By Robert Tuomi
(WINDSOR, ON) – It was most likely the most nonchalant entrance in rock and roll history. The definitive 1960’s British invasion legend Eric Burdon simply walked quietly, no mess, no fuss, from stage right of Caesar’s Coliseum, on February 15, to a front and centre microphone and started singing. He would not stop for some 90 minutes.
Despite being as old as Paul McCartney, the depth of his deep vocal chords went well beyond the souls of his shoes and most of what he sang was soul or soul inspired.
It was 50 years ago this year that Burdon, lead singer for the Animals, followed in the wake of the Beatles and sent North America into a tizzy with his British working class songs with lyrics like, “We gotta get outta this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.”
He and his Animals led the hit parade with other UK bands from 1964 to 1966, until the band basically broke up, losing all of its original members, save Burdon. He rocked on putting his name and “and” in front of “the Animals,” and adding a distinctive psychedelic sound to its style that was highly evident in every song he played, adding a nuance to his earliest work.
Burdon was never your average British hinterland rock singer and he proved it, mixing his hard hitting and very proper English rock and roll with beats, that would make Hugh Masekela proud, embedded with southern blues, of the kind one might hear inside a house of ill repute in New Orleans.
Throughout the memorable night he kept the beat alive, showing his dexterity on a cow bell.
Burdon has always been part rocker, grunge, and all blues master to the extent that he used his first encore to play tribute to American blues legend Bo Diddley. Despite the exceptional band he was fronting, most of the audience, save a couple dressed to the hilt in hippie outfits, stayed in their seats. Possibly given many had brought their walkers, although not the kind associated with Michonne on the Walking Dead.
While the concert was song after song, excluding one of his newest and one, Black Dog, a remembrance of Britian’s most admired wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, most of what he played was from the early 60’s leaving out some of his best work from funk band War, or even his classic San Francisco nights.
But, this was really an all Animals, all the time Burdon who indicated just that, with his five button suit jacket of a kind that graced his album covers in the day. It actually could have been an original being as rumpled as he is. But, nothing can match his distinctive voice.
How he has managed to maintain it over half a century is a mystery. Possibly, thought one admirer, the stuff in the white mug he kept sipping was milk, apparently well-known as a singer’s aid.
Like many bands from the sixties who part and go different ways, legal battles often ensue over who can use the band’s name. Original drummer John Steel tried to gain exclusivity and actually won the matter in 2008. Burdon’s lawyer apparently argued that no one remembers the drummer. A bad argument with the judge disagreeing, using Ringo as an example, a reference to Richard Starkey, the famed Beatles skin banger.
Burdon did prevail on appeal when evidence showed that an engagement Steel booked was cancelled when organizers learned the Animals were sans Burdon.
In true entertainer fashion, Burdon left the best to the last.
His haunting “It’s My Life” with its addictive bass riff that every Canadian, and most likely American, 60’s garage band bass player played over and over, for hours on end, was followed by his signature “House of the Rising Sun.”
The passion was still there along with a little revelation. When singing, “It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy and God I know I know I’m one,” he emphatically pointed to himself just so those in the audience, who probably knew anyway, would be certain that it was a song about him.