim: Did you already know Mitch and Noel before they joined the Experience?
Brian: Yeah, I knew both of them actually. I think I played with Mitch, and Mitch played at The Flamingo quite a bit. We were in contact. He was a big Elvin Jones fan, which appealed to me, having come out of the jazz scene. I'm sure we jammed at The Flamingo.
Jim: You already knew Noel before The Experience?
Brian: Noel Redding I knew. He was around the scene but I'd never played with Noel. I was kind of surprised that Jimi had picked him. There was a run of bass players that I thought might suit the band more but then maybe I was mistaken.
Jim: Yeah, he did a pretty good job in the end.
Brian: He sure did, yeah.
I remember on one occasion, they all (The Experience) came in to the Speakeasy. They'd obviously all been to Chelsea antique market and they had all got an afro! When they came in I just did a double take, I was on stage playing. It was just one of those moments, like "Woah!"
Jim: Yeah, what's going on. A pop band!
Brian then went back to the second time he shared the bill with The Experience at the Paris Olympia (this was probably January 68 he thought, as the Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger's Trinity album was number one in France at the time).
Brian: Later on he did a concert at the Olympia and we were on at the same time. I remember standing in the wings and thinking, wow, he's a huge star now and he's just going to get bigger and bigger. We all ended up having a big jam at the end of it all.
(I'm not sure if Brian was confusing this with the jam at the end of the 1966 Musicorama or whether there was actually a big jam after the 68, or 67, show - Jim).
Jim: What did you think of "Axis: Bold As Love" when it came out?
Brian: I just thought that it was kind of a step on. I realised that Jimi's production ideas, the way the recordings were put together, from a producer's point of view, that he had a very definite idea of what he wanted to do. It really enhanced the music. It actually gave us ideas about what we should be doing…the ways to structure an album in the studio, how to place things in stereo,…
Jim: The studio was his instrument in a way.
Brian: It sure was man.
Jim: What about "Elecric Ladyland" ?
Brian: Yeah, well I hadn't really seen Jimi for a while when that one came out. I started to hear things. Things about him smashing up hotel rooms, beating women and stuff, and I went, wow, wait a minute, what's going on here! This doesn't sound like the Jimi I know. I thought, is this all publicity or what? Then I started to realise that there were a lot of drugs involved and that things weren't the way that they should be.
This kind of progressed until in 1970 when I was in New York and I got a call from John McLaughlin who had just made the "Devotion" album and it was being produced by Alan Douglas. So I went along to hear that and I was in the studio. Alan Douglas and his engineer were doing the mix (John wasn't there at the time) but the door opened at one point and in came Jimi! And Jimi said "Hey Brian!" You know, we hadn't seen each other for a couple of years maybe, or almost. First of all he was listening to this mix and Alan Douglas and the engineer were so rude to Jimi at the time. It was very arrogant, like "This is the new guy and you're finished", that kind of attitude and that really got up my nose, you know. So, I said let's step outside a minute. So when I get outside, he and his girlfriend are there and I could see the physical condition that Jimi was in. His skin had a kind of grey tinge to it, in fact both of them did, and I thought, what the hell is going on here! Anyway, he was very happy to see me and he said 'You've gotta come and see my studio tomorrow" (Electric Lady Studios) and then he rolled out some silver paper which he opened up and he snorted what was obviously heroin. He was going to offer it to his girlfriend who was obviously using the same stuff, and then he said, "Oh, I'm so sorry Brian, here" and he wanted to hand it to me and I said, woho! wait a minute a minute Jim, I don't use any of that stuff and you've got to stop using it, look at you! Then he said something to me at that point that I'll never forget, he said "Do you know what Brian? I need a lot more people round me like you." Stunning. Then he asked what I was doing over the next couple of months and I said that I had a lot of stuff booked with The Trinity. And he said, can you get out of it, and can you make the next album with me ? And I thought, there's no way that I can cancel all the contractual stuff without being sued from here to eternity (laughs). So I said I'd loved to but I can't get out of it, but if you still haven't started after the summer time, maybe at that point we could schedule it. Then Jimi departed and I went back into the studio (waiting for John) and I said to Alan Douglas, "Jimi's just asked me to make an album with him, what do you think" and he sort of said "Well, if you've got three or four months maybe you'll get it done" and I thought oh well, it doesn't look like that's going to be on the horizon. I think Stevie Winwood ended up on the album.
