Soft Machine (l-r): Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge and Daevid Allen (Getty Images)
Kevin Ayers, a co-founder of British psych-rock pioneers the Soft Machine who went on to a prolific solo career before falling off the map, died in his sleep on Monday at his home in Montolieu, France. He was 68.
An official at Ayers' last record label, Lo-Max Records, confirmed the news with the BBC.
A key player in the avant-garde Canterbury scene of the late-1960s, Ayers formed the Soft Machine in 1966 with drummer-vocalist Robert Wyatt, guitarist Daevid Allen and keyboardist Mike Ratledge. The band's songs fused jazz, rock and psychedelia to lay the groundwork of what would be known as progressive rock.
The original lineup, minus Allen, recorded its only album together while on tour of the United States with Jimi Hendrix in 1968. While in NYC in April of that year, the group spent less than a week crafting "The Soft Machine" at the famed Record Plant, sharing the same producers (Tom Wilson and Chas Chandler) as Hendrix did for "Electric Ladyland."
John Bush of All Music calls it a "wild, freewheeling, and ultimately successful attempt to merge psychedelia with jazz-rock" and "one of the few over-ambitious records of the psychedelic era that actually delivered on all its incredible promise."
Ayers wrote or co-wrote nine of the album's 13 tracks, playing mostly bass and singing.
After recording the album, the group continued to tour the U.S., adding Andy Summers (later Police) to the lineup. Ayers left the band shortly after returning to the U.K. but many of his former mates backed him in recording his solo debut, "Joy of a Toy." In all he released 16 solo albums between 1969-1992 before retreating to France, where he struggled with drug addiction.
In 2007 he returned with "The Unfairground," which included contributions from members of Neutral Milk Hotel, Teenage Fanclub and Roxy Music.
He is survived by two daughters, Rachel and Galen Ayers.