Unsung Guitar Greats: Erik Braunn (with Classic Video)
Perhaps the most recognized song of the American psychedelic/acid rock era, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (from the like-titled In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida), remains one of the most imitated and referenced songs in American pop culture history (even the Simpsons did an homage).
The second studio album by the American rock band Iron Butterfly, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was released in 1968, peaking Billboard charts at #4, and was given the unique distinction of being the first album in history to be awarded “platinum” status after the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began to acknowledge that level of achievement in 1976. Record sales of this album were like nothing in recording industry history, causing executives to reimagine the potential for music industry profits--as well as the effect music could have on American society. (This album set an industry precedent.)
The album sleeve for In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida shows the band on stage at Fillmore East in New York City, supporting the iconic Jefferson Airplane. In the space of a few months, however, Iron Butterfly became a top draw and toured with Yes, newly signed to Atlantic, as their opening act.
With sales well over 25 million copies (as of 2005), it was Atlantic Records' biggest selling album until surpassed by the equally phenomenal Led Zeppelin IV (Zoso)--and still remained on the rock charts another year, spending a record 140 weeks on Billboard between July 1968 and April 1971.
Although the album has a total of six songs, the title track “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” which fills the entire second side at 17:05, dominates the album, with many Hippies wearing out the second side before ever getting around to listening to the first. But foremost in the minds of many rock aficionados in the aftermath of this monumental rock classic is that the phenomenal guitar work it features was the creative genius of guitarist Erik Braunn, composed when he was just 17 years-of-age.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1950, Erik Keith Braunn began studying violin at the age of four, becoming a verified musical genius who while still a child was accepted into the prodigy program at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
After moving to California with his parents in the early 60s, Erik moved from violin to guitar in 1963, and soon formed his first band, Paper Fortress. The last of 40 guitarists to audition for the newly-reforming Iron Butterfly in 1968 after singer Darryl DeLoach, guitarist Danny Weis, and bassist Jerry Penrod left the band after only one album (Heavy in 1968), Erik went on to lead the new lineup to pop culture history and national acclaim.
Quickly becoming a staple of American radio soon after its release--with many stations disregarding FCC regulations prohibiting songs of this length to be played on the air, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” became not just the anthem for tens of thousands of America’s counterculture, it was heard blasting through the jungles of Vietnam, connecting many homesick GIs with the blossoming pop culture back home.
In 1970 Erik, along with another ex-Iron Butterfly band member Darryl DeLoach, left the Butterfly to form Flintwhistle. Not much is known about this band except that they performed live for about a year before breaking up.
Between 1972 and 1973, Erik worked solely in the studio on various projects, the product of which can be found on a number of bootleg sites. Notable songs from these sessions include very early versions of "Hard Miseree," "Am I Down" and "Scorching Beauty."
In 1974, Erik reunited with Butterfly member Ron Bushy to form a new version of Iron Butterfly, releasing "Scorching Beauty" in 1975, which featured Erik on lead guitar and vocals as well. A year later, in early 1976, the band released "Sun and Steel,” but with bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Queen dominating the airways, neither album sold well, causing the group to disbanded shortly afterward (around summer 1977).
In later years, Erik occasionally reunited with Iron Butterfly for concerts, appearing with the group in 1988 at the concert held at Madison Square Garden to mark the 40th anniversary of Atlantic Records. Continuing to work diligently, Erik was working on his solo debut album when he died of a heart attack in 2003, reportedly the end result of an ongoing struggle with complications from a birth defect he’d battled throughout his life. Erik Braunn died in Los Angeles on July 25, 2003.
FYI: Erik’s now famous guitar riff was voted the third greatest rock 'n' roll riff of all time, just behind the Beatles' "Daytripper" and the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," by Billboard and Rolling Stone magazines.
The Rough Guide to Rock, Peter Buckley
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