No longer an Animal

But that doesn't mean Eric Burdon won't put on the best possible show at the Keswick Theatre on Sunday.

By Bill McFarland

Northeast Times Staff Writer

When the Beatles arrived in New York in 1964 to set off the musical trend known as the British Invasion, the American public seemed to fancy anything English as one band after another enjoyed hits over the next few years.

Pop music historians, however, recognized something that was not so obvious to record buyers, namely that all English bands were not alike and that there were certain patterns to the music.

Many of the pop-oriented acts came from Liverpool (the Beatles, the Searchers, Gerry & the Pacemakers) and Manchester (Freddie & the Dreamers, Herman's Hermits, the Bee Gees), and more rhythm-and-blues-influenced sounds emerged from the London music scene (the Rolling Stones, the Kinks).

Birmingham contributed the "Brumbeat," which spawned an early incarnation of the Moody Blues, the Move, which eventually evolved into ELO, and the Spencer Davis Group and its lead singer, a young Stevie Winwood who went on to crank out hit records well into the 1990s.

Meanwhile, a grittier R&B/hard rock sound was developed by a band out of Newcastle-on-Tyne, a working-class city in the northeast of England known for its heavy industry and the surrounding coal mines.

The Animals reached the top of the record charts in 1964 with House of the Rising Sun, which featured the screeching voice of Eric Burdon and the haunting organ of Alan Price.

The original Animals split up two years later, but Burdon is still alive and kicking, and he will open for veteran rocker Dave Mason at Glenside's Keswick Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Burdon is three weeks into a tour to promote his latest book, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. He's slated for appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday and live shows at B.B. King's club in New York City on Friday and Saturday.

The Animals' lineup in 1964 included Burdon on lead vocals, Price on keyboards, Hilton Valentine on lead guitar, Chas Chandler on bass and John Steel on drums. There were numerous personnel changes by the end of the decade.

How the group formed depends on the source that you cite. Some Web sites claim that the band was set when Burdon joined the Alan Price Combo.

"That's not really true," Burdon said by phone from his home in Southern California. "It depends on your point of view, I guess.

"There were several bands around Newcastle that I sat in with. I was in art school with John Steel, and we went off to Paris with some other guys from college to play at a place called the Blue Note. When we came back, we grouped with Alan."

The collaboration yielded several other hits, including Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, We Gotta Get Out of This Place and It's My Life. Ironically, Price was the first one to leave, and by 1966, all of the original members were gone. Burdon was constantly hiring replacements.

Interestingly, several musicians that he rejected became successful in other bands, including a bassist who hooked up with Jimi Hendrix, and guitarist Justin Hayward, who joined the re-forming Moody Blues and wrote many of that group's hit songs over the next three decades.

"I was just looking for a particular style," Burdon said of why he passed on Hayward. "It had nothing to do with his ability. It was his attitude. He was a terrific guitarist, but I was looking for somebody with a harder edge."

The singer relocated in 1967 and became part of the psychedelic music scene on the West Coast as Eric Burdon & the New Animals, whose many members included future Police guitarist Andy Summers. Burdon's new group made the charts a few times with such hits as When I Was Young, San Francisco Nights and Sky Pilot.

Growing weary of the constant traveling, Burdon disbanded the New Animals in 1969. When he decided to get back into the music business, his manager, Jerry Goldstein, told him of a soul/Latin/jazz fusion band called Night Shift, which was renamed War.

"I got them a record deal with the company that I was already signed with," said Burdon. "We couldn't afford to take the band out on the road because there were too many people, so I got involved because it was studio work."

Eric Burdon & War cut two albums — Eric Burdon Declares War and The Black Man's Burdon — and had a Top-5 single with Spill the Wine in 1970, but a record company dispute eventually led to a split.

War went on to have several more hits in the 1970s, including Cisco Kid, Low Rider and Why Can't We Be Friends?

Burdon kept himself busy with other musical ventures, including a reunion album with the original Animals in 1977 called Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted. A second reunion in 1983 was welcomed by fans who got an album (Ark) and a tour, but it was difficult for Burdon.

"It was awful," he said. "I didn't want to do it. The first reunion was OK because there wasn't any touring. We just cut an album and did a promotional film, and that was that. The second reunion was an album and a tour, and I had to deal with daily conflicts with Alan Price."

Burdon and Price apparently were not on the best of terms at the time.

"I tried to deal with (the turmoil)," Burdon said. "(Also) certain promises were made, and not everyone lived up to the terms of the deal. We had a lot of confrontations. I hated myself by the end of that tour. It was hard on all of the Animals."

The dispute seems to be over financial matters concerning early Animals recordings. Burdon didn't offer many details but said much of the matter is covered in his first book, I Used to be an Animal, But I'm All Right Now.

"We had a bank account set up in 1964," he explained. "In early 1967, I went to the bank, and they told me that (the Animals) were out of business. There's quite a mystery there."

But his story is typical of many artists of his time. Even John Lennon and Paul McCartney never owned the publishing rights to their Beatles songs because they had been duped into signing them away.

"Everybody got ripped off," said Burdon, "but Lennon and McCartney had better management with Brian Epstein, and the same with the (Rolling) Stones. The Stones had Andrew Loog Oldham, and even (lead singer) Mick Jagger went to the London School of Economics. After the Animals broke up, I was left totally on my own without any business experience, and I've never really recovered from it."

He has, apparently, recovered from the physical abuses of time, travel and hard living, and the musician attributes part of that to the inspiration for the title of his first book.

"That was graffiti that was actually on a wall at a gig in Seattle (Wash.)," Burdon said. "It was in a back alley behind our dressing room. Although that was many years ago, I think that it helped me to change my habits somewhere along the way. I was a slow learner when it came to taking care of myself, although I have improved over time."

Burdon's goal ever since the Animals reunion has been to get back into the mainstream music scene, and he's toured constantly in recent years to remain in the public eye.

He and his current band — Dave Merros (bass), Dean Rustum (guitar), Martin Gerschwitz (keyboards) and Bernie Pershey (drums) — recently played Australia and New Zealand and will soon head for Germany and Scandinavia.

What can Philadelphia fans expect at the Keswick?

"Basically, it will be Animals stuff and a few things from War," he said.

This story was published on Feb. 6, 2002, in the Northeast Times in Philadelphia, which owns the copyright. It may not be reproduced anywhere else without permission.


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