Victor Harvey Briggs III was born in Hampton, in West London. His father had been an American, Capt. Victor H. Briggs Jr., commander of C Company, 1st Infantry division. Highly respected by his men, Captain Briggs led them through the hell of Omaha beach on June 6th, 1944 where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry. On November 17th 1944, he was killed in action in Northern France, before his only child was born. Young Vic was raised by his mother, the former Sheila Mills, who lived with her parents Alexander and Caroline Mills in Feltham, an undistinguished town about 15 miles from the heart of London’s West End. As a child he was encouraged, like many children of the time, to take piano lessons. Although he did not continue for very long he gained a basic understanding of written music and a musical ear that would serve him well in his life to come. His mother was an avid fan of musicals and a sound track album of ‘The King and I’, ‘Carousel’ or ‘Oklahoma’ always on the record player.England was a grim place in the years following the Second World War and Vic, like many of his contemporaries, was always listening to the radio as a way to escape some of the gloom that surrounded peoples' lives in the early '50's.When he was ten years old Vic heard ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley and the Comets . It was thrillingly unlike anything he had ever heard before and he began to collect records by Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and Little Richard , the wild abandon of the music of the latter quickly made him Vic’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll artist.At 12 years, Vic began to attend Hampton Grammar School . In spite of its very staid middle class traditions and rigid attitudes, and the fact that the headmaster and teaching staff were vehemently opposed to rock music and the culture that surrounded it, pupils from that school had a huge influence on the rock music scene in years to come. Amongst Vic’s contemporaries at Hampton Grammar were Paul Samwell- Smith and Jim McCarty ( The Yardbirds ), Murray Head (movie actor and singer “One Night in Bangkok”) and Brian May (Queen ).
The skiffle craze was in full swing and for Christmas 1957, Vic’s mother gave him a guitar. He quickly mastered a few chords and within months was playing with semipro bands. By the time he was sixteen he was playing two or three nights a week with a band called the Cruisers Rock Combo. One night in February of 1961, Big Jim Sullivan who was the lead guitarist with Marty Wilde (one of the early Brit teen idols) came to sit in with the Cruisers. Impressed with Vic’s talent, Jim became his mentor; a role Jim also fulfilled for Ritchie Blackmore who lived only a few miles from Feltham. Big Jim was instrumental in getting Vic’s first pro gig with a band called The Echoes. Although Vic only spent three weeks with the band (before his mother made him quit and go back to school) during that time he met many of the top names of Brit rock of that time including Cliff Richard and the Shadows and Billy Fury .
“We were playing the Theater Royal in Chester. Ian Hines, The Echoes pianist, had been working in Hamburg a short time previously. He told us that there were some great bands from Liverpool that he had met there, the best of which was called The Beetles. We were quite unimpressed. "What a stupid name! Whoever would want to hear a band called The Beetles." "Liverpool is not far from here" said Ian. "I'm going to call my friends and see if I can get them over here”. On the Wednesday night two characters showed up at the theater. They both had black leather jackets and hair piled up in pompadours on their heads. One was peroxide blond with a bit of stutter; the other had black hair and a ring on every finger. They had a slightly wild and out of control air to them. But they were very friendly. Ian introduced us. "This is Rory Storm, he has a band called The Hurricanes over there in Liverpool. This is Ringo, his drummer." And that's who it was, Ringo Starr in his days before the Beatles.”
Rory and Ringo invited The Echoes to come and jam at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool. There Vic met Gerry and the Pacemakers and even The Beatles themselves, then still with Pete Best on drums.
Vic’s experience with The Echoes proved to him one thing- what he wanted in life, more than anything was to be a musician.
Although Vic's mother forced him to go back to school, his heart was not there and his schoolwork fell by the wayside. He went back to playing semi pro bands. In April of 1962 he was invited to rejoin The Echoes for one gig to back up Jerry Lee Lewis who was making a comeback in the UK. It was an incredible experience actually playing guitar for one of his boyhood heroes. In the summer of 1962 Vic played for some months with a band called Peter Nelson and The Travelers. Although they were not a great band, they eventually morphed into Peter's Faces who came close to breaking into the charts in 1965. Two of the members, Peter Nelson and Robin Shaw, became the nucleus of The Flowerpot Men who had a big hit in 1967 with "Let’s go to San Francisco", while today (2001) Robin Shaw and Tony Hall (also from The Travelers) are still touring with Cliff Bennet and the Rebel Rousers . During the time Vic was with them, the drummer broke his arm. They brought in a substitute drummer called Mitch Mitchell , later to be one of the members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mitch didn't play with The Travelers for very long but he was there for a band photo session, one of the photos from which is in his book: "With The Experience’. Around that time, Vic began to frequent a music store a short bus ride away in a town called Hanwell. The store was started by a drum teacher named Jim Marshall and was renowned for giving support and a fair deal to struggling musicians, as well as for having a great selection of gear. Shortly after that, Jim Marshall began Marshall Amplification , one of the most successful companies in Rock history. After Hampton Grammar politely asked Vic if he would not return to school in August of 1962, his mother realized that there was nothing she could do but allow him to become a professional musician. Vic's first "real" pro gig was with the 'Shel Carson Combo' starting in September of 1962. The band spent the winter of ‘62/63 (one of the coldest on record) miserably touring England and Scotland in an unheated van. In April of 1963 they went to Hamburg, Germany, where they had a residency at the Top Ten Club (The Beatles were just around the corner at the 'Star Club') At the end of the German tour, the band received an offer to go to Italy and Vic quit the band. The band stayed in Italy changed their name to The Rokes and became the top band in Italy throughout the ‘60’s. Bassist Bob Posner's website tells the story of The Rokes.
