Kevin Ayers, founding member of The Soft Machine, dies

The influential British psychedelic band often played with Pink Floyd.

Kevin Ayers, the founding member of influential British psychedelic band The Soft Machine, has died at age 68.

The singer-songwriter died Monday in his home in France. Born in Kent, England, Ayers was raised in Malaysia but educated in the U.K. He formed his first band, The Wilde Flowers, in 1963 with school pals Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper. The band became The Soft Machine when Ayers and Wyatt recruited Mike Ratledge and Daevid Allen in 1966, and the quartet quickly became famous for its ambitious live shows.

The Soft Machine often shared concert billing with Pink Floyd. Ayers, Wyatt and Ratledge continued as a trio when Allen left to set up home in France and form Gong, and they made a huge U.S. breakthrough in 1968 when they were invited to support Jimi Hendrix on tour, during which they recorded their groundbreaking eponymous debut, which remains one of the classic progressive rock albums.

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The pressures of life on the road took its toll on Ayers, and he quit the band at the end of its American tour and retreated to Ibiza, where he reunited with Allen and recorded his solo debut album Joy Of A Toy, which featured the tracks "Lady Rachel" and "All This Crazy Gift of Time."

One track, "Religious Experience," was recorded with Pink Floyd star Syd Barrett on guitar, but it was not issued until the album was remastered and rereleased in 2003.

Spurred on by the success of his debut album, Ayers recruited a backing band, The Whole World, which featured Lol Coxhill, former Soft Machine member Wyatt and the young Mike Oldfield. The group went on to record successful albums "Whatevershebringswesing," "Bananamour" and "The Confessions of Dr. Dream and Other Stories."

His success was tinged with sadness in 1973, when bandmate and longtime friend Wyatt fell out of an upstairs window at one of Ayers' parties and was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

The rocker also battled substance-abuse issues throughout his career.

Ayers' popularity faded in the late 1970s and '80s, and he retreated from the music business, only to return in the early 1990s with the album "Still Life With a Guitar." He had to wait until 2007 for critical acclaim after the release of "The Unfairground," which featured Hopper, Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera and members of Teenage Fanclub and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. It was to be his final release.

Throughout his career, Ayers released 17 solo albums. He is survived by two daughters and his sister, Kate.


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