So, I went the next day and I hung out in the studio with him and he played me some of the stuff…and he'd just go in and jam at night and maybe some of those things were phenomenal. Then I left the next day to go on to different gigs in the States and that was the last time I spoke to Jimi.
Jim: Where were you when you heard about his death?
Brian: I think I was in London and I really couldn't believe it. I thought, man, that is such a waste of the most incredible talent. There were a lot of people who hit the skids at that time through messing with the same stuff.
Then Brian talked about the control of the Hendrix archives in the mid seventies.
Brian: Anyway, later on, I thought, what's going to happen now, who's going to get control of all the stuff that's going on, all his records and everything, and it came about that they put all those resources in the hands of Alan Douglas! I though, oh my God, talk about putting the fox in charge of the hen-house! I just thought that was a travesty, and it turned out to be so. Between him and Mike Jeffrey,… when I found out that his Dad in Seattle was living in a one room apartment years and years later, I thought of those people. I thought, I'm so glad I never had anything to do with either of those people.
Jim: Anything (to say) about all this thing that came up later that Jimi was perhaps murdered ?
Brian: No, no, that's not true. I don't think so because Eric Burdon told me that he got a call from Jimi's girlfriend at the time…and Eric feels pretty guilty about all of this…he got a call early in the morning and Jimi's girlfriend is going "Oh Jimi's got this terrible cold and he's really having trouble breathing…" and Eric said "Call an ambulance!" and they sort of dithered around and by the time they did make the call, the ambulance people came and I think Jimi had already passed away at that time. They tried to revive him but it was unsuccessful, he wasn't breathing…and Eric was very silly, man, he said something later in the press against the British ambulance service. When Eric told me what he'd said,…we never went to play in the UK when I had a band with Eric in the 90's, and the reason was I think that Eric had said something like "It wouldn't surprise me if one of the ambulance people didn't put his foot on his neck", and I thought, oh my God, what a ridiculous thing to say.
Jim: Did he mention that he'd been to the scene, to that apartment that morning, to help Jim's girlfriend Monika clean up?
Brian: No, he didn't say that.
Jim: Because there's a lot of rumours and stories flying around…
Brian: It's rumours and stories,…but that was the drift I got from Eric who was the last person to be in touch with the girlfriend. I think Eric kind of regrets not high tailing it over there,…I really don't know, I can't speak for Eric.
I then asked Brian about his opinion on all the posthumous releases.
Brian: I think that "The Cry Of Love" was one of the most amazing albums. I never really took any notice of what they did after that. I think that the best was the early stuff that went on. It's such a sad story and a waste of a life and all the background that goes with it, with all the management and the way that Jimi was treated, and nobody really looked after him, nobody really advised him about his money and how much he was spending and where a lot of it went, and he didn't care anyway. For me it just brings back all that stuff and I'd rather just stay away from all the negativity of it.
Jim: With the successive albums being released it became even more apparent that Jimi had a very profound talent which could have perhaps functioned with jazz musicians.
Brian: Absolutely, I mean, Jimi could have played with anybody. We made a big fuss of Jeff Beck who is a tremendous player let's face it, and Jimi could have been of that stature and made any of that kind of music, probably anything he wanted. He was just a natural. He was just one of those guys who, when the guitar fell into his hands, he became part of it.
Finally I asked Brian about The Trinity's success with "Save Me" (which was previously a Aretha Franklin hit song).
Jim: Did you know that that song was originally recorded by Ray Sharpe & The King Kurtis Orchestra as "Help Me Get The Feeling" ?
Brian: No, I didn't know that.
Jim: …and do you know who the guitarist was on that?
Jim: It was Jimi Hendrix!
Brian: No ! (laughs). Well, you know, those were the things that Jimi came from. He had the R&B thumpin' and all the straight out blues stuff and yet beyond that. Then he was experimenting all the time with little pedals that were made by one of these guys in London (Roger Mayer - Jim), coming up with ring modulators and all sorts of concoctions, he was into all that.
Round about there ended my interview with Brian Auger. So, all I can say is thank you very much Brian for giving me the opportunity
to interview you and for sharing your memories with me and other Hendrix fans around the world!
More about Brian Auger, his music and where to see him on his great site:
Authorised extracts from this interview
appeared in the fanzine Jimpress N°91
My Vic Briggs interview
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