The Animals: Animals Took Liberty With Prison Song

“WE TOOK A terrible liberty with ‘Inside Looking Out’,” admits Eric Burdon. “It’s the first number we’ve recorded without a tune. It originates from a Mississippi prison song, the kind of blues we’ve always wanted to do.

“We knew we could rely on a hard core of regular buyers to support this disc. It’s taken us out of the rut we were getting into with ‘It’s My Life’ and ‘Bring It On Home To Me’.

“We aired the number in its original form as ‘Rosie’ on RSG just before Christmas and tried it on stage, where it got fantastic reactions. Chas and I completely rewrote the lyric into a more commercial form and thank goodness it’s worked!”

So saying, the elusive Eric, who was talking to me on the Top Of The Pops set, disappeared into the BBC-TV make-up room – an unprecedented move.

After that, another journalist began doing what was apparently Eric’s life story and I lost him somewhere between the studio canteen and the BBC club. Chas Chandler said consolingly that I could catch him at the opening of the Ram Jam Club in Brixton that night.

The chase

So we shot off in pursuit of Eric’s Mustang saloon and went to the nearest pub to the club where we assumed we’d find Eric. We found everyone but – Mr. and Mrs. Spencer Davis, Stevie Winwood, Georgie Fame, Dave Rowberry (who begins to look more like Richard III every day), John Steel – but no Eric.

I talked to John about his leaving the Animals. “We’ve had hundreds of applications to replace me already,” he smiled. “We’ve had offers from drummers you would never think would want to leave their present group. The guy Eric wants is with another well-known group so obviously we can say nothing yet. And there must be some form of audition.”

We got inside the club just in time to hear the compere introduce Eric on stage for the first performance. Thunderous applause for the cosmetic Eric; he hadn’t had time to remove his TV make-up. He was mobbed, so I gave up for the night and made arrangements to ring him next afternoon. But Eric vanished that day.

That evening I met the hysterical Animals’ publicist in the pub round the corner from our offices. “I’ve spoken to him,” she said triumphantly, “He’s in the flat now – ring him.” I dialled Eric’s number. Too late – gone again!

Missing

On Saturday Eric had to be at a recording session to help balance some of the LP tracks. I phoned the studio at mid-day An irate sound engineer said: “He hasn’t turned up and I’m going home!” Later Eric explained he thought the session was 11 o’clock at night till one in the morning!

Seventeen phone calls later and precisely 11.30 on Sunday night I made my last attempt.

“Were you trying to reach me?” said the voice at the other end of the line. After I finished screaming, we talked more about the disc.

“The scene was getting too refined,” said Eric. “We had to do this disc to wake everyone up who had been listening to Ken Dodd and the Beatles ballads, which I dig – by the Beatles.

“Excitement is going out of pop over here. All the artists go on stage with an act already written down. It looks canned and contrived. The audiences are partly to blame – they don’t react to a performer strongly enough. I can only give my best when I’m getting audience reaction. We’ve tried to bring a little of the excitement back on this disc.

“It breaks my heart when I see good coloured performers here reduced to saying ‘C’mon, let’s clap!’ to an audience which sits there like stuffed dummies.

“I think James Brown will die a death here because he has built up his reputation playing to uninhibited Negro audiences. There’s a mutual sympathy and understanding among coloured peoples because they are oppressed.

“Over here they won’t know the meaning of ‘soul brothers.’ They won’t understand half of the language and asides he uses – that’s why I think he will fail – I hope I’m wrong.”

Eric mentioned that he had already met James during a performance in Harlem last year. He and Dave were doing a sit-in session in one of the clubs. They had no drummer and James came out of the audience to help.

“We didn’t know who he was until later,” said Eric. “He just said ‘Someone’s got to drum for you,’ and sat in.”

Prediction

Drummers are very much on Eric’s mind at present with John leaving.

“I think now that John has left we’ll never make the Stones or Beatles class,” said Eric.

“On the quiet I’d say John was one of the best drummers in the country. A very steady drummer. They’re hard to find and since I was at college with him when I was fifteen I’m going to miss him as a friend. It’s like he was going to Australia.”

One thing Eric is firm about is that his replacement must fit into the group personality-wise. He must think as they do and he must have a Jazz background which is the basis of the Animals.

“I know who I want,” said Eric “Just like I knew I wanted Dave when Pricey left but the guy I’m after is with another group at the moment so I’m not saying yet and we have to try things out first of course.”

Eric had a few words to say about Gene Pitney’s criticism of their new single. “I don’t mind him not liking it,” said Eric, “because I can’t stand the ‘schmultzy’ material he records. I’m sure he’s a nice guy but I hate his records. He’s just not my scene.

“I’m on Juke Box Jury with him this Saturday. Let’s hope we get a Shirley Bassey disc to review because while they’re all saying how they adore her I can tell them how bad I think she is.”

Future plans for the Animals include the release of the next LP shortly which features tracks like John Lee Hooker’s ‘Maude’ and ‘Gin House Blues’ which were all produced by Dylan man Tom Wilson.

“There’s a girl called Emmaretta Marks I want to record,” said Eric. “She’s coming to England in June so maybe I’ll get the chance.”

It was at this point that Chas Chandler arrived to begin the evening’s festivities with his “soul brother” and the line went dead. But I had got Eric Burdon!

© Keith AlthamNew Musical Express, 25 February 1966

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