THE GRATEFUL BURDON OF THE BLUES
Eric Burdon has lived a rock ’n’ roll life defined by music, first carving out a name for himself as the singer of The Animals in the ‘60s, then with War in the ‘70s and across the ensuing decades, as a solo artist. Chris Familton talks with the 74 year old about the blues and his musical legacy.
The Animals’ first single, House of The Rising Sun, was the one that catapulted them into living rooms across the UK and right from the start Burdon had belief in the song. “ I did know, instinctively, that it would serve the purpose we had in mind. We were opening for one of our heroes, Chuck Berry, on a UK tour and we wanted something that would stand apart from any of his material, or anything that we were doing normally. We recorded it on a day off, after hauling our gear on the train into London. We did one take and that was the record,” recalls Burdon. “We knew it was good but we didn’t know it would displace the Beatles from the number one slot in America! Nobody could have predicted the instant and huge success of that record. It’s still cited as an influence on young musicians starting out today,” he says, proudly.
For all its success, there was also a downside, with the group’s first personnel change. “The only sad part is that everything happened so quickly, they just put Alan Price’s name for the arrangement credits. Their excuse was that they couldn’t fit all of us on the record, and not to worry, they’d sort it out afterwards, but the afterwards never came. As soon as Alan Price received the first check, he quit the band.”
Casting an eye through the long list of songs that Burdon has made famous, it begs the question about which ones hold the most meaning for him – personally or as a result of their popularity. Don’t Bring Me Down is a record I’m still very proud of and of course, you mentioned House of the Rising Sun,” says Burdon. “But the one that may hold the most meaning is We’ve Got to get Out of This Place, as it has meant so much to soldiers, from Vietnam up through the latest conflicts. It’s the one Springsteen said influenced everything he ever wrote,” during his 2013 SXSW keynote speech. “It’s hard not to feel proud of something like that.”
“The blues has always been the foundation of everything I do and all of the music I love,” states Burdon. It’s the ever present form that first inspired him to start singing, caused him to explore psychedelic and funk variations in War and the sound he keeps coming back to. “It meant a lot to me when I was a teenager in war-torn Britain and it does today. It’s the sound of liberation, from oppression and it was born of slavery. It’s the real thing now and it was then,” he stresses. That idea of the living blues has been Burdon’s creative cornerstone and his passion for it shows no sign of diminishing anytime soon. “Approaching 75, I have come to realise that one’s love for the music only deepens. Also, knowing that many of the great bluesmen continued playing into old age makes me feel unashamed to do the same. It’s carrying a worthy tradition forward. The word ‘retirement’ is not in my vocabulary. As Leonard Cohen says, “I’m slowing down the tune,” but as long as I have a voice, I will always use it to speak my mind and sing from my heart.”
2016 AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
12TH. MAY WREST POINT ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE, HOBART www.tixtas.com.au
14TH. MAY ANITAS THEATRE, THIRROUL With special guests The Kevin Borich Express www.ticketmaster.com.au
17TH. MAY ENMORE THEATRE, SYDNEY With special guests The Kevin Borich Express www.ticketek.com.au
18TH. MAY PALAIS THEATRE, MELBOURNE With special guests Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows / Renee Geyer www.ticketmaster.com.au
20TH. MAY EVAN THEATRE, PENRITH www.ticketek.com.au
21ST. MAY EVENTS CENTRE, CALOUNDRA With special guest Kevin Borich (solo)
22ND. MAY BLUES ON BROADBEACH BLUES FESTIVAL, GOLD COAST