War and peace
Legendary rocker Eric Burdon discusses Bo Diddley, Lorde and Ojai
By Michel Miller 05/15/2014
Rock ’n’ roll hall-of-famer Eric Burdon turned 73 years old this week. In his lifetime he’s been witness to the evolution and devolution of the human race. From the atomic age to the information age, the British Invasion to techno, the vinyl record to the iPod, the invention of astro turf to the melting of the polar ice caps, the sexual revolution to the AIDS epidemic, he’s seen mankind’s potential to create as well as destroy. And all along the way, his own progression as an artist has remained a constant — a rolling stone, and all that. On the journey from pioneer to legend he’s had occasion to both collaborate with his heroes and grieve their passing. From writing to performing, composing and painting he has never ceased to translate life to art.
As a musical artist, his fingerprints are on every acre of the cultural landscape since the 1960s. Bruce Springsteen once remarked that every one of his own songs contained the DNA of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Outta This Place.” Currently an Ojai resident, Burdon recently released his 11th solo record, ’Til Your River Runs Dry (in addition to countless records by various incarnations of The Animals, three with War, two with Jimmy Witherspoon and numerous collaborations). A highly personal reflection of a life well-lived, it offers both criticism of our collective transgressions and hope for our enlightenment. He will be performing songs from it as well as the classics at Libbey Bowl in Ojai this weekend. He took some time off from the rigors of touring to answer some questions VCReporter solicited from local fans.
VCReporter: How does it feel to be the best, yet most unknown and underrated artist from the British Invasion?
Eric Burdon Well, first, thank you so much for saying I’m the best. I’ve never related to the idea of the British Invasion as much more than a PR gimmick but, that said, there were a lot of very talented people who made the trip across the Atlantic around that time. I don’t think the Kinks, for example, ever really got their due.
How influential were Bo Diddley and the blues to The Animals?
The blues was everything to us and is still at the root of everything I love. Bo Diddley was one of the most important figures to us. His sound was so distinct, as well as his great personal style. That’s why we paid tribute to him so early on and recorded his songs; and that is why I pay homage to him on my latest album, after attending his memorial with my wife in Florida.
Jim Morrison wanted to be as good as the band Love. Was there a band like that for you and The Animals?
On the earliest recordings, you can hear me sending shouts out to John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. We just wanted to be the best we could be. Our heroes were Ray Charles, Muddy Waters and all the early rockers, but we had our own thing going on.
How did the War collaboration come about? It seemed like an odd pairing for the time.
I’d been singing rhythm and blues for years before I hooked up with those guys. Strangely enough, I learned that the terminology R&B meant something different altogether in the U.S. The time was right to create a multiracial band and I was in the right place to do it, in L.A. However, I did manage to push the guys in War to adopt my approach to the blues, which made it to the record. Before long though, this brought about a parting of the ways between us.
What’s the difference between the American and European audiences of today?
It’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes they seem pretty much the same. Generally speaking, European audiences are more varied in age. Younger people in Europe have an appreciation for the more timeless sounds. I guess it’s partly because they are allowed to accompany their parents in places where they serve alcohol so they have more exposure at any early age to a wider range of music.
Who are today’s Animals fans?
They are the same people who were fans from the beginning, and their children and grandchildren.
Is there anyone doing anything truly important in music currently?
It depends how you measure importance. Bruce Springsteen is important because he is a working-class guy and still an influence to young kids.
“We Gotta Get Outta This Place” became an anthem for soldiers in Vietnam. Why is protest music important and do you see anyone creating it now?
That song was not exactly protest music, but it was adopted by soldiers who wanted the hell out of Vietnam. Today, guys in Afghanistan hear the song and feel the same way. It’s always important to say something in music, and Springsteen and a few others still do. The fact that he covers Lorde’s song “Royals” suggests younger people are still doing it whenever possible.
You’ve written books, acted in films, written and performed music. Do you have a preferred form of creative expression?
Music is my No. 1 love, but I’m constantly writing. It’s been a while since I’ve had time to sit down with a paintbrush but I could see picking one up again one day. They’re all valid means of self-expression, but music cuts through to people’s souls like no other.
How do you like living in Ojai? Some people believe there’s a mysterious creative energy there.
I love it in Ojai. I’ve just come from the desert, which also has a mysterious creative energy, so I’m attracted to places with that kind of vibe.
What should we expect from your performance in Ojai?
For one thing, I’ll be celebrating another spin around the sun, so I expect to be feeling pretty good despite the jet lag. We’ll mix it up between the songs everyone knows, from The Animals and War period to material from my new album, ‘Til Your River Runs Dry, all of which work together very nicely. I give it my all for maximum, mutual satisfaction for all parties.
Eric Burdon at Libbey Bowl in Ojai on Saturday, May 17, 5 p.m., with special guests Dishwalla and Rubberneck Lions. For more information and tickets, visit www.libbeybowl.org/events.