‘Clapton turned incredibly pale when Jimi began to play’: Brian Auger, the Swinging 60s’ pop Zelig

The keys wizard played with Rod Stewart and turned down Hendrix but has never enjoyed the renown of his peers. At 82, on the cusp of a new reissue collection, his passion is undimmed

The last time Brian Auger met Jimi Hendrix was at a New York recording studio in 1970. “His skin tone – and that of his girlfriend – was grey, really unhealthy looking,” Auger recalls. “He asked me to stay and help him on a recording project – his Electric Ladyland studio was being built at the time. Sadly, I had to decline. I had all these dates booked I couldn’t cancel. Then he took this silver foil out of his pocket, took a whiff and offered it to me. I refused, saying, ‘I don’t do any of that stuff.’ Jimi replied, ‘Brian, I should have more people like you around me.’”

Never a truer word spoken: at 82, Brian Auger is a picture of good health, fine humour and energetic creativity. Auger is a London Zelig of sorts – a musician whose connections and creativity saw him serve as a pivotal figure in the centre of what are now fondly considered the Swinging 60s’ jazz, blues and rock scenes – yet he’s best remembered, if at all, for This Wheel’s on Fire, the 1968 Top 5 hit that he and Julie Driscoll scored with a then-unreleased Bob Dylan song. Said tune ended up providing the theme music for Absolutely Fabulous, ensuring Auger’s enduring status as an answer in pub quizzes – while reinforcing the sense that he was a one-hit wonder.

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