When names from the British Invasion get tossed around, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who are usually towards the top of that list, though running right on their heels is The Animals when it comes to influence and endurance. Not only did the Eric Burdon-led band pack a unique punch of soul and blues within its frenzied rock n’ roll stylings throughout the 1960s, but the group’s renditions of “House Of The Rising Sun,” “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “It’s My Life” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” sound just as vital five decades later.
These days, front man Eric Burdon tours with a reconstituted version of the group and continues pursuing a fruitful solo career, most recently releasing “Til Your River Runs Dry” (which marks his longtime return to the historic ABKCO label). Chicago Concert Reviews recently tracked down the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famer for his reflections on The Animals past and present, reinventing himself with War, right up through the current collection, plus what he’s bringing to City Winery on February 15 and 16 after instantly selling out last year’s appearance.
It was a kick to know that we knocked The Beatles off of the number one slot in America with “House Of The Rising Sun.”
Your first City Winery appearance in Chicago sold out so fast it prompted two additional shows. What can fans expect this time around?
Eric Burdon: Yes, it was so nice to receive such a welcome in Chicago. Last time I was really sick with a bad cold, but somehow I made it through and the audience was so supportive. This time I’ll bring an extra sweater and be more careful! After a nice break for the holidays, this will be one of the first shows of the new year for us and I’m looking forward to returning to City Winery with a fresh approach to the songs, [plus] some different tunes and new energy.
What are some of your most memorable moments playing in Chicago over the years?
Burdon: Chicago is always special for me, as it is the place where rock ‘n’ roll got the blues. The blues from Chicago was the best; Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, and of course, Bo Diddley. Chicago was ground zero in the creation of this music. When I was 17, I was fortunate enough to hear Count Basie’s Orchestra with Joe Williams singing their hit, “Going To Chicago.” I dreamed of going to Chicago as a young kid singing the blues in the clubs in Newcastle, and later, I was lucky enough to tour with Chuck Berry. So for me, every time I visit Chicago, those people are with me and their voices are everywhere I go, in my heart and soul.
About how long have you been playing with the latest line-up of Eric Burdon & The Animals and how would you describe the chemistry between the band as a whole?
Burdon: I’ve worked with Tony Braunagel, Red Young and Terry Wilson as far back as the ‘80s and we reunited nearly a decade ago. Billy Watts and Wally Ingram are the newest members of the band [and we’ve been playing together] almost as long. That is longer than any other line-up I’ve worked with and I think it shows when we go on stage together.
“‘Til Your River Runs Dry” is an extraordinary album and your first on ABKCO in many years. How did linking back up with your original label bring additional visibility to the project?
Burdon: It is really important to be surrounded by people who support you. I never had that, from the very beginning. No Brian Epstein or Andrew Loog Oldham on my side. The last couple of years, I’ve had my wife, Marianna, managing me. She has strong instincts and my best interest at heart. It was her idea for me to return to my original label, ABKCO, sort of retracing my footsteps and correcting my missteps. So far, it seems to be working out pretty well. ABKCO has been very supportive and has really helped make me more visible.How would you describe the project for those you’ve yet to hear it?
Burdon: It’s a very personal reflection of keeping the faith, despite the losses that come with getting older, finding gratitude for what you’ve got and being vigilant about protecting it from harm. I feel that “‘Til Your River Runs Dry” is one of my most personal albums and it was very gratifying to see the critical response to it.
Do you consider your solo work simply an extension of The Animals or its own completely separate sound?
Burdon: I like to constantly find new sounds. The original Animals were unique in their time, and the solo work that followed was always about expanding the palate. The psychedelic version of The Animals took the sound somewhere that had never been heard before. Same goes for War and everything that came after. It’s all rooted in the jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll, but hopefully, each record has it’s own sound.
What are your proudest moments from the original British Invasion era?
Burdon: It was a kick to know that we knocked The Beatles off of the number one slot in America with “House Of The Rising Sun.” But just coming to the land where the blues was born was a thrill for me.
Is there anything you wish you could change from that time period?
Burdon: Yes. The weather. If I could have brought the California sun with me, I may have stayed in Newcastle.
Your time with War was short-lived but extremely well-received at the time and continues to endure. How do you feel about the material these days?
Burdon: I think we broke some ground combining Latin rhythms with the blues and spoken word. I stand by it. In fact, you will hear some of that music at the City Winery.
In addition to your own work as a songwriter, you’re known as a master interpreter of many genres. What are a few of your favorite reactions from other artists after they’ve heard your renditions of their material?
Burdon: Cynthia Weil told me in a doctor’s office once that she hated what we did with “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.” “But we got use to it,” she added as she [exited]. Nina Simone almost kicked my ass when we first met, for messing with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” but we ended up becoming the best of enemies.
You’ve influenced so many artists over the years, from Robert Plant to Bruce Springsteen to The White Stripes. Were there any that you were particularly pleased or surprised to hear about?
Burdon: Bruce’s comments at SXSW were quite surprising and I am glad I happened to be there and had the chance to go onstage with him. I met Patti Smith last year at one of her shows and was touched by her warmth and the enthusiasm of her and her band.
Is there anything left on your bucket list you’ve yet to accomplish throughout your illustrious career thus far?
Burdon: Bucket lists are for people who wait for their retirement years to start living. The only list I’m working on is my next set list.