In the Spotlight with Eric Burdon
Courtesy of David Weimann
The advent of May 11th, 2016 signals a feat so integral in music history that even the industry giants feel it necessary to acknowledge.
"Peace and love to you, brother," Ringo Starr exclaims in a video message. “Who'd have thought when we'd been in those clubs in London when we were 25, we'd still be here [today] celebrating each other's birthdays?”
In another post, Sting strums a ditty by the name of “Gonna Send You Back to Walker,” followed by a message of his own.
“You were the first person from my tribe to leave and make it in the big world,” he says, “and I thank you for that inspiration. It gave me, and a lot of people like me, courage to do the same thing—or try to, anyway. You're a great artist. You're a great man. I'm proud to be your friend, and I wish you the happiest and happiest of birthdays.”
The musicians, also joined by the ranks of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and the team of ABKCO Records, took to social media alongside fans from all corners of the world to mark the birthday milestone reached by The Animals’ beloved frontman, Eric Burdon.
With the singer’s 75th year on deck, the international music community has a great deal to celebrate, evident from the flurry of messages received by his camp. Burdon, on the other hand, has opted for something quieter to mark the occasion.
“I spent my birthday with my wife, my new band, and the presenters of our Australian tour,” he recounts. “We had just flown in from the US, so we had a nice, quiet dinner and I enjoyed the messages I received from all around the world.”
Indeed, the anniversary marks just one milestone in a week’s worth for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Aside from returning to Australia for the first time in ten years to kick off the summer leg of his 2016 world tour, the singer is set to debut a brand new lineup of his prolific band.
“Midway through my tour earlier in the year,” Burdon explains, “my longtime friend and keyboard player, Red Young, announced that he was ready to retire from the road. Since ‘retirement’ is not in my vocabulary, I needed to put together a new band. These guys did not disappoint. In fact, we were into our first rehearsal before we properly ‘met.’ Each of them has had their own solo career and can hold their own, so the debut went great. We hit the ground running.”
The band rang in their summer stints on a high note, stopping by Sydney’s Enmore Theatre, the Gold Coast’s Broadbeach Blues Festival, and six other venues across the country to treat fans to their new and improved Animals sound. With each performance, the seven-member ensemble showed off both their individual strengths and their seamless unity as a group.
The sets immerse the audience in a trip through time as the band weaves through a repertoire of early Animals favorites, contemporary classics off of Burdon’s most recent works, and several covers including one the artist describes as, “the under-appreciated Chuck Berry blues tune, ‘Downbound Train.’ Sounds like it’s right out of today’s headlines.’”
In one of the most touching moments of each performance, Burdon pays tribute to fellow Brit, David Bowie, whose recent passing rattled followers worldwide. As pianist Davey Allen leads in with the first chords of Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Burdon solemnly chimes in with the opening text, occasionally tipping his head skyward as if channeling Bowie’s spirit. Nearly two minutes in, the band reaches an emotional crescendo just as Johnzo West and Justin Andres join in on guitars, Dustin Koester on drums, Ruben Salinas on sax, and Evan Mackey on trombone. Amid a roar of applause, the band segues into the chorus of Burdon’s own “Sky Pilot” before returning to Bowie’s number for a poignant end.
Collaborating with the famed musician may prove an at once riveting and daunting task for the current band members, as Burdon has long been considered the face of some of the most influential bands to date, the soul behind a musical and cultural revolution, and the voice of the generations. At the height of the British Invasion, he emerged as the leader of the blues-inspired group responsible for delivering some of the era’s edgiest anthems, among them “It’s My Life,” “We Gotta Get Out of this Place,” “San Franciscan Nights,” and “House of the Rising Sun.” Shortly after The Animals’ breakup in 1968, the singer lent his gritty vocals and raw persona to American funk band, War, which itself broke barriers with its multi-ethnic lineup and genre crossover. Burdon’s time with the fusion band resulted in several hits for the group, including “Spill the Wine” and “Tobacco Road.” Burdon departed War following a two-year stay and later ventured on into solo work.
Hailing from the blue-collar Newcastle upon Tyne, Burdon quickly rose to fame as one of the first mainstream artists to capture the spirit of the working class. By addressing various sociopolitical matters through his lyrics—ranging in subject from antiwar sentiments to the issues of global warming—Burdon helped convey many of the past and present struggles confronted by society’s youths.
“I know that ‘We Gotta Get Out of this Place’ had special meaning for troops during the Vietnam War, and for the veterans, but I hear from people stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan who tell me the same thing,” Burdon comments on the multi-faceted appeal. “[And] going back to the new band, these are younger guys, but all of them grew up knowing the songs.”
While Eric Burdon’s new Animals undoubtedly work hard to mesh with a musician of his caliber, the crooner reveals that their work ethic met his expectations early on.
“They have to know their stuff,” Burdon lists the first of his criteria for potential bandmates. “They have to know some musical history and be able to keep up. Besides that, they need to be people you won’t mind spending a lot of time with on the road.”
Over the course of the coming months, the new iteration of The Animals is shifting into high gear as they bring their tour on home to North America and Europe for the remainder of the year. In keeping with Burdon’s collaborative nature, the group will be co-headlining a handful of shows with musicians Edgar Winter and Kevin Borich, among others. Despite having performed with the likes of Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix in past years, Burdon admits that the roster of artists he’d like to share his bill with isn’t quite complete.
“There’s a gig with Dr. John coming up,” he refers to their forthcoming July concert at Sacramento’s Woodlake Hotel. “I’ve always admired his work and I think our sounds will complement each other [during the show].”
Decades spent as one of rock’s leading frontmen has naturally provided Burdon with a firsthand look into the dramatic evolution of the music industry. Where physical product once served as the primary means of obtaining artists’ work, digital downloads and streaming services have since taken over.
“I really don’t know where the industry is headed,” the bandleader shares his take. “Technology has changed everything. Today, there is more access to more music but people are less willing to pay for it. I just hope that some kid out there has the drive it takes to get across [this obstacle] with some new way of doing it. Self-expression will never go out of style and will always be needed.”
In the face of changing times, Burdon recognizes the one constant that has seen both continued interest and growth through the years: live performance. Much like that of the earlier generations who attended the famed Woodstock, Monterey Pop, and New England Folk Festivals, demand from today’s crowds has spiked in response to festivals such as Coachella, SXSW, and the newly-announced Desert Trip. The singer weighs in on the phenomenon:
“People still need to get out of the house,” he affirms, “despite the gadgets and the accessibility of everything at home with the push of a button—and they need to be around other people sharing a common experience. There is nothing greater than music to make that happen.”
Whether forging new business relationships, touring the globe, or pursuing opportunities both on and off the stage, Burdon continues to flex his creative muscles more than fifty years since his arrival on the scene. Along the way, he’s managed to expand the world’s horizons in addition to his own, pushing each to greater heights with every new endeavor.
“All in all,” the musician says, “I'm grateful to be a survivor and to still have an audience who wants to hear me sing.”
Certainly, Burdon’s body of work has withstood the test of time. And in a business so fickle, the passing decades have only proven The Animal to be far from misunderstood.
Credits: Eric Burdon, Marianna Burdon, David Weimann
© Veronika Tacheva, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. Do not reprint without permission.