Kevin Ayers, a founding father of the UK’s late ’60s psychedelic rock movement, died in his home on February 18th of apparent natural causes. Ayers helped form the groundbreaking band Soft Machine in 1966, playing bass and providing vocals. The band’s self-titled debut album (the name is taken from a William S. Burroughs book) is considered a classic early prog/psych rock album and spurred other efforts of the time by Pink Floyd and Brian Eno. After two years and a famed tour with Jimi Hendrix in 1968, Ayers left the band to work on a solo career. While never commercially successful, critics and other musicians have always applauded Ayers’ experimentation and playfulness with sound. He retreated several times in his career for long stretches of his career, battling the trappings of fame–both heroin and a lack of privacy were two things Ayers fought to overcome during his lifetime.
Throughout his career, Ayers knew how to surround himself with talent–an early incarnation of Soft Machine included the pre-Police guitarist, Andy Summers and he enlisted a pre-Tubular Bells Mike Oldfield for an early ’70s solo project. Today, Ayers’ talent and groundbreaking work with Soft Machine are still recognized. When word began to spread in 2005 that Ayers had come out of seclusion once again to work on a new project, members of bands from Teenage Fanclub to Neutral Milk Hotel began flocking to the studio to either witness the recording or, in the case of Teenage Fanclub, actually end up working on the project with Ayers.
Below is a video from the Soft Machine 1968 tour as well as a more recent interview with Ayers on having friends like Hendrix and Syd Barrett as a musician in the late ’60s.