I PICKED up Eric Burdon at the BBC Maida Vale studios at 11 last Friday morning.
Although at the time he was concerned about his appearance in court this week on a Customs evasion charge (he was fined £200 on Monday), he was in high spirits over the success of ‘It’s My Life’, the Animals’ seventh big hit.
Deciding that a slice of life with in-the-news Burdon would make interesting reading, we left the studio to consoling strains of ‘Jailer Bring Me Water’, sung by road manager “Tappy” Wright and Hilton Valentine!
To do an interview on Eric you really have to “stay with him” – anyone who has sat on a wild horse will know what I mean – and so in a series of 50 mph jerks we lurched towards London in his sports car, where he was to get a copy of his birth certificate at Somerset House. He had lost his passport somewhere in the middle of America and needed the certificate to apply for a new one.
The conversation opened about their new disc.
“Everyone has been knocking the record,” said Eric. “They say ‘it sounds like Phil Spector meets the Shadows,’ but in spite of the attacks it is our highest NME Chart first-entry ever and that makes us very happy.” It came in at No. 14 last week.
“Personally I don’t like the disc, but the credit must go to our recording manager, Mickie Most, who knows what is commercial. At first I really hated the record. But now I’m beginning to get used to it.
“Something we must do now is to bring out an EP. All our EPs have been breakdowns from our albums so far. But now I want to make one that is all new tracks.
“The Manfreds and Stones have proved there is market for them and we ought to have a go. I’m still keen on doing those old Presley numbers. We recorded ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ at Luxembourg studios a few weeks back and it came out with that old exciting Presley sound.
“Only my vocal sounded different and I tacked a ‘Ah’ve split my jeans’ on the end for a giggle. I’m trying to convince Chas that we should include numbers like ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in our stage act. He’s not so keen. But I’m working on him.”
“It’s my life and I’ll do what I want….” sings Eric on the new hit. I asked him just what kind of life that was at the moment.
“It’s full of contrasts,” said Eric. “One moment it’s a kind of Cinemascope, Technicolor World out in Beverly Hills. It’s a world where you can’t order bacon and eggs without the waiter wanting to know if you like them ‘sunny-side up, lightweight, flipped’ or the bacon ‘streaky, side rasher or ham.’
“It’s a wonderful world full of luxury and expensive surrounds, where you meet the mayor of Mississippi, who is ordained minister and swears like a trooper and your recording company representative was once Frank Sinatra’s road manager.
“It’s a world where you are talking on the phone to your own idol Ray Charles. He’s telling me how much he digs the Animals and how he hopes we can meet personally next time we come to the States!
“He tells me about his own recording company, Tangerine, and I tell him that I want to write about him in my book…
“Suddenly everything goes bang and you find yourself flying back to London in a jet at 500 miles an hour. There’s a TV set above your plane seat. The whole world is flashing by.
“Suddenly, bang again! You’re arriving in a dirty old van with autographed messages scrawled all over it at the TV studios, and you pull up next to a hired Austin Princess, in which the Rolling Stones travel. No one believes that you still ride around in that dirty old wagon.
“Next moment you are changing in a sweaty little room in the back of a club where you’re lucky if you can grab a coke and a hamburger. No one waits on you. There’s no palatial hotel and if you’re lucky you get to bed some place in the early morning.
“It’s a great scene for us. It teaches you never to become big-headed. You make the best of both worlds and you can get as big a kick playing in those little clubs as the Hollywood Bowl.
“The pace is the most frightening thing. I’m living on pills! I’ve got pills to make me sleep. Pills to make me wake up. Pills for my asthma. Pills for my allergy. Pretty soon I’ll need to take a pill to raise my arm.”
We arrive at an underground garage in the City and the attendant greets Eric with; “Hello, I thought you were in the nick.”
Eric smiles, pretends he has not been hearing cracks like that all day. They chat about the new cars in the Motor Show.
At Somerset House an elderly, braided guardian of our birth-rights reels back at the sight of our bejeaned, bewhiskered Burdon and defensively enquires our business.
Finally recognised as “one of them groups,” Eric is admitted to those hallowed archives where the tiers of bound volumes containing the records are kept. At last we find the name of Eric’s father listed and go down to the counter to obtain a certificate.
Eric takes the document, scans the contents with a grin.
From Somerset House we go to the BBC studios at Earls Court where Eric tapes a copy of a programme he has previously recorded with Brian Matthews about his views on rhythm-and-blues.
The Negro magazine Ebony has asked him to write on the subject. He is more pleased about this than had he received the vocalist of the year award. He hopes to get some ideas from the programme to include in his article.
We leave Earls Court and race back to town in the car. A few frantic phone calls and instructions to his fan club secretary, Maureen, and to publicist Anne Ivel, then we’re off again. It’s six pm and Eric gets his first meal of the day – a hastily snatched steak with a cheese omelette.
Back to the flat in Earls Court and two hours sleep before going on stage at Harlesden’s 32 Club. He’s worried about the court case when he appears, but hides his anxiety from the crowd by losing himself in the music.
The Animals are on stage providing the kind of electrified excitement only they can. Eric Burdon is there, stomping his foot, jerking his head, perspiring and singing his heart out: “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want!”
© Keith Altham, New Musical Express, 5 November 1965