Interview – Eric Burdon of The Animals

eric-2While Rock-n-Roll roots date as far back as the 1940s, it was the 1960s where the music arguably made its biggest cultural impact. A time of war, nuclear threat, and a counterculture movement, it is often looked at as a focal point in the history of the modern world. Filled with bands that would shape the face of Rock-n-Roll forever, amidst it all was the British outfit known as The Animals.

Less polished than their peers, The Animals offered a gritty Blues Rock style that helped them earn the attention of the masses and attain major success. An important cog in the wheel of Rock-n-Roll’s story, The Animals, led by the distinctive deep-voice of Eric Burdon, are without question legends. Recently we caught up with Burdon to talk about the wild ride of The Animals, their place in Rock history, his new music, future plans, and more. – You have been involved in Rock-n-Roll for over five decades now. In that time, you led one of Rock’s most legendary bands, The Animals; been inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame; and built a legacy as one of Rock’s greatest vocalists of all-time. First, tell us, what has this incredible journey been like?

Eric Burdon – I’m still doing what I love and what I was born to do. It’s had its ups and downs but it’s been a joyful ride, for the most part. I never thought it would last for over 50 years. So many of my friends checked out at the age of 27 and here I am, carrying the torch almost 50 years later.

I have met and shared the stage with many great artists and many of my heroes all around the world, and I still feel the love of a loyal audience. This is priceless. Yes, it has been an incredible journey and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Columbia – It really is something to cherish and your dedication has lead to amazing accomplishments. As mentioned, The Animals really were pioneers of the British Rock movement in the ’60s alongside The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Who, among others. In those early years, The Animals really stood out as a much more raw and Blues version of Rock-n-Roll. What were those early years like for you and the band?

Eric Burdon – I don’t really know how we wound up amongst the monsters of Rock-n-Roll. I liked all of those bands and I didn’t see us as being in competition with each other. I do remember Mick Jagger taunting me when we went to see Charlie Inez Foxx perform his song “Mockingbird,” telling me he was going to “copy those moves before you do, Eric Burdon!” But I wasn’t a dancer and I had no intention of trying to copy Foxx. All I had then and all I have now is my voice.

We didn’t have the outstanding musicianship of people such as Jack Bruce or an Eric Clapton in the band, and we weren’t competing with The Beatles or Bob Dylan as songwriters. All we wanted to do was to interpret the music we loved – the Blues. Growing up in Newcastle, walking along the Tyne, I often dreamed of walking alongside the Mississippi and transporting myself to the land of the Blues. For us, as a band, it seemed to happen overnight, going from Newcastle to London, to suddenly being a part of this tidal wave that swept over to the United States. It was, of course, “Sex and drugs and rock and roll,” screaming girls and all. – It was really a special time for Rock-n-Roll. As stated, there is no question The Animals left their mark. Through the years, there have been a few reunions of The Animals, and you have kept the band’s name alive through it all. You recently put together a new lineup again. What has it been like working with this group of musicians?

Eric Burdon – This group of Animals is young, energetic, enthusiastic, and they inspire me to dig deep into my back catalog. Johnzo West, our guitar player, and Davey Allen, our keyboardist, are each accomplished artists in their own right. The rhythm section of Justin Andres on bass and Dustin Koester on drums is solid, tight, and powerful. Then there’s the horn section -Ruben Salinas on sax and Evan Mackey on trombone.

I have always dreamed of having a horn section since the earliest days of The Animals, and now, I’ve become so hooked on the sound we’re getting I can’t imagine being without them. We got to know each other by playing music together, literally. We had already started jamming in a studio before we were even properly introduced and there was magic instantly. We’re getting more and more comfortable with each other on the road and I look forward to getting into a studio with them again, when we have some time off from touring.

MGM – Fantastic. The band is really exciting to see live, and speaking of new music, as recently as 2013, you released a solo record, entitled ‘Til Your River Runs Dry. The album was extremely well-received and is quite a soulful piece of music. You had released material through the years, but this was your first largely original material since 2004’s My Secret Life. What was the inspiration behind ‘Til Your River Runs Dry?

Eric Burdon – Thank you for your kind words. There were a lot of things that went into ‘Til Your River Runs Dry. It took me a while to get back into the studio after completing “Soul of a Man,” but when I did, I was not only the interpreter but I was putting my own thoughts to paper. ‘Til Your River Runs Dry is a reflection of a lot of things, feelings, experiences, geopolitical and spiritual awareness. It is my most personal album to date. Anything and everything that was on my mind at the time found its way into that album. For example, finding true love in one’s later years inspired a song for my wife, called “Wait.” I wanted to send a message that one should never give up.

“Water” came from a conversation I had with Mikhail Gorbachev, who told me that his biggest concern in the future of this planet was water. Living in the California desert at the time, that is something that had always concerned me and I felt the need to raise awareness of the subject. Water is, in fact, kind of a theme throughout the album.

“River is Rising” was inspired by Katrina and the story of Fats Domino when he was missing for several days before being found safe and sound. The Red Cross had put a mark on his door.

“Bo Diddley Special” was drawn from my observations at Bo Diddley’s funeral. I was invited to attend, along with my wife, and it was the first time I saw my idol, face to face, in an open casket. That had a profound effect on me.

