The Animals’ Eric BurdonBy John
The place (The Cavern, where The Beatles also performed regularly) was a sight to see. It was a full house and bodies were writhing around on the dance floor. … The crowd’s screams sounded like a jet plane on afterburners.”
Fifty years after the group was formed and 18 years after he and his bandmates in The Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Eric Burdon keeps that rock flame burning.
And for a time in the ‘60s, those flames burned higher or at least as brightly as any band amid the so-called British Invasion, with The Animals’ electric blues-styled rock finding favor with U.S. audiences and radio honchos.
Between Aug. 15, 1964, when The Animals – Burdon, Chas Chandler, Alan Price, John Steel and Hilton Valentine — hit No. 1 with “The House of the Rising Sun,” and June 22, 1968, when “Sky Pilot (Part One)” soared to No. 14, the band scored 14 Top 40 Billboard hits.
That’s more than The Kinks (who had eight during that period) and the Dave Clark Five (with 12).
Granted, The Beatles boasted 23 Top 40 singles during that four-year span (and The Rolling Stones, 16), but that’s a truly impressive number for a guy who may not always get the credit he deserves for influencing generations of rock artists. After all, this is a fellow who also became a trailblazer with funk-rock’s War, scoring a No. 1 hit in 1970 with “Spill the Wine.”
So while there’s a fair amount of hubbub over The Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary tour and the lack of a Rolling Stones 50th anniversary tour, Burden at 70 continues to tour and churn out recordings with little fanfare, playing casinos and festivals and showing off diverse vocal stylings that traverse rock, blues, funk, soul, psychedelia and jazz fusion.
Burdon, who now makes his home in California, and his current version of The Animals play Little River Casino in Manistee later this month, so I recently got a chance to interview the singer about his remarkable career.
Q: The Animals were formed in 1962, which means this marks the 50th anniversary of the band. What’s your fondest memory of those early years and what was The Animals’ first public performance?
A: 1962, eh? Wow. We really did begin too early. I can’t really nail down our first appearance, so let’s say the first gig we did was when we had to travel on the road to do an appearance. That would have been our travel from Newcastle to Liverpool to play at The Cavern, where The Beatles had their regular hometown gig. This place was a sight to see. It was a full house and bodies were writhing around on the dance floor. The sandstone vaulted ceiling was dripping with water. That, combined with a mixture of body heat made it feel like limestone beads were raining on us. We expected an electrical short at any second. The crowd’s screams sounded like a jet plane on afterburners. You could say we were very well received. Our gig wagon was a blue one-quarter ton “commer” (commercial) van. While we were inside the venue performing, the fans had left their mark on the van. The mirrors had been torn off and the radio antenna was gone. Worse than that, the van had been scrawled over with lipstick of many colors. We couldn’t get the lipstick off, but we had to drive it to our gigs in London, nearly blinded by the waxy colors on all the windows. Our success with those London audiences after this Liverpool gig led to a recording deal with EMI.
Q: There has been much publicity about bands like The Beach Boys going on a 50th anniversary tour. Does it bother you maybe that The Animals get lost in the shuffle when talking about these other bands?
A: I saw them — the Beach Boys — on TV a few nights ago during the Grammys. All I have to say is good luck.
Q: Tell me about touring with the current band now.
A: The current Animals are Red Young (keyboards, organ), Terry Wilson (bass), Billy Watts (guitars), and Brannen Temple (drums). We’ve had sell-out gigs constantly for the last four or five years. We’ve been off the road for a few months recording a new studio album. It’s scheduled for release in the late spring/early summer. We’re going to SXSW in mid-March and then we will be on the road with appearances worldwide.
(By the way, Burdon’s appearance at SXSW included a much-publicized, conference-ending performance with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on a version of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” this after Springsteen delivered a speech that credited the band as a major influence. He even introduced Burdon as “the man that I stole every song I ever wrote … including my whole new bleep-ing album (‘Wrecking Ball’).”)
Q: You’ve been doing this for five decades. What keeps you on the road and entertaining folks after all these years?
A: The truth is, when we first started, what kept us on the road were the girls. Nowadays…go figure. Well, OK, I’ll be honest. It’s still the girls.
Q: Your last solo album was “Soul of a Man,” a tribute to some R&B greats, which came out in 2006. But I loved your recent version of “Gotta Serve Somebody” for Amnesty International.
A: Thank you for that. There are two versions of “Gotta Serve Somebody.” One was recorded for Chimes of Freedom, the Amnesty International benefit CD. Another version was done by Google Music for a video in Joshua Tree, in support of Amnesty International. Both were a lot of fun for me to do.
Q: Your versatility as a singer and performer over the years has been remarkable, from rock to funk to soul and blues to gospel. To what do you attribute this eclectic, diverse approach?
A: As a front guy, I am open to all forms of music. I have not lost sight of blues which historically morphed into rock ‘n’ roll. My diversity comes from the fact that I dislike labeling music into genres. It’s all music after all. And I enjoy moving along the musical spectrum when performing.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you think you made in your career and what advice would you give to younger artists?
A: Life to me seems to be a series of mistakes. If you keep making them on a regular basis it becomes a style. The only error you can make is not to try, or even worse, give up.