By WALLACE BAINE
He's one of the most underrated pioneers of rock 'n' roll, but
hardcore rock fans are all too aware that Eric Burdon, frontman for
the seminal band the Animals, was one of the integral invaders of the
1960s British Invasion.
In an online conversation, Burdon, who plays with the New Animals May
30 at the Santa Cruz Blues Festival, reflected on his wide and varied career:
Q: You were, of course, at Monterey Pop, and released that great song
"Monterey," and obviously, you were a player in the emergence of the
San Francisco scene. Can you talk a bit about your personal history
with the Bay Area musical scene? Were there other Brits who part of that scene?
A: When I first came to the Bay Area in the mid-1960s, it was still a
beatnik scene. Everybody was dressed in silk suits and button down
collars. Everything and everybody was cool. It was the West Coast
jazz scene. When I returned 18 months later, it looked like the whole
place had been painted and the people were all wearing tie-dye. That
was the beginning of the Bay Area scene as we know it.
Of course, I was at Monterey and I did record a song which I named
after the event, but it got beaten to the punch on the radio by a
song called, "If You're Going to San Francisco" by Scott McKenzie.
They had the connections through the organizers and publishing and
the song reached No. 1.
As for other Brits, of course George Harrison was there. He left in a
hurry. I know he hated it. I think it was a shock to him that he was
being pursued by people wanting his autograph. Poor Beatles. They
were captives of their own success.
Q: There's a man who lives locally who was one of the pioneering
radio guys behind Radio Caroline in the U.K. He told me that young
kids growing up in Britain had no access to American rock, at least
on the radio, until Radio Caroline. I've always been curious about
how British kids turned on to American music. Did you first get drawn
to Chuck Berry and the rock 'n' rollers? Or to the old-line
delta/Chicago bluesmen? How did you find the records?
A: It's true that there was no music on the radio in the U.K., but
there was one BBC program on the radio for half an hour on Wednesday
nights called "Jazz Club." A friend of mine named Ronan O'Rahilly
launched his ship called "Caroline" and started broadcasting music to
the kids on the island. That put American music on the map. You had
to have a transistor when you were a kid and we all kept it tuned to
Q: The Animals have always been considered one of the bluesiest of
the British Invasion groups. When you first got the chance to come to
the U.S., did you go to places where black musicians played the blues
to see it live and up close? If so, how were you perceived? And did
you form musical bonds with some of the older blues players?
A: In every major town that we went to, in order to escape the fans,
I'd tell the taxi driver to take me to the clubs and then I'd have
stories to tell the Beatles when I got back home. I went to Detroit
to John Lee Hooker's house, I did a television show in the UK with
Otis Redding. I don't know if you could say I formed a bond with him,
but Ray Charles even came to on of my shows in L.A. I've met Honey
Coles, who was the manager of the Apollo Theatre, Sammy Davis Jr.,
Memphis Slim, Bud Powell who played jazz saxophone, and Louisiana
Red. I did form bonds with some of the blues musicians and I'm still
close with some of them.
Q: I grew up in the '70s, and I remember well the "Rudely
Interrupted" album. It was a great record, but didn't seem to connect
with audiences of the era. This was roughly the same time that a
disco version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" was a big hit in the
clubs. That must have been a fish-out-of-water period for you, musically.
A: You grew up in the '70s? You poor guy, but I guess that's better
than growing up in the '80s or '90s I'm glad you like the "Rudely
Interrupted" album. I liked it, too. The disco version of "Don't Let
Me Be Misunderstood" was by Santa Esmeralda and it was 20 minutes
long, but I liked it. The disco era wasn't entirely bad -- it did
give us singers like the Bee Gees and Donna Summer, Bottom line is, I survived.
Q: Finally, can you tell me about the make-up of the Animals as they
now exist? And perhaps comment on your musical journey, now that you
are in your late 60s, are you still out there on the horizons
musically? Or have you come back to the basics of the blues? I guess
I'm asking what remains with you after a lifetime of exploring music?
A: My band currently consists of a group of talented musicians --
Billy Watts on guitar, Red Young on keyboards, Brannen Temple on
drums, Terry Wilson on bass. We have a lot of fun performing together.
As for what remains with me, that would be the power of music, and
it's still extremely strong. It crosses borders like nothing else
can. People thought that rock 'n' roll wouldn't last, but if you look
at the history, it's over 100 years old. Anybody can play it. Rock
'n' roll has been good to me.