Authenticity is a key component in any form of music, whether it’s rock, pop, blues, country, jazz, R&B or soul. Blessed with a gritty, soulful voice that can move mountains, Eric Burdon is rightfully regarded as a rock and roll icon. In the ‘60s, as lead vocalist of the Animals Burdon helped lead the British Invasion charge on these shores.
The group’s tough and sturdy songs, We Gotta Get Out of this Place, It’s My Life, Don’t Bring Me Down, House of the Rising Sun and Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, embodied the weathered working class spirit of the blue collar brigade. They were a pivotal influence on the likes of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, David Johansen, Southside Johnny, Bon Jovi, Grand Funk Railroad, Bruce Springsteen…you get the idea.
After the Animals called it quits, Burdon remained a vital creative force in music, issuing a strong of solo albums, from Guilty! to Eric Burdon and the Greenhornes, an EP he cut with a Cincinnati-based garage rock band in 2012.
Burdon’s latest CD, ‘Til Your River Runs Dry, finds 72-year old still vital and immersed in his craft, digging deeper and connecting with the very source and essence of his artistry. He spent some time speaking with Rock Cellar Magazine in an engaging new interview- enjoy below.
Rock Cellar Magazine: On your latest CD, you have a song Bo Diddley Special that pays tribute the wonderful artistry of Bo Diddley. Speak about impact of Bo on you as both a musician/songwriter and how he still remains criminally underrated.
Eric Burdon: Yes it’s true that he is terribly underrated but you hear his influence everywhere, in everything from Buddy Holly’s Not Fade Away to David Bowie’s Jean Genie and obviously in the Rolling Stones and the Animals. We worshipped the guy and I felt it was my duty as a farewell gesture to send him off with a proper salute. Not only the song I wrote about him, from the experience I had attending his funeral but I also included, Before You Accuse Me on ‘Til Your River Runs Dry.
Rock Cellar Magazine: 27 Forever is a very personal song about lost musical friends who passed away too early (“You know what they say, the good they die young, gonna stay 27 forever…”) . Can you expound further about what inspired you to write that song?
Eric Burdon: You said it. This song is a tribute to many young, talented musicians who pass at the age of 27, from Robert Johnson to Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, with many of my contemporaries and friends, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, in between. I wrote this song not just in memory of those great artists but also as a warning to younger artist who are struggling with the same issues today, fame, money, expectations from the public, loneliness, drugs, booze.
Some things remain the same. I believe it has something to do with the Saturn return. It’s a time one needs to be storing enough to get through.
Rock Cellar Magazine: In 2013, is success as a musical artist simply a matter of staying true to yourself with hopes that your songs will also connect and resonate with your audience?
Eric Burdon: I believe I’ve always tried to be true to myself and the one or two times I have strayed have turned out to be disastrous.
Rock Cellar Magazine: As an artist, how do you ensure that your river of inspiration never runs dry?
Eric Burdon: There’s no guarantee. You can’t be too sure of that. Right now, the inspiration, at this stage in my life, is at its peak. There are so many things I want to complete. I feel the urge to create and I want to strike while the iron is hot.
I am panicking because I have so many things I want to do. My only concern is timing. Therefore, I don’t think the river will ever run dry for me and I hope I am right!
Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s the first music you recall hearing as a child?
Eric Burdon: On record, Johnny Ray singing a pop song called Cry which was as close as you can get to blues in the realm of popular music. He was known as the “cry boy”. Then on film soundtrack Shame, Shame, Shame by Smiley Lewis. I recall hearing this song in the movie Baby Doll. That song made a lasting impression on me and as it was played over the opening titles of the film it set up the atmosphere and content of this early 1950’s sexual Southern drama.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Growing up, who were the vocalists you looked up to that impacted you most significantly?
Eric Burdon: Tennessee Ernie Ford, Big Joe Turner, Joe Williams, Big Bill Broonzy, Ray Charles, the lyrics of Chuck Berry, the sexual drive of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis piano, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Big Mama Thornton, Memphis Slim, Muddy Waters. All the usual suspects. It was a great pool of talent to draw from.
Rock Cellar Magazine: We recently interviewed Linda Ronstadt and she told me she sang best between the age of forty to fifty, how do you feel about that? Does that hold true for you, with experience your voice peaks at a later age?
Eric Burdon: I realized I had a power in my voice when I was thrown out of music class for singing too loud. I would overpower the rest of the choir. Later, I recorded with the local jazz band and heard myself for the first time on record. I knew I had something going. I am fortunate that my voice is still as powerful today as it was 50 years ago. It’s kind of amazing to me really. It’s not something I want to talk about too much but it is a great feeling to know that it’s still there.
It’s a gift and I accept it with all seriousness.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Performing in 2013 as opposed when you first hit it big, how are things different, is it more fun for you today?
Eric Burdon: It’s not fun at all to travel these days. Airlines don’t give a shit. There’s too many people traveling. Too many delays, cancellations. Travel is not fun. You remove the drugs and heavy drinking and the pool of women, who made themselves available back then, so it’s nothing like it was when we were young.
Nowadays, it’s a good meal, a good book and great company. A glass of wine and off to bed… Now, it’s all about the hour or so on stage.
The connection with the fans and the musicians surrounding me. That’s what makes it worth while.
Rock Cellar Magazine: With years of touring under your belt, performing songs you’ve sung many times, how keep it fresh?
Eric Burdon: Every time I sing a song I do it from where I’m at at the moment. I never sing it the same way twice.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s the measure of success for a project, do you judge its success by sales or whether you’ve satisfied yourself artistically?
Eric Burdon: Both things are important. Let’s be honest about it. I wouldn’t mind if ‘Til Your River Runs Dry went platinum but I was already satisfied with it from the moment it was completed.
Rock Cellar Magazine: In 2012, Bruce Springsteen gave a keynote speech at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin and expressed his debt to The Animals and the ideal and integrity you brought to your music. He specifically said: ““To me, The Animals were a revelation. One of the first records with full-blown class consciousness that I’d ever heard. (*sings We Gotta Get Outta This Place*) That’s every song I’ve every written.”
Later you jammed with him while in Austin and again in July of this year in Cardiff sharing a duet with Bruce on We Gotta Get Out of This Place. How does it make you feel to know you r music connected with an artist of that caliber and impacted him so profoundly as a songwriter?
Eric Burdon: Bruce Springsteen’s comments caught me by surprise and still mean a lot to me. I really enjoyed performing with him on stage and appreciate the kind words he so generously offered. He’s a true gentleman.
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