CLAD in a black track suit, zippered to the neck, and still wearing his carpet slippers, the chunky figure of Eric Burdon lay writhing on the floor of his Earls Court flat. I describe it as “writhing,” Eric calls it “exercise.”
At first I chose to ignore these un-Animal like activities and sat nonchalantly on the sofa surveying the phenomenon. Eric was now executing bicycle-like movements with his legs.
Suddenly he leapt to his feet and with a hideous grin, threw himself into a series of violent back bends. I could stand it no longer.
“Nice day,” I commented.
“Hmm,” murmured Eric, “one…two…three” and swung into arms sideways, feet astride, jumping in the air.
Could this be my old mate Eric I wondered? The same guy who used to expend so much energy getting out of bed in the morning that he never got up until the afternoon! The man who gave up basketball, his only physical school activity, when he found the others were mistaking him for the ball. The vocalist the other Animals had voted “Least Likely”! I decided on shock tactics.
“I don’t like your new record,” I said.
“Neither do I,” grunted Eric as he touched his toes. “Seldom like any of our more commercial numbers. It was Mickie Most’s idea and he knows what sells. I wanted it to be faster and a lot more rave appeal.”
Eric then began running on the spot. For those of you who have not fallen in yet, I should explain that our Animal was worried about his figure.
“I’m so out of condition,” puffed Eric. “Too much good food and not enough exercise. The Pretty Things are talking about getting up a football team. We’re hoping to play them on Primrose Hill.”
That should be worth seeing.
Finally Eric collapsed into an armchair and lent over to the record player to play a Nina Simone record, ‘The Black Freighter’.
“Listen to this,” he said, enthusiastically. “There’s so much hate in this record it’s incredible. It’s been banned over here, I think.”
After listening to the number, I was invited to see over the private armoury which Eric keeps in his bedroom.
Apart from colts, pistols and assorted weapons from the last World War, there was a hunting rifle with telescopic sights balanced against the bed. I took down a colt from the wall.
“Loaded, of course,” I said sarcastically.
Eric obligingly fired a few rounds into the wardrobe. Blanks!
“Hilton and Tappy, our road manager, were watching Bonanza on the TV a few nights back,” said Eric. “I sneaked in here, grabbed the pistol and crept back to the other room. I waited for the sounds of a gun fight sequence on the programme, then kicked the door open, rolled into the middle of the room and hammered six rounds at them.”
On the bedroom wall are a sequence of sepia photographs depicting the Animals in trench coats and equipped as soldiers of the last World War. “We’ve just had those done for the cover of our next LP,” Eric explained.
Having endured half an hour of “Keep fit with Eric,” I couldn’t face “Bath time with Burdon,” so I retired to the lounge while he splashed about.
Among the pile of rhythm-and-blues LPs scattered about the flat I uncovered Eric’s Blues Book. This is a large diary in which Eric has written out hundreds of lyrics by artists like Mose Allison and Chuck Berry. On the first page of the book he has written the word “Blues” – in his own blood. He told me later that he had cut his finger specially for it.
Eric, bath over and dressed, took me for a spin in his new green convertible sports car. I’m not saying that Eric is reckless but spinning around like a Catherine wheel at Hyde Park corner is not my idea of a joy ride.
“It shouldn’t do that,” he said, nonchalantly straightening the car and ignoring my ashen face.
He told me that he intends to buy a Rebel flag when they appear in Mississippi soon. He’ll fly it from the rear of the car. His only decoration at present is a rabbit’s foot suspended from the roof by a small chain. It is smothered in lipstick.
“Basic, isn’t it?” grinned Eric as he drove onward.
Arriving in Soho we discovered that Eric’s tailor had moved and he couldn’t remember the address. We proceeded on a mystery tour of the City and eventually arrived at “George the Greek’s.”
In one corner of his room stood a dressmaker’s dummy encased in a russet brown jacket. Eric surveyed the style professionally. “For Jagger?” he hazarded.
“No,” smiled George, “Keith Richard.”
On the wall of the tiny back room were postcard pictures of the other showbusiness clientele, including the Yardbirds. The conversation revolved around the merits of their ‘For Your Love’ hit for a few minutes.
“We were offered that number first,” revealed Eric “We turned it down. I still don’t think it’s a very good song but the Yardbirds’ treatment was what made it.”
Travelling back to the flat in the car Eric turned in an absorbing question of his own by posing the problem: “What groups would I go to hear if I wasn’t a part of the scene?
“I used to come down from Newcastle to listen to Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies,” Eric went on. “There are only about three groups I’d travel to see these days – Spencer Davis, Chris Farlow, and the Beatles.”
Back at the flat we found that Hilton’s brother Bill, on leave from his infantry battalion, was helping out in the kitchen with Tappy.
“Not bake beans again?” moaned Eric.
Tappy hurtled across the kitchen at Eric and grabbed him as if about to toast him. Suddenly he pulled up and began, smilingly, to brush Eric’s jacket.
“I keep forgetting you’re a star,” said Tappy. Eric grinned.
Eric was reminded of an appointment with singer Madeline Bell and we shot down Gloucester Road to collect her in the car. We had intended to go for a meal but Madeline insisted: “I’ve got eggs and bacon at my place.”
When Madeline informed Eric she lived in Finchley I knew it was time to bale out. It took Eric an hour and a half to find his tailor’s. He thought Finchley was near the Zoo!
I caught up with the rest of the Animals at the TV studios the next day and as agent Dick Katz arranged details of their Caribbean trip, I sat in the dressing room.
Chas Chandler is fast becoming the business-man in the group. He talked over the merits of an all-star bill with enough drawing power to fill the theatres and the position the Animals should occupy.
“I’m on a crash diet at the moment.” said Chas. “Dinner was great – a piece of cheese and a lettuce leaf!”
Enter organist Alan Price wearing the latest footwear. The old mocassins have finally seen better days and Alan has now adopted “desert boots” with two inch thick soles. When Pricey buys boots, he buys ’em to last.
On leaving the studio Hilton Valentine was anxious to get back to the flat. He was expecting a phone call from Mary Wilson of the Supremes. They are just good friends. He was stalled when a group of fans surrounding him clamouring for autographs.
“Get the Rover for me,” he cried desperately throwing me the car keys.
I got into Hilton’s car and found myself confronted with a dashboard that looked as if it had been directly transferred from a Wellington bomber. The gear stick was half way up the wall but after repeated attempts to start the engine I finally got the windscreen wipers going a treat.
Once into first gear the car hopped across the road in a series of lurches that would have made a kangaroo green with envy and stalled neatly in the middle of the road.
Fortunately Hilton had by now extricated himself and slid inside to take over. “Thanks,” he said.
As we motored past the back of the Wembley TV studios there in the car park was a remarkable sight. Eric was racing Dave Berry around the perimeter. You don’t believe me. Ask Dave Berry. He dropped out after the second lap!
Anyone for a pep pill?
© Keith Altham, New Musical Express, 30 April 1965