The distinctive rasping vocals of Eric Burdon spearheaded the assault that Geordie interlopers The Animals made on the UK and US music charts in the 1960s. Since then though, the transatlantic Tynesider has gone his own way. He was born today in 1941.
Vocalist Eric Burdon was born in the Newcastle suburb of Walker. Distantly related to songwriter Geordie Ridley (he of “Blaydon Races” fame), Eric’s upbringing in the vicinity of Tyneside’s shipyards left him with both asthma and a thirst for self-improvement.
Attending art school developed his passion for girls, film and music – particularly jazz and folk music, not to mention imported US R’nB and country tunes. Forming his first band (The Pagan Jazzmen) with drummer John Steel in 1957, pianist Alan Price would later join them in The Kansas City Seven and return alongside bass player Bryan “Chas” Chandler in what became known as The Animals.
After honing their act at clubs in Newcastle and London, the quartet scored a top 30 hit in 1964 with, “Baby Let Me Take You Home”. However it would be the follow-up, “House of the Rising Sun” that became a global chart topper, Eric’s version of an old tune learnt from local folk singer Johnny Handle straining his voice to its limits.
Success on both sides of the Atlantic followed, although Price left in 1965 and the original lineup later split, Eric continuing with new musicians as the Animals, moving in a more psychedelic direction with releases such as “San Franciscan Nights”, “Monterey” and “Sky Pilot.”
Relocating to the USA, Eric rented a house owned by cult movie star Boris Karloff in Beverly Hills, before moving out to Palm Springs. Teamed up with funk-rockets War in 1969, he toured and recorded two albums with them in as many years – including the single “Spill The Wine” – before veering off to begin a proper solo career, initially with blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon.
A part of Animals reunions in 1975 & 1983, Burdon continued to play and record in his own right in the interim, releasing “The Last Drive” as Eric Burdon’s Fire Dpt. in 1980 and numerous albums via various incarnations of the Eric Burdon Band. The 1990s then saw Eric fronting Brian Auger’s group before returning under the banner of the New Animals, but it took until 2004 for fresh studio material to appear, “My Secret Life” being Burdon’s first new release since 1988.
Still based in Palm Springs (which he claims does wonders for his asthma), Eric continues to play live and makes occasional returns to his native Tyneside. One such gig saw him appear at the historic New Tyne Theatre – once a regular haunt of his in its former incarnation as The Stoll Picture House. And the partisan home crowd fittingly serenaded him a chorus of “The Blaydon Races”. That’s canny.
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And here’s some footage of Eric in action: