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Eric Burdon

+ {Eric Burdon & The Animals} + {Eric Burdon And War}

Truly one of the greatest singers of the post-British Invasion times, former ANIMALS frontman ERIC BURDON (born 11th May 1941, Walker, Newcastle upon Tyne, England) put the rock into pop way before another generation of psychedelic-blues aficionados hit the scene. From interpreting `House Of The Rising Sun’ and several others, his spell with the original ANIMALS was over by late 1966; the man deciding to take his power-driven voice in other directions.
As mentioned previously, the original ANIMALS fell apart during this period, Chas Chandler going on to manage the JIMI HENDRIX Experience. BURDON, himself moved to San Francisco, where he immersed himself in the nascent psychedelic scene, consuming liberal quantities of LSD. Under the new and improved moniker ERIC BURDON & THE ANIMALS, using only arrangers/producers Benny Golson and Horace Ott (and an uncredited Barry Jenkins) into the fold, he/they released a couple of hit 45s including the aforementioned `See See Rider’ and SCOTT ENGLISH’s `Help Me Girl’; the latter from covers set, ERIC IS HERE (1967) {*5}. With many weeks patrolling the fringes of the US Top 100 (it wasn’t released in the UK), the bubblegum-pop album highlighting three RANDY NEWMAN songs (`Mama Told Me Not To Come’, `I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ and `Wait Till Next Year’), plus several others from the Brill Building catalogue.
Also in 1967, his paean to the emerging hippy culture, `When I Was Young’ (b/w: a trip into the narcotic delights of the Swiss pharmaceutical industry, `A Girl Named Sandoz’), became a non-LP hit on both sides of the Atlantic, while proper group affair WINDS OF CHANGE {*7} – drummer Jenkins, guitarist/pianist Vic Briggs (from STEAMPACKET), guitarist/violinist John Weider and bassist Danny McCulloch – fared much better in commercial terms. Complemented by UK chart entries, `Good Times’ and its US “A”-side flip `San Franciscan Nights’, minor Stateside dirge `Anything’ and a cover of The ROLLING STONES’ `Paint It Black’, the album was centred around his newfound home.
Opening its account with a story-in-song, `Monterey’ (a reverential recollection depicting the eponymous June 1967 International Pop Festival), 1968’s THE TWAIN SHALL MEET {*6} was the new combo’s third effort in the space of a year; split into two parts, `Sky Pilot’ was another major chart hit.
Adding sixth member George Bruno (keyboards), EVERY ONE OF US (1968) {*5} produced their poorest chart showing (No.152) for some time; `White Houses’ and a re-take of blues staple `St. James Infirmary’ sparse highlights. Together with DANTALIAN’s CHARIOT musicians Zoot Money (keyboards) and Andy Somers [aka Summers] (guitar/bass) – Briggs, McCulloch and Bruno had now left – the double-disc (UK single-disc) LOVE IS (1968) {*5} made it five sets in two years. Remarkable as it seemed, compared to the modern-day groups’ two sets in five years, this record was understandably patchy, harking back to ANIMALS/BURDON’s covers-dominated days of yore through UK-only hit `Ring Of Fire’ (JOHNNY CASH), `River Deep, Mountain High’ (IKE & TINA TURNER), `I’m An Animal’ (SLY & THE FAMILY STONE), `To Love Somebody’ (The BEE GEES), `Colored Rain’ (TRAFFIC), among others.
BURDON re-invented himself once again and tasted major success via soul/funky fusion ensemble, WAR, their debut single `Spill The Wine’ climbing into the Top 3 in the States by mid 1970. Spawned from the collaborative ERIC BURDON DECLARES “WAR” {*4}, the set was marred by three jazz-meets-psychedelic blues dirges including a sprawling, 14-minute jam of John D. Loudermilk’s `Tobacco Road’. A near descent into a commercial oblivion, the critically-approved double-disc follow-up, THE BLACK-MAN’S BURDON (1970) {*6} was a high-energy excursion into the soul and psyche of the singer. Coming across as JIM MORRISON’s (or VAN MORRISON’s) long-lost English cousin, Eric put the funk into re-treads of `Paint It Black’ and The MOODY BLUES’ `Nights In White Satin’; part two one’ll hardly recognise. However, the collaboration was short-lived, and after both parties contributed to BURDON’s collaborative JIMMY WITHERSPOON album, GUILTY! (1971) {*4}, the singer took a well-deserved sabbatical. Meanwhile, Chandler was exercising his production techniques for SLADE and ALAN PRICE was finding his feet as part of Fame & Price (alongside GEORGIE FAME).
