There are some songs you know from just a few notes, some voices you recognize regardless of what they are singing, some musicians who have had more impact on your listening life than you may be aware. Eric Burdon is one of those artists and many of his songs are those songs. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to communicate with him via email for this interview in advance of his tour stop in Montreal. Best known as the creative man behind The Animals, War, and as the voice of classic rock’s House of the Rising Sun, he talks influences, his recent album and what to expect from his show.
Stephanie Weiner (SW): What inspired you to start making music? Who were your early influences? And who inspires you today?
Eric Burdon (EB): As a boy, walking home from school, I heard the voice of Muddy Waters coming from the place where he was set to perform later that evening. From that moment on, I knew what I had to do. Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley, James Brown, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Elmore James are still my greatest influences and inspiration. Eric Bibb is one person I like to hear play. Ben Harper. I just did a cruise with Taj Mahal and it was wonderful to hear him still going strong. I’m always happy to hear the latest work by Leonard Cohen. Jackson Browne’s latest CD is really good, as well as Lucinda Williams newest one. Calexico is one of my favorite bands. All of these people are very inspiring to me.
SW: You released a new album in 2013, ‘Til Your River Runs Dry. What was your inspiration?
EB: A number of things were happening at the same time. I was turning 70, reflecting on where I’d been and where I am today. In my first truly successful marriage, enjoying that aspect of life, but still deeply concerned with the state of the world. The crisis around water, the continuing wars. I sustained a fall and injured my back, and experienced a great deal pain, which resulted in needing surgery. Around the same time, one of my lifelong heroes, Bo Diddley, passed away and my wife and I attended his funeral, where I came face to face with him for the first time, even though we had been sending messages to one another for many years. The loss of Amy Winehouse, whom I considered to be a truly major talent, reminded me of the many losses of great artists at that tender age of 27, including my close friend Jimi Hendrix, who people are constantly asking me to talk about. I knew this album had to be a true statement about my life and I think it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever done.
SW: Many know you for your performances of mega hits like House of the Rising Sun, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and Spill the Wine. Of your many iconic songs, which is your favorite to perform? And why?
EB: “Don’t Bring Me Down” is my favorite of all the early records and I can always relate to it on some level. “We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place” means a lot to a lot of people, particularly Vietnam Vets, so it’s always good to feel the reaction of the crowd when we do that one.
SW: Being from the UK, I imagine you’ve experienced many a rainy day. What is your go to record/album on a grey afternoon?
EB: Ray Charles suits me in any type of weather. Sister Rosetta Tharpe always lifts my spirits.
SW: As someone who has grown up listening to your music, (thank you Mom and Dad!), meeting you would undoubtedly lead to a star-struck moment for me. You’ve worked with many other music legends, like yourself, did any of these meetings leave you tongue tied and star-struck? If so, with whom? Tell me about what happened.
EB: When James Brown performed at the Olympia Paris a contingent of us, including Brian Jones, Georgie Fame, etc. flew in to see him. He was seated in a golden throne with a crown in his head. You know, we Englishmen have our kings and queens so my immediate reaction to that was to drop down on my knees and kiss his ring.
SW: You’ve written books, songs, sung, performed, played trombone, produced albums, and the list goes on. Can you tell me something your fans may not know about you?
EB: I’m an avid reader of mysteries and World War II novels. My fascination with the world I was born into has never let up and I have read hundreds of books on the subject. I am currently immersed in Alan Furst and his WWII novels of Spy Versus Spy that take place in the Balkans and in Paris. One of his books “Night Soldiers,” I’ve read and listened to three times.
SW: What can fans expect when they see Eric Burdon and The Animals in Montreal this November?
EB: I’ll be playing a pretty wide selection from my career, lots of the early Animals hits, some rhythm and blues favorites, a couple of the psychedelic era tunes, and plenty from my solo career, especially from ‘Til Your River Runs Dry.
Don’t miss your chance to see this legendary performer live, I sure won’t. Eric Burdon and The Animals at Olympia (1004 St-Catherine Est), November 18th, 8 p.m., $45-79.90