Born May 11, 1941 (one source says April 5, 1941), in Newcastle upon Tyne, England; immigrated to the United States, mid-1960s; returned to England, 1983. Education: Attended Newcastle College of Art. Addresses: Record company--Raven, P.O. Box 26811, Richmond, VA 23261.
Sometimes referred to as a "black singer trapped inside a white skin," Eric Burdon achieved international fame by belting out bluesy rock numbers with the Animals in the mid-1960s. His raw, hard-edged vocals were a key ingredient in a number of hits for the band in their native United Kingdom and abroad. After the original Animals disbanded, Burdon made his mark as a vocalist with the black band War.
While growing up in Newcastle upon Tyne, a port city just south of England's border with Scotland, Burdon had no burning desire to be a singer. His first exposure to the music that would hook him came at about age 12, when a merchant seaman who lived in his building let him listen to records he had brought home from the United States. Burdon became a lover of rhythm and blues after listening to recordings of Fats Domino, Bill Doggett, and other black artists-- works that couldn't be obtained in England at the time. Thinking he didn't have the skills to play an instrument, Burdon concentrated on developing his voice.
At the Newcastle College of Art, where he studied graphics and photography, Burdon further developed his interest in blues artists and formed a band. At the time, his only interest in music was as a diversion. After leaving school, however, he began performing for money because he couldn't find a job in television as a set designer or art director. In 1962 Burdon found work as a lead singer with the Alan Price Combo, which took in about 30 shillings (a little over $4) a week for each musician. The group changed its name to the Animals, began to develop a following as regulars at the Club A Go-Go in Newcastle, and by 1963 were landing gigs in other English cities. Members of the Animals included Burdon on vocals, Chas Chandler on bass guitar, John Steel on drums (succeeded by Barry Jenkins), Price on organ (later replaced by Dave Rowberry), and Hilton Valentine on lead guitar.
Soon the group recorded a demo for local fans; the tape was taken to London by their manager and found its way to producer Mickie Most, who then came up to watch them perform. Most saw the group's potential, brought them to London, and signed them to a recording contract. In London, the Animals performed regularly at the Scene Club and continued to build up their audience.
The Animals recorded a cover of Bob Dylan's "Baby Let Me Take You Home," which made it onto the charts in April of 1964, and earned the group a slot on a Chuck Berry Tour in the United Kingdom. They then hit Number One later in 1964 with their version of the traditional ballad "House of the Rising Sun"--and for the next two years were one of the hottest acts in the world. Vital to the group's success was Burdon's gift for vocals; his powerful, unrefined sound placed the Animals in a class with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones for a time during the mid-1960s.
In 1965, after turning out hits such as "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," the Animals suffered a creative blow with the departure of keyboardist Price, whose subtle arrangements and organ playing helped give the group its distinctive sound. Meanwhile, Burdon was causing dissension in the band with his rowdiness, heavy drinking, and purported use of LSD. After greatly reducing their number of concert dates, the group disbanded in 1966. Burdon recorded a solo album in early 1967 with New York studio musicians, then took a sabbatical from music. He claimed to be working on a novel and pursuing film projects with a rock-music theme.
Saying that he preferred a warm climate, Burdon decided to move to California. He settled first in Los Angeles because it offered the latest recording technology and was the heart of the movie industry. In time, he moved on to San Francisco, where he formed the New Animals with Vic Briggs on guitar, John Wieder on guitar and violin, Danny McCullough on bass, and former Animals drummer Jenkins. The group later featured Andy Summers, who eventually became the guitarist for the Police.
In the late 1960s, living in the U.S. capital of "flower power," Burdon attempted to transform himself from streetwise tough-guy to hippie leader. His music shifted along with him, from an emphasis on tough R&B to the increasingly popular acid rock. He signed his new group to a contract with MGM and released four albums, including the double album Love Is. Burdon's New Animals placed singles on the charts with "Good Times" and "San Francisco Nights" in 1967, "Sky Pilot" in 1968, and "Ring of Fire" in 1969.
After the demise of the New Animals, Burdon stationed himself in Los Angeles and was often seen with guitar virtuouso Jimi Hendrix on the rock circuit there. When Hendrix died of a drug overdose, rumors about Burdon's own drug problems proliferated. He stated he was retiring from music, but in 1969 producers Jerry Goldstein and Steve Gold urged him to get involved with another band.
They connected him with members of Nite Shitft, which featured six black musicians and a highly regarded Danish harmonica player named Lee Oskar. Burdon first went into the studio with the group, then toured with them as Eric Burdon and War. Their first album together, Eric Burdon Declares "War," was very successful and remained on the charts for much of 1970. Burdon's funky vocals on "Spill the Wine" brought the single to Number Three on the U.S. charts. The singer soon found himself back in the limelight, and the group was invited to make guest television appearances on the David Frost and Ed Sullivan shows. In August of 1970, Eric Burdon and War performed in Britain.