The ERIC BURDON Band were premiered at the Reading Festival on August ’73; backed by Americans Aalon Butler (guitar), Randy Rice (bass) and Alvin Taylor (drums), there was little room for sentiment on truly woefully and exploitative records for Capitol in the mid 70s. Reprising ANIMALS tunes from Mk.I and Mk.II incarnations, neither US Top 60 set SUN SECRETS (1974) {*4} or STOP (1975) {*2} were worthy of the man’s once-revered talent; Kim Kesterton, John Sterling and Terry Ryan had now superseded Aalon.
Time spent with a reunified ANIMALS in 1977 was ill-advised in a Britain now consumed with punk and new wave. The bluesman had already busied himself with numerous solo projects; 1978’s SURVIVOR {*4} was another dud in a rollercoaster drive to maintain some foothold in the business. Ditto DARKNESS-DARKNESS (1980) {*4} and the German-only LAST DRIVE (1981) {*4}. His most interesting work during this low-point was his 1982 COMEBACK {*5} soundtrack, a good old rags-to-riches-to-rags music biz movie which just happened to feature BURDON in a starring role and an ostensibly fictional “close to biography” script.
A version of JOHN LEE HOOKER’s `Crawling King Snake’ has the kind of degenerate hysteria once the preserve of MICK JAGGER and The CRAMPS’ Lux Interior. The spirit of Mick –
albeit the late 70s model – also flutters around `Bird On A Beach’, with BURDON mincing to some BLOCKHEAD-ed funk. For the most part, though, he sounds in no mood to mince, making some not so veiled threats on the coruscating `Kill My Body’, while a menacing cover of LOUISIANA RED’s `Sweet Blood Call’ recalls LOU REED. Easy listening it’s not, but it’s often car-crash compelling and even if he runs the gamut of classic rock, he’s still his own man. Inevitably, he also trawls through a contemporary, sax-doctored update of `House Of The Rising Sun’. The Burning Airlines CD re-issue comes with a bonus disc of blooze-sodden live cuts recorded largely in Berlin prior to filming, including an epically ravaged, reggae-tinged `Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’.
In 1988, BURDON was dealing out yet another “comeback” set by way of I USED TO BE AN ANIMAL {*6}, and commendable as it was, one couldn’t help thinking that the man was trying too hard; example the JAGGER-esque `Run For Your Life’. While varied versions of The ANIMALS were propping up bars around the toilet circuit and the bingo hall, BURDON was at least trying to mount some sort of blues revival. He continued to earn favourable reviews on the likes of LOST WITHIN THE HALLS OF FAME (1995) {*6}, his writing partnership with either Geoff Bastow and Steve Grant continuing to blossom on the likes of `American Dreams’, `Memories Of Anna’ and `Is There Another World’.
The sad news that workaholic Chas Chandler had died of a heart attack on 17th July 1996 must’ve shaken up his old buddies. Following on from his published autobiography, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood: A Memoir, the former ANIMALS frontman set some of his personal reminiscences and experience to song in quasi-concept set, MY SECRET LIFE (2004) {*7}, a tribute to the soul, blues and jazz that first inspired him. SOUL OF A MAN (2006) {*6} continued the trend, a Tony Braunagel-produced album which was graced by the presence of guitarist Johnny Lee Schell and organist Mike Finnegan. Where else would you hear better and grittier blues interpretations of WILLIE JOHNSON’s title track, plus songs once the property of MISSISSIPPI FRED McDOWELL, ERIC BIBB and HOWLIN’ WOLF.
Pitched somewhere in between the aforementioned studio comebacks, an in-concert “ERIC BURDON AND THE ANIMALS” album, ATHENS TRAFFIC LIVE (2005) {*6} hit the market; Eric’s Animals on parade had none of the originals on board.
Unexpected and out of the blue(s), BURDON was again paying homage to his heroes by way of 2013’s comeback album, ’TIL YOUR RIVER RUNS DRY {*7}; the eponymous `Bo Diddley Special’ salutes the R&B legend who scribed the set’s encore, `Before You Accuse Me’. While MARC COHN is hardly Eric’s idol, the gruff singer turns the geezer’s `Medicine Man’ inside out, while BURDON’s self-penned/co-penned R&B toons come no better than with opener `Water’, `Devil And Jesus’ and `Old Habits Die Hard’.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/BG-GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2012-Mar2013

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