Voices of Other Times
Voices of Other Times
(Miramar – 2000)
by Mark Ruffin
“Voices Of Other Times,” is quite an appropriate title for the first American album in 20 years from Brian Auger and the Oblivion Express.
A bona-fide Hammond B-3 organ pioneer of the jazz/rock fusion scene of the 60’s & 70’s, this Englishman, who lives in America, is coming full circle with a comeback fueled by the red-hot jazz-funk scene in London..
“It’s amazing to go to my hometown and have young kids with old vinyl copies of my old album, “Closer To It,” saying would you sign it,” the keyboardist said laughing through the phone from his southern California home.
“These young kids call it acid jazz, and to have some of these British bands like the Brand New Heavies and Incognito, and magazines refer to me as the godfather of acid jazz is funny as hell.”
Today it is young Blacks in England powering Auger’s Oblivion Express. 30 years ago it was the hip jazz crowd and young Blacks on America’s college campuses that made Auger a star when he was still unsure about ever leaving London.
His peak years were between 1968 and 1979 when he recorded classic albums like “Closer To It” and Straight Ahead” for Atlantic and RCA Records. The old school tune he’s probably best remembered for is “Happiness Is Just Around The Bend,” which was made a bigger hit by the Main Ingredient, and to this day you’ll hear his organ version of Wes Montgomery’ s “Bumpin’ On Sunset,” at stepper sets and on those marvelous bootleg stepper compilations
Auger makes no bones about it. He wouldn’t have had a career in this country if it weren’t for Black America. “I grew up with Black American music.” The 60 year-old musician said. “I used to go and talk to these guys on (military) bases and we talked about the same musicians I grew up with. All of my idols were Black musicians from America.”
Auger was a leading jazz musician in England during the early 60’s with his band Trinity that included guitarist John McLaughlin, who by the end of the decade was with Miles Davis. The band was signed by Atlantic Records’ London office, which is how his music first seeped to America.
Auger was mixing jazz with rock and R&B and said he had no idea that people in America were beginning to do the same thing. In his case, the concept, eventually known as fusion, grew out of frustration of the then very puritan attitudes of jazz fans in England.
“I felt that the then new rock & roll and R&B/funk stuff that was going on were the rhythms of the moment,” Auger remembered. “But there were guys on the jazz scene who wouldn’t speak to me anymore, and I sometimes wondered if I was just shooting myself in the foot.
“Then I heard Miles (Davis) album “In A Silent Way,” where obviously he was listening to rock,” Auger continued, “and if he was putting his signature on it, I knew I had to be going the right way.”
In the 70’s, Auger signed with RCA/Europe, and released “Closer To It,” in 1973. To promote it, in a Robert Townsend-like move, he financed a U.S. tour on credit cards. The American office, which didn’t know how to market him, actually told him not to come because they couldn’t sell records out of jazz clubs.
“In Cleveland, there was on African-American rep, probably the only one with the label at the time, and he fell in love with the album, ” Auger fondly reminisced. “I believed in miracles after that trip.”
The radio station was WWMS in Cleveland, Auger remembered, that first jumped on it, before it went to WJJZ in Detroit and WSDM in Chicago, where this writer remembers Yvonne Daniels and Penny Lane playing the music heavily. Before long the record was on national R&B, pop and jazz charts, one of the first fusion records to accomplish that feat.
By the time he got to Cleveland, the RCA brass came to visit him to see what they had. “It was truly funny.
We were playing the Smiling Dog Saloon, and this guy says he’s head of national promotion for RCA,” Auger said through his laugh. “I said, I don’t know what you’re doing here, your department said we couldn’t sell any records out of jazz clubs.”.
Auger was smart enough back in the 70’s to lease his records to RCA, which means he owns them, and all those great recordings, including the new one, “Voices Of Other Times,” are available in stores or on his website at brianauger.com.
“Voices Of Other Times,” is a much more pop than those classics 70’s sides, but that shouldn’t deter old Oblivion Express fans from hearing Auger’s unique brand of organ playing new music.