Burdon's assumption of a black persona with War incited some race-related controversy, especially with the release of the less-than-tactfully-titled Black Man's Burdon in December of 1970. Despite his musical success with the group, Burdon and War parted ways in less than a year.
The vocalist revealed that his interest in the blues was as strong as ever when he teamed up with blues legend Jimmy Witherspoon on Guilty! in 1971. Burdon went back to perform in Britain in 1973, then shifted gears away from black music in 1974 to record two heavy rock albums with his Eric Burdon Band. He released a reunion album with the original Animals in 1977, then put together the band Fire Dept. with German musicians for one album, Last Drive, released in 1980. Burdon further cashed in on his enduring popularity with German audiences by appearing in the German film Comeback in 1982, which also featured his original soundtrack. Comparisons could not be avoided of Burdon's own life to the movie, which was about the downfall of an aging rock star.
When a re-release of "House of the Rising Sun" became a hit in 1982, Burdon and the original Animals went on a six-week tour of the United States. By this time more than 40 years old, Burdon still managed to capture all the raw power of the hit songs that had sealed the group's fame in the mid-1960s.
Despite his frenzied stage performances over the years, Burdon wrote in his 1986 autobiography I Used to Be an Animal, but I'm All Right Now that he had always hated touring and being in the public eye. The memoir traces Burdon's life from his working-class origins, through the development of his musical interests in the blues, and recounts the ultimate turmoil of touring: Burdon reveals that he was repulsed by the invasions of privacy he suffered in the United States during his first visit there--but enthralled by seeing his heroes James Brown and B. B. King at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He also laments that his manager had lost the Animals millions of dollars in shady tax deals. In her review of the book for the New York Times Book Review, Andrea Barnet commented: "Taken as social history, [Burdon's] autobiography stands as a vivid record of what has now become pop mythology."
Various contractual and personal problems made Burdon's output erratic during the 1970s and 1980s, but the staying power of Animals material was confirmed by the 1991 Roadrunners CD, a collection of live recordings from Burdon's music files. In a Rolling Stone review, David Fricke noted that the collection "vividly captures the punky stage intensity of the band's mongrel acid-R&B sound."
Considered by some observers to be music's greatest white blues vocalist, Eric Burdon also revealed an ability during his career to achieve success in a variety of genres ranging from blues-tinged rock to psychedelia to funk. The multifaceted singer's erratic career shifts and often self-defeating lifestyle caused his popularity to wax and wane over the years. However, he is unequivocally credited with providing the penetrating energy that propelled the Animals to superstardom in the 1960s.
by Ed Decker
Eric Burdon's Career
Vocalist with Alan Price Combo, a band that later became the Animals, beginning in 1962; signed contract with manager-producer Mickie Most and moved to London, 1964; recorded cover of Bob Dylan's "Baby Let Me Take You Home" with the Animals for first charted single, 1964; recorded first Number One hit, "House of the Rising Sun," with the Animals, 1964; moved to California and formed the New Animals, 1966; announced retirement, 1968; regrouped original Animals for Christmas concert in Newcastle, 1969; became front man for War, 1970; cut album with Jimmy Witherspoon, 1971; formed Fire Dept. with German musicians; appeared in several European movies, late 1970s; starred in and wrote soundtrack for German film Comeback, 1981; resettled in London, 1983; wrote autobiography I Used to Be an Animal, but I'm All Right Now, 1986.
- Selective Works
- Singles; with the Animals "House of the Rising Sun," 1964.
- "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," 1965.
- "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," 1965.
- "It's My Life," 1965.
- Singles; with the New Animals "San Francisco Nights," 1967.
- "Sky Pilot," 1968.
- "Ring of Fire," 1969.
- Singles; with War "Spill the Wine," 1970.
- Albums; with the Animals The Animals (with Eric Burdon), MGM, 1964.
- Animal Tracks, MGM, 1965.
- Animalism, MGM, 1966.
- The Best of Eric Burdon and the Animals, MGM, 1967.
- Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted, Jet, 1977.
- Albums; with the New Animals Winds of Change, MGM, 1967.
- Every One of Us, MGM, 1968.
- Love Is, MGM, 1968.
- Roadrunners (a compilation of live recordings from the late 1960s), Raven, 1991.
- Solo albums Eric Is Here, MGM, 1967.
- Survivor, Polydor, 1978.
- Black and White Blues, MCA, 1979.
- I Used to Be an Animal, Striped Horse, 1988.
- Albums; with War Eric Burdon Declares "War," MGM, 1970.
- Black Man's Burdon, MGM, 1970.
- Love Is All Around (recorded 1970), ABC, 1976.
- Albums; with the Eric Burdon Band Sun Secrets, Capitol, 1974.
