Erik Braunn

Lead guitarist with Iron Butterfly
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The Independent Online

Erik Keith Braunn, guitarist, singer and songwriter: born Boston, Massachusetts 11 August 1950; died Los Angeles 25 July 2003.

Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" sold over 20 million copies around the world. It was a staple of American radio in the late Sixties and early Seventies. It got GIs through Vietnam. It inspired a spoof by the Beatles. It is one of Homer Simpson's favourite records. It has been covered by Boney M and Slayer. It is featured to great effect in a pivotal scene of Manhunter, the 1986 film directed by Michael Mann and starring Brian Cox as the serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Its guitar riff, played by Erik Braunn, was voted third greatest rock'n'roll lick of all time behind the Beatles' "Daytripper" and the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by Billboard and Rolling Stone magazines. Yet Doug Ingle, frontman of Iron Butterfly, can barely remember coming up with the song's fuzzy keyboard riff and psychotic lyrics.

Ingle had been drinking red wine in his apartment in Los Angeles and was trying to say "In the Garden of Eden". By a fluke, Iron Butterfly's drummer Ron Bushy got back from work, heard his flatmate muttering "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and thought it was so catchy that he wrote it down. The next day, Ingle woke up with a headache and begged not to be reminded of the previous night but Bushy insisted and the title stuck.

In fact, at that time, in April 1968, there wasn't even an Iron Butterfly to speak of, until Ingle and Bushy were joined by the bassist Douglas "Lee" Dorman and the 17-year-old guitarist Erik Braunn. This line-up recorded the 17-minute epic and original version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" for an album of the same title which went on to spend a record 140 weeks on the US charts between July 1968 and April 1971. A single featuring a 2.53 edit of the track made the American Top Thirty and Iron Butterfly also scored with the follow-up album Ball which joined "Vida" in the Top Five. However, by the time the album Iron Butterfly Live was issued in May 1970, Braunn had left, though he returned in 1975 and appeared with the with the group again in 1988 at the concert held at Madison Square Garden to mark the 40th anniversary of Atlantic Records.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1950, Braunn was something of a child prodigy. He studied the violin from the age of four and was also a child actor after he moved to California with his parents in the early Sixties. Taking up the guitar in 1963, the young Braunn had lessons with the cream of Los Angeles session players, such as the jazzman Joe Pass, and soon formed his first band, Paper Fortress. He was the last of 40 guitarists to audition for Iron Butterfly after the singer Darryl DeLoach, guitarist Danny Weis and bassist Jerry Penrod left the fold after only one album, Heavy (1968).

Braunn took his new role as lead guitarist very seriously and bought his predecessor's sunburst finish Mosrite guitar in order "to keep the integrity of the band's sound". But he wasn't too keen on "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" at first. "It started out as this two-minute shuffle. I wanted to do something heavier, not bubblegum or what I called bip-bop music," he said later, and he admitted that Iron Butterfly were short of ideas and deliberately padding out one side of their album. "Ron thought a drum solo was a really silly idea at first but I lent him a record of an African Mass called 'Missa Luba'. From then on, we all came up with our own sections," said Braunn:

I was always experimenting with sound effects. I could actually do whales and dolphins. The elephant bellows were like the soul calling for help.

With tracks such as "Flowers and Beads", Braunn's own composition "Termination" and of course "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", Iron Butterfly caught the mood of the times, as flower power gave way to the progressive era of the early Seventies. The album sleeve of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida shows the group on stage at Fillmore East in New York supporting Jefferson Airplane. In the space of a few months, Iron Butterfly became a top draw and toured with Yes, newly signed to Atlantic, as their opening act.

After the albums Ball and Live, Braunn departed and the group recruited two guitarists, Mike Pinera and Larry Reinhardt, and soldiered on until 1975, when Braunn rejoined. The drummer Ron Bushy fronts the current Iron Butterfly, with the bassist Lee Dorman. In 1970, Braunn had formed the short-lived group Flintwhistle with two former members of Iron Butterfly, Darryl De Loach and Jerry Penrod. In the Eighties and Nineties, Braunn took part in three ill-fated attempts to reunite the classic "Vida" line-up of Iron Butterfly.

When asked recently to write his memoirs, Braunn said "I'm not dead yet!" He added, however:

Our most glorious experiences are a kind of regret. Our regret is so sublime that we mistake it for triumph. It is the painful, plaintively sad surprise of our genius remembering our past and contemplating what is possible.

Pierre Perrone