The Beatles invaded America fifty years ago, and The Animals weren’t far behind, with their definitive version of “House of the Rising Sun” spending three weeks at the top of the Billboard charts in 1964. Other hits followed for The Animals, including “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, with the only constant bandmember during their 1960’s run being singer Eric Burdon.
After The Animals disbanded, Burdon continued to make great music, with War (“Spill the Wine”) and in a notable solo career. His latest album, 2013’s ‘Til Your River Runs Dry, shows that he’s still got it as a seventy-something.
This interview was for a preview article for Burdon’s birthday performance on 5/17/14 at the Libbey Bowl in his current hometown of Ojai, California.
(Marianna Burdon photo)
Jeff Moehlis: Happy Birthday! The upcoming show in Ojai is a hometown gig for you. What do you like most about living in this part of the world?
Eric Burdon: I’ve lived in California for most of my adult life. There are so many things about it that I love. I spent a lot of time living in the desert – for the peace and quiet and inspiration, not to mention my asthmatic condition. Dry air really helps a lot. I get that in Ojai, as well, along with some great restaurants and the tail end of desert air.
EB: This album came from an honest look at my life when I turned 70 and took stock of where I was, where the world was at, whom I’d lost along the way and who was still there beside me. I don’t mind saying that I’m still a working musician, meaning, I’m on the road most of the time. The question of retirement comes from other people like yourself. To me music is not a job, it’s a vocation!
JM: It’s hard to believe, but The Animals’ recording of “House of the Rising Sun” is 50 years old. What originally drew you to that song?
EB: The story of sin and redemption. A song that’s been around for years and got my attention from early age when I first heard it in a folk format. It captivates you. We were opening for Chuck Berry on his tour of the UK and we wanted something to leave the audience with, that didn’t sound like anything else they would be hearing, either from Chuck or from us. It had a dark, mysterious edge to it that still feels just as real today.
JM: What are some memories of your first trip to America, and later, of the Monterey Pop Festival?
EB: America to me had always been a place of mystery. From its early days of the Indian wars, its movies and its music. It seemed to be the land of extremes. Certainly way different from where I grew up. I was just excited to be in the place where so much of our favorite music had originated. Monterey was the pinnacle of the dream we shared in those days, for a youth culture based on peace, equality and rock and roll.
JM: What, to you, was the good, the bad, and the ugly about The Sixties?
EB: I didn’t always agreed with the hippie ethic. However it was the time that produced some great innovators and thinkers such as Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead. Movies became innovative and moved away from the Hollywood format. We wanted peace and searched for it but the green machine continued to eat up our young man with seemingly no purpose or reason to it. We fought hard but in the end the machine won and now we are back to where we started. Let’s face it. War is big business. It’s all about money.
JM: Can you describe the Jimi Hendrix that you knew?
EB: He was somewhat a loner but a great artist. He had a great sense of humor but he knew exactly what he wanted and that was to go beyond the original Are You Experienced band. In the music business this can get you to trouble. The business wants you to be what they perceive you to be, not what you want. This can lead you to deep trouble.
EB: Breaking the racial barrier, I think, was the most important contribution that my collaboration with WAR gave to the music world. Making the first album was exciting because we knew we were doing something completely different. It was a melting pot of soul, Latin and jazz influences coming together with spoken word. It was a very influential combination. We were the first rock band to break in Jazz establishments in Europe. Particularly in London.
JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
EB: Do what’s in your heart and not what’s on the charts. Listen to the older music for inspiration and read some music business law.
JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?
EB: After celebrating another go around the sun, I plan to finish my book and take a moment to rest and recharge before I hit the road again. I’m always gathering new material for another album so I’m sure that’s not too far down the road.
JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about your life or career?
EB: It’s too late for that. I believe my life speaks for itself. I’m still standing, still touring and still making records. And every time I leave the stage I know my name is Eric Burdon!
JM: Where are you responding from?
EB: Saint-Tropez in France. At the end of a tour sitting in front of my computer with just a couple minutes to spare before I go on stage.