Eric Burdon

Interview by Dennis Morgillo

Interview with Eric Burdon by Dennis Morgillo
Photo © David Weimann.
Eric Burdon is the charasmatic English singer of the band 'The Animals' and later with the funk band 'War'.  Classic Hits include 'House of the RIsing Sun', 'We Gotta Get Out of This Place', 'Spill the Wine', 'Sky Pilot' and many many more.

Madhouse: Can you tell us what it was like growing up in post war England?
Eric: It was a black and white world, with very little sweetness. In fact, quite literally, sugar was being rationed so any treats were extremely rare. There was the debris of the Nazi air raids everywhere and it fueled our young imaginations. Music, books, art and films provided the only way out.

Madhouse: I am sure that every day fans are telling you how great you are,  but has a fan ever relayed a particularly moving story on how you touched their life? Can you share that story with us?
Eric: There have been countless people who have told me that they first learned guitar by playing "House of the Rising Sun" and that is always nice to hear. ""House of the Rising Sun" has been an important part of my life since the beginning and it has followed me everywhere. One night I was in DC doing Larry King's radio show and as I was saying good night, Angie Dickinson who was a guest on the show, offered to show me around the Capitol and she took me to the Vietnam Wall in the middle of the night  and there was a group of Vietnam Veterans sitting in a circle around a small fire, smoking a joint and listening to "House of the Rising Sun: on a small tape player but the one song that is the favorite among Vietnam Veterans is "We've Got to Get Out of This Place" and many have expressed their gratitude for that song.  They come up to me, shake my hand and tell me, "Hey man, you saved my life."  I became almost jaded about it. But one day, several years ago, a veteran approached me , the same way, and said the exact same words. "Hey man, you saved my life." I smiled at him and was about to keep moving, but this guy had tears in his eyes so I stopped. I felt there was more to the story. He looked at me, dead serious, and said, "No man, you really saved my life. I was in a trench and I left for just a minute to go get an Animals' tape, that my mother had sent me, and when I came back my entire company had been obliterated." That is some heavy shit.  I mean, what can you say to that? I never forgot that.  It will stay with me forever.

Madhouse: What was your favorite gig/event/tv appearance during your time with the animals?
Eric: Before we had even made it out of Newcastle, we got to accompany Sonny Boy Williamson, one of our great heroes. It doesn't get much better than that. Not long after I went solo, I did a TV appearance where I sang with Otis Redding. Those would both rate among my favorite but truthfully, I'm not stuck in the past. Every new gig has the potential to be the best one ever. One of the most memorable performances with the Animals was our 1964 appearance at the Olympia Paris, not long after Edith Piaf's passing. Her spirit was still lingering heavily in the atmosphere of that theatre. Then, just a few years ago I went back there to perform in a sold out concert and the vibes were still as strong as ever. Around that same time, I did a performance in Poland with 10,000 guitar players in the audience, all playing "House of the Rising Sun," to set a world record and that was incredible.

Madhouse: in 1969 you joined forces with the band ‘WAR’ - how did that come about?
Eric: I had been studying at Lee Strassberg Institute in LA when I met the management team of Gold and Goldstein. They persuaded me to give up acting and go back on the road. I needed to find a band to eflect where I was at, at the moment so we went to see a multicultural band called Nightshift down in Long Beach. We had to pare down the group a bit to make it feasible to go out on the road and I declared them, "War," but I didn't realize at the time that "War" spelled backwards was "Raw," and that is the kind of deal I got with Gold and Goldstein. Nonetheless, they were an excellent funk outfit, which perfectly suited the direction I wanted to go musically, at the time. 

Madhouse: You are ranked #57 on rolling stone magazine list of top singers of all time - do you lend any credence to that? if so do you get angry when you see inferior singers ranked better than you?
Eric: Why should I be upset? The fact that I made it into Rolling Stone is good enough. It seems that they are rewriting history. Rolling Stone hasn't mentioned me in years so I was really surprised to see my name there. The position on the list doesn't really matter.
Number 57 is not bad at all considering the thousands of singers out there. It was an honor to be on the list at all, but truthfully, I have never done what I do for the reason of getting awards or accolades. I don't have a Grammy. I don't have a lifetime achievement. The one and only award I have,  besides being inducted in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, was I got the Bluesman Award recently from Classic Rock Magazine and that was pretty cool.

Madhouse: Your influence on rock, grunge and pop is well known, but I have not heard this before - I am crediting you with inventing rap - the first rap song ever i believe is.. ‘year of the guru’ from your album ‘every one of us’ released in 1968.  Are you aware of this? Do you agree? 
Eric: I’ve always included some spoken word with my songs, from Story of Bo Diddley on, so thanks for saying that but there has always been something called Talking Blues. I am sure that 'rap' was invented around a campfire a thousand years ago.

Madhouse: What was your favorite memory of the Monterey pop festival?
Eric: It was great to play with my new band and have the love of the audience for the new sound we were creating. It was world's away from the Animals and the air was filled with promise. That was the best festival of all. It was really about peace and love and music. Very easy going. It was great to see Ravi Shankar quietly plaing his sitar and transporting the sound of India to thousands of people. It told me you didn't need loud instruments to get a message across. 
But hanging out with him and Brian Jones and the others backstage, knowing that there was something very special happening there, was the best part of it all.

Madhouse: Who was the one celebrity you met that was most impressive to you?
Eric: It would be hard to not mention Muhammed Ali, the leader of the free world. I met him and I met Louis Armstrong and the list goes on from there. I can't really pinpoint one. I've met some very interesting people, famous and not. Some of them push brooms. But the well-known names who come immediately to mind include Mikhail Gorbachev, Ray Charles, Joe Turner, Ethel Waters, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jeanne Moreau, Bridget Bardo, Nina Simone, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Sydney Bechet, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Ridley Scott, Helen Mirren, just to name a few.

Madhouse: When you are not touring, what do you like to do?  
Eric: I like staying at home, reading a good book, watching a great film, sitting by the fireplace with a nice glass of wine, a couple of close friends and some good conversation.

Madhouse: Do you live in the USA or England? Whats your favorite city in the world and your favorite city in the USA? 
Eric: I live in a small, mid coastal California town, about an hour North of LA. So close, yet so far away from the madness of the city.  It's a peaceful, spiritual place, where many artists come to find rest and inspiration. It's surrounded by mountains, beautiful Oak trees and there is a lake nearby, as well as the ocean. You can hike in the mountains, swim in the ocean  or kayak on the lake and all of this is within just ten minutes distance from my home. I have great memories of the Greek Islands, Amorgos and Serifos. I love San Sebastian, Barcelona. Of course, I love the desert, where I lived for many years. Portland, Austin. I have many favorite places on this beautiful planet.

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