Invitation To The White House (It Was A Dream)
The way things usually shake out in our culture can sometimes be like a tragic film. Artists spend a lifetime mastering their craft, and in many cases achieve an icon status post mortem as the ending credits roll. Then there are the rare few who are so gigantic in the flesh that they become Gods midscript. Never has anyone embodied this tale like Eric Burdon.
He was the grittiest lead crooner of all the British Invasion acts. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the unmistakably unique fire power of a voice behind such landmark songs as “The House of the Rising Sun”, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, and “We Gotta Get out of This Place”. He is the legendary front man for behemoth groups The Animals and WAR, a painter, actor, and songwriter. Springsteen, Joe Cocker, and Tom Petty call him “Sir”. And with good reason.
To summarize Burdon’s impact on music in such a brief manner is unfair to ask us to do. His career worthy of an anthology, we do the best we can. Burdon’s tunes have sometimes been labeled as a precursor to the heavy metal/grunge movement. He has often been exalted as one of the Blues genres giants, and unequivocally the greatest to hail from the UK. He ushered in the psychedelic era, and fronted WAR when they were universally revered as the greatest funk band of the 70’s, inarguably funk’s greatest era. To shorten a long and growing legend, Eric Burdon’s filthy smooth voice has been at the forefront of almost every major musical movement of the modern era that has ever mattered.
Burdon continues to produce music like only he can; an amazing catalogue nuanced with Latin, R&B, funk, and rock and roll influences. He is a walking biography of music covering half of a century, and still sings with that distinctive voice that Iggy Pop has proclaimed to be the greatest of all time. For us culture junkies, this is dining with royalty, as Eric Burdon recently chatted with Editor Michael Allen in another American Project exclusive.
Your career in music now spans five decades. The Animals were major players in British Invasion, 1964-1966. How did five talented guys from Newcastle get in the mix?
You’re implying that we weren’t worthy of being in the mix? First off, we had an agent, named Don Arden (who’s daughter now manages Ozzy Ozborn) Back in the days when an English act got onto the American scene, you had to bring an American act back to the UK. After knocking the Beatles off of the top of charts, we were up for an American tour and that’s how we got into the mix of things.
Coming from different regions of the UK, did you even know about the Rolling Stones or Beatles prior to 1964?
We didn’t know about the Rolling Stones. I had no idea that the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were around. I was introduced to the Stones at a show, but I think it was before they were the Rolling Stones. With the Beatles, it was earlier. I had just come back from a trip to the south. I drove around the city hall and saw thousands of girls all wearing the same thing, duffel coats and plaid skirts and all of them were screaming. I stopped my Jeep an asked who was playing there that night and one of the girls said, “Haven’t you heard of the Beatles!? ... Go, get lost!”
This was really a condensed time frame, with multiple personal appearances, and I'm assuming recording sessions. Was the process well managed, or did you just hold on for dear life?
We were worked to death on the road, we just did gig after gig. Then if we did have some time off, we were in the studio. With cut albums in about a day. “House of the Rising Sun,” in particular, we were on the Chuck Berry tour and we realized that we had better come up with something special to shine against Chuck Berry. We had a day off so we traveled by train to London, off-loaded the gear and hauled it all into the studio, did one sound check and cut the track in an hour, then we were on our way back to the tour for the next day. The record was mastered, printed and shipped by the next week. Thanks to the television show, “Ready, Steady, Go”, the next thing we knew it was at the top of the charts.
Do you look back at the band's six appearances on the Ed Sullivan show as defining?
Defining what? Television is the worst medium to work on. Ed had us in the cellars of the studio (with no air conditioning) for days practicing his entrance from stage right, then on the day of the show, he would stumble in from stage left and bump into all of us.
It appeared that Ed held all the cards back then. What was your impression of the man?
Ed did have all the cards, as you say and if you didn’t do his show, you weren’t anybody.
How do you feel when you watch those clips today?
It’s hilarious. Its really ridiculous. When I look at the suits that we were wearing and I look at my hair (it looked like a wig), I can’t help but laugh. I don’t like television though. I always feel like I’m just looking at ghosts, as opposed to movies, which is like looking at spirits.
Okay, I'm curious .... Are you aware that legions of American garage bands closed their little local gigs with "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place"?
Of course they did, It’s a perfect song for people who are in situations that they don’t like. I have to tip my hat to the people in the Brill building who shipped the albums off. It was made for the Animals. It’s been almost as popular as House of the Rising Sun over the years and it’s always popular with troops who are serving in awful places that they just want to get out of.
You shifted gears around 1969 and joined forces with the band War. In addition to your trademark R&B, bluesy style, this music added a Latin influence. Great music, and the formula obviously worked producing quite a catalog. What attracted you to this group and sound?
I moved to Southern California and realized that one of the attractions of living in Southern California is being close to the Mexican Border. I had been to Spain and loved the Spanish people and their attitude toward music. I provided War with lyrics to apply to one of their rhythmic Latin claves. Also, a horn player in the band, had his own band called See Your Soul. He was very well known in the Latin Quarter of Los Angeles. They hated blues though, I think that’s what broke the band up.
Do you stay in touch with any of the players?
Not to over simplify, but by today's standards, The Animals, War, and of course your solo work, seems uncluttered ... like you walked in to play and record. By that I mean no-overdubbing, or overly produced songs. Very similar to hearing the music live. How do you feel about the current techniques used in recording today?
With the addition of Computers, it really takes the sting out of mixing. If somebody messes up a solo, you can just slide it in after another recording. There is something to be said about one take, no rehearsal, recordings and if you manage to pull that off these days, nobody believes that you did because you can’t believe anything these days. I try my best to get things the first time around. It’s always a great achievement.
Record labels are struggling, and the distribution model has dramatically changed. What are your thoughts on music downloads?
You can’t stop it, so you’ve got to try to live with it. The best way is to join up with download sites and have your music ready for download for a small fee.
The old model was to record, and then tour to promote the music. Has the digital world made it easier for talented people to launch a career?
Nothing is easy and there’s nothing that can make this career any easier. I guess it’s pretty much the same, you make a record and then go out and promote it. I used to say though, If it doesn’t travel, it’s not rock and roll. It’s not the real thing. Then again, nothing is exactly the same as it was. These days, I think that artists should just hope that they can come away with a song or record that they’re proud of.
What's on your playlist?
Everything and anything. I listen to anything that has got soul and is attractive. I like eastern music, African music, Rock and Roll, I like the band Calexico. Anything as long as it’s got soul and can carry away to a different world.
You've conquered a very tough business. What keeps you motivated?
Music has magic powers. It always has, since man crawled out of a cave and started using their voices to imitate animals. (which, most people don’t realize is why we named the band “Then Animals”) What keeps me motivated is that magic.
What's next for Eric Burdon?
There is a live album that is going to be released soon. As soon as we get done with the tour we’re going to have that mastered and then it can be released. There is also a new Studio album in the works. I’ve been down to New Orleans to record songs for that album and I’m hoping to go back as soon as it would be safe for my health to do so and finish up the album so the fans can get their hands on it at the beginning of next year.
Fans can visit my website to listen to one of the songs from my new album called, “An Invitation to the White House (It Was A Dream)." The song is also available now on iTunes and all other download websites. So far the feedback has been very good and I hope that everybody enjoys it.
Learn more about Eric Burdon at http://www.ericburdon.com/.
Image 1 & 2 photography by Marianna Proestou.
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