Eric Burdon

An interview with The Animals and War vocalist Eric Burdon
by Tina Hall
December 2010

Eric Burdon

Eric Burdon

Eric Burdon was a founding member of The Animals in Newcastle, England in 1962. The band quickly became one of the most popular bands of the British Invasion. With hits like House of the Rising Sun, the anti Vietnam anthem Sky Pilot, and Boom Boom, The Animals are certainly legends in the music industry. Eric also was a member of the band War while living in San Francisco in 1969 and reunited with War for the first time in 37 years to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London on April 21, 2008.

Eric Burdon has also had a rather successful solo career with the Eric Burdon Band (later changed to Eric Burdon’s Fire Department) which lasted up until 1980. He was inducted into the Walk of Fame in L.A on his 60th birthday and has appeared in several films, including a small role in the movie The Doors.

Eric also worked in television appearing on shows like China Beach, has two autobiographies and recently formed a new group of Animals featuring Billy Watts on guitars, Terry Wilson on bass, Red Young on keyboards and Brannen Temple on drums.

Maximum Ink: Can you tell us a little about where you came from and how it influenced to become who you are now?
Eric Burdon: I came from a working-class family in Walker, Newcastle Upon Tyne.  I was born on May 11, 1941, supposedly during an air raid. I found out just recently that the situation at the time of my birth was worse than I realized and that a lot of people were displaced at the time. Our house was within walking distance from the Tyne river and I could often be found taking long walks along the river and daydreaming about it being the Mississippi River in New Orleans. From an early age, I was planning my escape to the birthplace of the Blues.

MI: What was it like to be part of the British Invasion?
EB: We didn’t realize at the time that we were a part of the “British Invasion.” We were the second band after the Beatles to visit the United states and we didn’t really give a damn about the publicity that we were getting. Our minds were focused on our tour of the US. Toward the end of the run, we found out that it was being called, the “British Invasion” to describe the number of UK bands making the trip across the pond to play for the people of the US.

MI: House of the Rising Sun is without a doubt one of your biggest hit songs, the author of that is unknown. Alan Price is said to have claimed it was sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel, and English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting. Do you know if that is true?
EB: There are a lot of theories of the origins of “Rising Sun” most certainly, it was not originally an American song. The key and chord sequence are more kin to an English hymn. It was probably a church song before anyone came along and made a “black” version (for lack of a better term) There is a book called “Chasing the Rising Sun” by Ted Anthony. It’s got a lot of good information if anyone is interested in the origins of the song.

MI: How does working in film and television differ most from working in music?
EB: I love films, but I can’t say the same for television. I have a great dislike of working in television. You’ll spend hours waiting around and then you’re lucky if you come off looking good. Technicians spend hours trying to connect the sound to the action. When I was younger and did a lot of television appearances, I went out of my way to screw up the lip syncing that I was expected to do. I thought it was a horrible way to represent the artist. Looking back at the video clips, my lip syncing is absolutely horrible, but it was deliberate.

MI: What was it like to have a role in the movie The Doors? Where you a fan of their music?
EB: I was a little disappointed in the approach of Oliver Stone when he directed the Doors movie. He passed word on to me through someone I was working with at the time, that there was a “meaty” part in the Doors movie. He said I would be playing an Irish poet that Jim looked up to. It was known that Jim and I knew each other. When I came to be involved in the shoot, I found out that there was not a large part for me to play in the film. I only had a couple of lines and that was it. It became quite boring. The only exciting part was watching Val Kilmer play the part of Jim at the Whisky A Go Go. I have to say that Val did an amazing job of creating the role of Jim. I was impressed.

MI: What was it like to rank 57 on the Rolling Stone list, 100 greatest singers of all time? Do you agree with that?
EB: Well, some people say that I’m number 1, but I don’t believe that either. Who are the people that make these lists? I don’t know.

MI: What was it like to perform at the memorial service for Bo Diddley?
EB: It was a wonderful experience. It was a bizarre experience because I had never actually met him face-to-face. Since I was 15 and he visited my home town, I had been trying to meet him, but had never been able to pull it off. I was the only person, out of all of the rock and rollers, to be invited to the memorial service. I had the press asking me when I first met Bo Diddley and I was almost laughing inside when I said that that day was the first time I had “met” him face to face.

MI: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
EB: Chuck Berry told me to stay away from booze and drugs and keep my cash in my socks. Did I listen? Yes. But did I follow his advice? Absolutely not. I did drugs, I drank booze and I lost a lot of cash. I should have listened to him.

Jimmy Witherspoon told me never to sing the same song twice the same way. I’ve followed that advice up until today.

MI: Is there anything you would have done differently over the course of your career?
EB: All I can say is, “No Regrets”

MI: When you formed the Animals back in Newcastle did you ever think you’d still be a part of that now? What do you attribute you success to most?
EB: I never thought I’d live beyond the age of 30. Anything beyond 30 has been a gift. It’s made me realize that life is a gift and that my voice is a gift. As long as I live, I will keep sharing my gifts with world.

MI: Of all the artists you have worked with over the years which did you enjoy working with most? Why?
EB: Chuck Berry was a lot of fun to work with. He was the legend that came to life right before my eyes. We did a lot of shows together in the US and the UK. He had a reputation for being hard to get along with, but he was great to me. To quote John Lennon, “If you were to give Rock and Roll another name, it would be Chuck Berry.”

Just as important was Rahssan Rolland Kirk. He was a great teacher and a great Jazz man who embraced the Blues. He played just as well as any of the modern Jazz musicians. He was a sight to behold. John Lee Hooker who was the true healer. To me, he was the most genuine African American that I’d met and he was a great guy. He had a beautiful personality. Hendrix, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sammy Davis Jr. and Ottis Redding just to name a few.

MI: What one little known fact about you would fans be surprised to learn?
EB: I’ve survived as a front man in many different bands and lineups over the years. Sometimes the press refers to me as Eric “lungs” Burdon, but the truth is that I’ve done it all with only about 30% lung power due to an asthmatic condition.

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