Eric Burdon, 68

When I was thirteen or fourteen, I used to celebrate Eric Burdon’s birthday – which is today, May 11th. He’s now 68, and shows little sign of slowing down. He was a particular hero of mine because a) he came from the North-East, specifically from Walker (where my mother’s mother was born, not that my mother knew that), b) I liked the Animals’ records more than anyone else’s, and c) and probably most importantly, he had acne. I had acne at that age, too, and it impressed me that, on the photo I had pinned to my bedroom wall, he made no attempt to disguise it. I’m still a fan of The Animals, and of Burdon, although I remember having some deep reservations about an interview he did on a late-night TV show (with Kenneth Allsop) just after Hendrix died in 1970. Burdon said that Hendrix had committed suicide, and that he left a message to Burdon to keep his flame alive. I’m a bit foggy about the details, but I had my doubts about ‘Jimi’s message’. (Burdon had played with him the night before he died, and the bass-player of the Animals, Chas Chandler, was Hendrix’s manager.) To be fair to Burdon, he has consistently linked himself to Hendrix since then, for instance on his website, but something snapped when I saw the interview. My hero had feet of clay.

But he has a voice, still, to reckon with. He’s a ‘shouter’ – it’s said that he shied away from vocal training in case his voice lost its edge. He’s also been unlucky in that he has seen very little reward for his howling success with ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. God knows how many times he has recorded it. (You have to be careful, incidentally, with budget CDs claiming to be by The Animals. One of the hits packages features only one former Animal – and not one of the originals – called Danny McCulloch, who played only on some of the post-1967 ‘New Animals’ songs.)

There was a documentary made about a decade and a half ago when all the original five were alive (Chandler is the one who died). The original keyboard player, Alan Price, got the ‘arranger’ credit on ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, and therefore any royalties, which, considering its repeated playing on radio stations across the world, must be substantial (and must also run out in 2014, I suppose, which suddenly seems very close). The documentary was a Geordie comedy, cutting between Price explaining how he had taught the others to play it, and the others, notably Chandler, saying ‘Pricey hated that song. He wouldn’t play it.’ And the arpeggios with which it opened were certainly the work of the guitarist Hilton Valentine (who must deserve an award for having one of the most unlikely real names – it really does sound as if someone else made it up).

But happy birthday, Eric. You couldn’t write a song to save your life, but you could interpret them better than any of your heroes. I suspect I used to celebrate with an extra large can of Pepsi (they used to come in two sizes, before someone invented the jumbo plastic bottle). It wasn’t much of a tribute, but I cared. And I still think, if pressed, that the version of ‘See See Rider’ (also known as ‘C.C.Rider’) was one of the best, no, the best single ever made. It is also an odd fact that, because The Animals split up just after recording one of their best albums, Animalism – confusing, because the previous album was Animalisms – the album has never had a release in the UK, and, as far as I know, only one CD release, in Canada.

Still unreleased, 40 years on

Still unreleased, 40 years on

and not to be confused with

Released in 1966, with the wrong drummer on the cover...

Released in 1966, with the wrong drummer on the cover...

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