MUSIC / ERIC BURDON : Wry Pilot : The former lead singer of the Animals is doing his version of the Glad-to-Be-Working Tour.
He has one of the most distinctive voices in rock ‘n’ roll, so powerful he could shatter a statue of Ella Fitzgerald and scare off the rising sun. Eric Burdon is coming to town. This onetime hirsute harbinger of happening harmonies will be bellowing out a hefty heap of hits. But he’s no Animal--not anymore.
Burdon will headline the Anaconda Theatre on Saturday, when his own personal version of the Glad-to-Be-Working Tour makes a brief stop in Isla Vista.
Burdon will be joined by those onetime Santa Barbara faves, Strawberry Alarm Clock, doubtlessly performing their one big hit from those silly, psychedelic ‘60s, “Incense and Peppermints.”
There’s a lot more than one Burdon song to wait for. Who can forget such biggies as “House of the Rising Sun,” “We Gotta Get Outta This Place,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “It’s My Life,” “San Francisco Nights,” “Sky Pilot,” “Spill the Wine” and lots more? Radio certainly hasn’t forgotten.
“My voice? Yeah, well, I used to drink a lot of beer when I was a kid and I sounded like a drunk in a choir,” Burdon said in a recent phone interview. “I don’t drink anymore.”
Burdon, born in 1941 in Newcastle, England, became a fan of American rhythm and blues as a teen-ager, then joined the Alan Price Trio in 1962; it became the Animals. And thus began a lengthy stay on the charts, beginning with a new standard of the old standard “House of the Rising Sun,” which went to No. 1 in 1964.
“I was in college, and very disappointed,” Burdon said. “I majored in commercial art and interior design for three or four years. At that time, it seemed the thing I really wanted to do, production design, just wasn’t available in the U.K., so I turned to music.
“I used to hang out a lot in jazz clubs, and the groups took to a kid like me who wasn’t afraid to get up and sing with a jazz band. Then I started to hang out in rock clubs and learned to carry off different styles.
“As far as the Animals breaking up--it was my fault. I wanted out. We took it to the max, as far as we could take it. Our reunion tour in 1983 went pretty good until we left America. Then we pushed it too hard and it fell apart.”
Among the 12 million bands that made up the British Invasion in the ‘60s, few lasted much longer than the time it takes Fidel Castro to decide what he’s going to wear. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, the Kinks and the Animals are about the only bands of that era that get consistent airplay.
“I’m thinking of getting involved in a project involving the ‘60s to be made by an independent production company,” Burdon said. “I would be the host. I think it’s a valid subject, and the so-called British Invasion is still happening. It was a good thing to have happened. The flow of creativity between musicians was incredible. People were really angry about a lot of things then. I don’t know what happened. People somehow allowed themselves to become programmed. But there’s still a lot of hope.”
Many of the British bands of the ‘60s also had a serious case of the blues. Can white guys get the blues? Of course. And Burdon, described in his bio sheet as a black man trapped in a white man’s body, wasn’t the only one.
In America, Burdon said, “they were throwing away blues, and rhythm and blues, in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was a definite stance to keep young white Americans from listening to black music.”
After the original Animals broke up, Burdon formed a new group of Animals. Then he formed the band War with harmonica player Lee Oskar and absorbed the backup musicians for former Ram-turned-singer Deacon Jones. After a couple more hits, Burdon left War, but he has never really left the stage.
“We’ve been playing pretty regularly,” Burdon said. “During the last 11 months, we’ve played as far west as Hawaii, as far north as Alaska, as far south as Mexico City and as far east as the Virgin Islands. We pretty much stick to the regular repertoire when we play. Having had experience in this area, it’s no good trying to ram stuff down people’s throats. People come to hear ‘House of the Rising Sun’ anyway.
“Right now, we’re getting ready to go into the studio. My last album was in 1988 and I’ve been writing for the last two years. The current lineup is the best ever. A hit record would be nice.”
WHERE AND WHEN
Eric Burdon and Strawberry Alarm Clock at the Anaconda Theatre, 935 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista, 685-3112, 9 p.m. Saturday, $15.
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