Between May of 1962 and February of 1965, Vic played with several different bands, including the Laurie Jay Combo, The Fleerekkers and Peter’s Faces (Peter Nelson and The Travelers with a new name). He also went back to Germany for two months as a substitute with a band from Glasgow (John O'Hara and the Playboys), whose lead guitarist had been badly injured in an automobile accident. These were not great times. It was hard work playing uninspiring gigs, lots of traveling, long hours (in Germany, playing up to 8 hours a night!) with little success and even less money. But it was a time for paying dues. Vic used these years to refine a guitar technique that in 1967 would lead no less a figure than Jimi Hendrix to name him as one of his three favorite guitarists (along with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck ). He also became immersed in the study of arranging and writing music.
Vic with Dusty 1965
In January of 1965, success finally began to come his way. He was asked to rejoin The Echoes, the same band his mother had forced him to leave in September of 1961. In the interim, The Echoes had become the back up band for hit making chanteuse, Dusty Springfield . On February 14th 1965 (his 20th birthday) Vic flew to Ireland to begin his first tour with Dusty.
These were heady times to be involved in the British music scene. Vic began to frequent the ‘in clubs’ in London’s West End where all the top bands, models, artists and other various assorted characters would hang out. Life was a constant party with nightly musical jams and parties until daylight being the norm. Vic became friendly with an outstanding keyboardist named Brian Auger . Brian had moved from the jazz world where he had been an award winning pianist to be part of the growing R & B scene which was THE happening place to be on the Brit music scene.
Brian and Vic took an immediate liking to each other and became friends, spending endless time in the pre dawn hours at Brian’s flat drinking gallons of tea and swapping music stories and Goon Show jokes. When Dusty wasn't working, Vic would go and sit in with Brian’s band (The Trinity) featuring Rick Brown on bass and the legendary Mick Waller on drums. In August of 1965, Brian became one of the founding members of The Steampacket with Long John Baldry , Rod Stewart and Julie Driscoll. He asked Vic if he would join.
The next year was a whirlwind of gigs (one week the Steampacket did 8 gigs!), traveling and partying. The musical standards that Brian set were very high and Vic had to stay on his toes and keep practicing to stay with the program. Slowly the Steampacket began to disintegrate. Rod Stewart left in March of 1966. After the band spent the month of June in a club in San Tropez in the South of France, Long John left. It then became Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger and the Trinity. During that summer, Brian and Vic recorded an album with Johnny Halliday , the top French male singer. One of the songs ‘Noir c’est Noir’ (‘Black is Black’) went to the top of the French charts.
In May, something happened that, while it seemed unimportant at the time, would play a major role in changing Vic’ destiny. The craze for Indian Classical music had just begun and people were interested in Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar . While visiting with Eric Clapton at his home, Vic asked him if he knew anything about Indian music. Eric immediately pulled out two albums and gave them to Vic to borrow.
ďThe albums were of vocal music in the Dhrupad style by the Dagar Brothers and of bansuri (flute) music by Panalal Ghosh. My mind was blown; this was a dimension of music I had never imagined. After I listened to them once, I went to an Indian import store, bought them both and gave Eric his albums back. I still have those albums in my collection.Ē
Thus began a fascination for Indian Classical music that would take his life on an incredible journey.
On September 28th, 1966 Brian and the Trinity were playing at the Scotch of St James. Chas Chandler came in with a very unusual looking black guy with wild hair. Asking if he could sit in with the band, he borrowed Vicís amplifier and proceeded to wow the crowd.
ďAt that time I was playing an unusual Marshall stack that they had developed. It had twelve six-inch speakers with a hundred watt amplifier. Jimi plugged in his Strat (which was right handed but strung left handed) and turned every control on the amp up to eleven! I was horrified. For one thing I was sure this would blow out the speakers, I had never turned the volume up past five. And for another, The Scotch of St. James was about twice the size of the average living room. What was this guy trying to do?He must have seen the look of horror on my face because he immediately said to me "Don't worry man, I turn it down on the guitar".
This was Jimi Hendrix. He and Vic became friends that evening, partly based on their mutual admiration for each otherís playing.
On October 18th, the band was at LíOlympia, the top music hall in France at the time for a show with Johnny Hallyday. The Jimi Hendrix Experience had also been added to the bill. Shortly before the show, Vic was approached by Mike Jeffrey, who was Jimiís co-manager (with Chas Chandler). Mike was also the manager for Eric Burdon and The Animals and he asked Vic if he would like to join The Animals. Vic immediately agreed. After giving notice to Brian, Vic joined The Animals in November of 1966.