[…] In 1965, Brian’s exposure got a huge boost when he got 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.”
With this new group of musicians, it was more like a revue than an actual band, but what does one call it? ”If someone really played with a great deal of fire in those days, someone would say ‘that guy’s a steamer, so Steampacket became our name,” explained Auger. Sadly, Rod’s manager, Brian’s manager and John’s manager, feuded over whose label the record should come out on, so they never really recorded anything and Steampacket collapsed in 1966 after one year. However, a live concert video exists of Steampacket playing the Reading Jazz and Blues Festival in 1965, and it is truly a rocking’ experience today.
After Steampacket broke up, “what it did do was it took me out of the jazz world and made me play through such a variety of material that in the end I began to focus toward those various musical styles that really rubbed off on me,” recalls Brian. “That was the idea of the [Brian Auger] Trinity, a combination of blues, Motown and Messengers.”
In November 1967, their first album, Open, was released 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 purist 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. “That was primarily on a reel of tapes that was sent called the basement tapes, the Bob Dylan basement tapes,” Brian remembers. “Wheel’s was a strange song. There was an upright bass and Bob Dylan singing the piece,” he continues. “Julie really liked it and I listened to it. I liked the kind of idea there except that I thought it was an album track, not a single. So we decided to go for it and so I started to mess around with this thing trying to put rock rhythms to it and a different kind of rhythmic bass. It just didn’t work, and in the end I just couldn’t get away from the walking bass. ” The frustration in trying to find the proper bass track led to some experimentation. ” Let’s treat it as a jazzier thing, then, almost as a march, let me just think of it as a kind of a march, put it down like that,’” Brian recollects. ” So I put the backtrack down with a piano over the organ on it and some mellatron strings. When Julie added her extraordinary vocal, all of a sudden it was like ‘wow, this is really psychedelic man’.” Psychedelic it was, and the hypnotic effect Brian was searching for helped propel the tune to hit status all over Europe as well as the U.K. After the success of “Wheel’s,” the Trinity obtained a large following, particularly in Britain, with Julie being the lead vocalist. Her soulful voice and mod look, made her the “it” girl of the moment. And with Carnaby Street in full gear, Julie’s voice and vibe made her one of the poster girls of the mod years.
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 mis-management dealt Auger another blow upon returning from the U.S. “We went back, I said to Giorgio [Gomelsky] ‘where’s my accounts’ and he handed me a bill for 5,000 [UK] pounds—‘ you know I could have bought a couple of little houses for that so that was the end of it for me’.” He did one more album with the Trinity called Befour, recorded without Julie, which came out in 1970. Julie decided she’d had it as well as she needed complete rest after the trauma of the Gomelsky fiasco, and her promising career never recovered. Brian wanted to continue with cutting-edge music and , as he recalls, “I just needed to put people around me who wanted to go that way, and so the Oblivion Express started up in 1970.” […]