- Stop!, Capitol, 1975.
- Other albums (With Jimmy Witherspoon) Guilty!, MGM, 1971.
- (With Fire Dept.) Last Drive, 1980.
- Comeback (soundtrack), 1982.
January 10, 2006: Burdon's album, Soul of a Man, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bbcom/reviews/album_review_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001843732, January 15, 2006.
- Burdon, Eric, I Used to Be an Animal, but I'm All Right Now, originally published in 1986, Faber, 1987.
- The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 3, edited by Colin Larkin, Guinness Publishing, 1992.
- The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Harmony Books, 1988.
- Helander, Brock, The Rock Who's Who: A Complete Guide to the Great Artists and Albums of 30 Years from Rockabilly to New Wave, Schirmer Books, 1982.
- Kent, Jeff, The Last Poet: The Story of Eric Burdon, Witan Books, 1989.
- The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Donald Clarke, Viking, 1989.
- The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
- Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martin's, 1989.
- Periodicals New York Times Book Review, May 3, 1987.
- Rolling Stone, October 27, 1983; March 21, 1991.
- Stereo Review, December 1988.
Visitor Comments Add a comment…
almost 11 years ago
I saw Eric in concert 4/28/12. I also got to be included in the meet & greet beforehand. He was fantastic! Voice is in top form. He danced around, smiling and feeding off the energy of the crowd. The fans were on their feet for almost every song. I can't wait to go to another concert!
about 11 years ago
What a voice he had. To hear him sing my utmost favorite song "House of the Rishing Sun" just blows me away. Good luck to you alway Eric.
about 11 years ago
Always makes me feel great to listen to your music, gives me reality check on my roots. When I listen to you sing it puts my dad right next to me again.My favourite is always House of the Rising Sun! What a wonderful time to be alive, Thank you!
over 11 years ago
take off glass need to see your eyes looking good lolpenny
almost 12 years ago
I am honored to share a birthday with E.B.(different year)As a fellow Taurus,you will only get cooler,hotter,sexier,smarter,feistier as time goes on!Early on,you&the Stones were the only British bands that could REALLY do the black blues thing.Keep on rockin,brother,no one does it better!
almost 12 years ago
I am honored to share a birthday with E.B.May 11,different year.The Animals were the most "American/"of all the British bands at the time,except possibly the Stones.Eric,as Tauruses,we*ll just keep getting cooler,hotter,sexier,smarter&feistier than many others,keep on rockin,brother,nobody does it better!
almost 12 years ago
Great singer great music...
almost 12 years ago
A movie about Eric Bourdon would be just wonderful! As a teen I loved Eric. To this day I think he is the greatest singer I ever heard. Good luck to him in his older years. Does any one know if he ever married and had children?
over 12 years ago
I would love to see a movie about his life story, because from seeing a few interviews he did he sounds like a very down to earth person and LOVE that voice I could listen to it all day not only singing, but also just talking he sounds so sexy he is the greatest now and forever.
over 12 years ago
im in love with the young eric listen to him on my way to work! Would love to see him live so I could form my on opionon!
over 12 years ago
I love him voice.....turns me on wow! Hope to see you soon in NYC ERIC.....(AKA Bobbie Hutton Facebook).
over 12 years ago
I enjoy so much his voice.....what a turn on wow!!!!Hope I get to meet him here in NYC soon ....AkA Bobbie Hutton
over 12 years ago
Simply the best, Bar-None! Just saw Eric, had a picture taken with him and chatted with! This man still sings his tail off at 69 forever young! This update is from Deb & Cliffy 9/18/2010. Eric Burdon and the Animals at a concert in Limcoln City, Oregon. This day also happens to be Jimmy Hendrix's memorial. 40 years ago today, passed away and was a very close friend of Eric to which he gave tribute tonight.
over 12 years ago
Just saw Eric and his new Animals at the Coach House in Southern California he was the best, close your eyes its the 60's all over again. Loved it.
over 14 years ago
Just saw Eric Burdon (7/30/08) at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, VA last night. At age 67 he is still full of energy, blues, and an unbelievably powerful voice. If you closed your eyes you'd think that he was still young. Except for not singing Spill the Wine, it was all that I could have asked for.
about 15 years ago
I've just heard that Eric Burdon and War will reunite for one concert only at the London Royal Albert Hall on 21st April 2008. Tickets go on sale from www.livenation.co.uk at 9am GMT on Thursday 14th April. To the Bat phone . . .!!!! http://www.noblepr.co.uk/Press_Releases/live_nation/war.htm
over 15 years ago
I just saw Eric Burdon in Laughlin, Nevada. I think he needs to end his singing career. He really cannot sing like he used to. I also asked him for his autograph and his very rude of a manager would not let him take one second to sign for me. Anyone in the business would normally do that, but this Bitch of a woman manager is Rude.