“27 Forever” is a tribute to my friends who died at the age of 27. It struck me, when I heard the news about Amy Winehouse, that history was repeating. Finding success isn’t always the answer. I could go on and on with details about every song, but I’m already thinking about my next album. – Well it certainly is quite an enjoyable listen. The sincerity you are speaking of bleeds through each track. So you are set to put together some new music with your new lineup? 

Eric Burdon – As I mentioned before, in my mind, I’m already there. With the current lineup, we’ve pretty much been on the road non-stop since we first met, but I do look forward to getting into the studio with them and seeing where that leads.

ABKCO – That is great to hear and will be exciting to see where the future takes you and The Animals. As stated, you were part of a really special movement in the early ’60s in Rock-n-Roll. The British Invasion, as they call it, really changed the face of music. What do you think made the British Rock movement as prevalent as it was?

Eric Burdon – I never really liked the expression “the British Invasion.” I thought of it as a PR person’s gimmick. Many years later, I found out that the phrase came from Walter Cronkite. We didn’t see ourselves as invaders, but rather as Blues Enthusiasts, reintroducing this great American music to American youth.

You must remember that at the time, Rock-n-Roll had been neutered in the US, where it was born. Buddy Holly had died, Elvis had gone into the Army, and the originators, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and many more, were being marginalized as ‘dangerous.’ What replaced them were Teen Idols, with orchestration and gimmicky bubble gum music being forced upon the kids. After JFK was assassinated, the college kids were discovering Folk music, with more substance, led by Dylan.

Aside from the great sounds coming from Motown, there wasn’t much to get excited about, if you wanted something with a beat. The Beatles appeared at the right moment to lift people’s spirits, and then the floodgates were open for the rest of us to fill in the gaps. It was a historic convergence where there were more young people with a little pocket money than ever before and they responded to an authentic sound coming from across the sea. – Very interesting, the fact is people have always responded to something more authentic than manufactured. Speaking of music, there have been quite a few changes in Rock through the years, and many would say the true spirit of Rock-n-Roll is dead. Would you agree with that notion, or do you believe Rock-n-Roll is still alive and well?    

Eric Burdon – They’ve been saying that Rock-n-Roll is going to die since we first started out, but it survived the ’80s and the ’90s and is still relevant today. The spirit is always alive, even if it isn’t in the mainstream at the moment.

Eric Burdon & The Animals live at The Paramount in Huntington, NY 2-6-16 – Yes, it certainly is, and there is quite a long list of talented musicians breaking this spirit back in recent years. Beyond music, you have also had a passion for acting. What inspired this interest in acting, and how would you compare the artistic expression of performing music opposed to acting on screen?

Eric Burdon – I have always been a film buff and, in fact, I heard my first Rhythm and Blues in the cinema, while watching Carole Baker as Baby Doll. It was Smiley Lewis singing “Shame, Shame, Shame.” The role models we had in the ’50s came from the movies as much as from music, people such as James Dean and Marlon Brando.

While living in LA, I studied acting at Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, and I did some acting, but working in film subjects you to ridiculous hours. Film shoots start early in the morning and last until into the night. Most of the time, when you’re on the set, it’s hurry up and wait. I prefer the immediacy and the intimacy of performing music, live, where you can feel the love of your audience in real time, along with the heat of their bodies and breath on your skin. – Yes, there is just no substitute for the live performance along with the give and take of emotions from the performer and audience. That said, you have certainly stayed true to yourself as an artist. You are the type of musician who simply cannot be pigeonholed. Seeing there are so many outside influences, when it comes to music, what has been your key to maintaining your artistic vision through the years?

Eric Burdon – Thank you. I have always done what feels natural to me and, at the same time, I’ve always been curious, seeking out new sounds. It’s always been about self-expression and keeping it real. That said, everything I’ve done is rooted in the Blues, and the Blues demands authenticity. It comes from real people and their struggle to maintain dignity in the face of adversity. I have always tried to stay true to that principle.

eric-4 – You have done a fine job. Speaking of struggles, we are certainly living in very troubled times, but honestly, are we worse or better than 50 years ago? That is really the question. Sometimes people seem to forget history and we make the same mistakes. Seeing you were part of a social music movement, how would you compare our societal issues in 2017 to four or five decades earlier?

Eric Burdon – Music has played a big role in people coming together, and we’re still not there yet, but I can see a day when we will be. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” The truth is, we are living in a precarious moment of history, where much of what has been fought for, is at risk of being lost. The races and the sexes are struggling to find balance. Inequality is no longer acceptable. There is far too much violence, but there has never been a time when more people were seeking a peaceful coexistence. – Let us hope that we learn from our errors as a human society and move forward as one, opposed to being divided. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your all-time favorites?   

Eric Burdon – It can’t get too dark for me. I’m more into Psychological Drama than I am blood splatters on the lens. Psycho (1960), American Psycho (2000), but most of all I’m a big fan of French crime movies, like Diabolique (1955). I’m a Psychological Drama man. I am also a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick. His first film Killer’s Kiss (1955) is amazing, but I’d have to go with The Shining (1980) as a favorite. Nothing quite says “Family Values” – gone-astray – like Jack Nicholson at his typewriter.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
The Shining movie poster
Warner Bros.
Tour Dates:
5-6-17 Ojai Libbey Bowl Ojai, CA
5-13-17 Cache Creek Casino Resort Brooks, CA
9-15-17 KAABOO Del Mar Del Mar, CA
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