Eric Burdon's New CD, "'Til Your River Runs Dry"
You can listen to samples of music and also read an interview with Sixties English-born blues rocker Eric Burdon courtesy of Rolling Stone magazine at the following URL --
I have been a follower of Burdon for almost fifty years, ever since as a schoolboy in Liverpool in 1965 I heard the diminutive frontman of the original Animals sing "In My Life." The song meant something to me -- the lyrics about a disadvantaged person succeeding whichever way they could -- and the Animals from Newcastle in the northeast of England with their gritty sound struck a chord with me given my own Liverpool background.
I soon became conversant with the other Animals hits, "The House of the Rising Sun," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "Don't Bring Me Down," and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." When Burdon split from the first Animals and formed another Animals combo with some talented musicians, I followed them into the Flower Power era as they recorded "When I Was Young," "San Franciscan Nights," "Sky Pilot" and "Monterey." Later the second Animals line-up broke up and after a short period trying to break into acting, Burdon hooked up with the mostly African American combo War to record "Spill the Wine" and the long player The Black-Man's Burdon (1970). For the last forty some years, Burdon has been appearing solo with various line-ups and with varying success.
Recently Burdon has received a boost to his career from Bruce Springsteen who has performed onstage on "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" with the legendary former Animals front man as a guest. The Boss spoke about how hearing the Animals, fellow working class rockers, influenced him as an up and coming musician from Asbury Park, New Jersey. See Springsteen's 2012 Keynote Speech at South by Southwest in Austin on Youtube.
The last time I saw Burdon perform was a couple of years ago with another Animals lineup at the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland -- a nice intimate cabaret-style venue, and he was sitting down and not standing or bouncing around as he has usually done while performing. I have since learned that he was experiencing severe back problems which have been remedied more recently with surgery. Burdon explained on the Tavis Smiley's PBS talk show that the enforced inactivity, unable to tour, led to the current album.
The lead-off track on 'Til Your River Runs Dry is called "Water" and you can watch the official video on the Rolling Stone site. Burdon told Tavis Smiley that the idea for the song came from former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev whom he met. Somehow I can't bring myself to imagine Burdon and Gorbachev together... but nevertheless! In any case, the former Russian leader mentioned to Burdon that water is a worldwide problem... that the planet either has too much of it or not enough. This idea struck a chord with the singer who has lived for some 40 years in the arid southern California desert. He told Rolling Stone, "Some people are squandering the world's most precious resource while others have too little clean water to drink. At the same time, we have tsunamis and cities under water. And yet, we still ignore Mother Nature's warnings. I sing this song in the hope that I can bring some balance to the issue, to bring some awareness of the importance of water to our future on the planet."
The difference between the early songs sung by the Animals and Burdon's material now, and also a factor in the demise of the Animals -- apart from marked personality clashes between the band members and managerial mismanagement -- is that they were recording songs written by others: Lieber and Stoller, Goffin and King, etc. By contrast, Burdon is co-writer on the majority of the songs on this album, and presumably wrote most of the lyrics.
A much more subdued track, in which the blues shouter achieves some surprising falsetto notes is the thought-provoking "Devil and Jesus" (see the video) whose lyrics go "The Devil and Jesus / Controlling my soul / They fight with each other / But I pay the toll. . ."
I have been listening recently on my train trips between Baltimore and Washington D.C. to my work as a medical editor to Bob Dylan's recent CD Tempest (review upcoming in a future blog posting). It strikes me, as great as that CD is, you never get the feeling that the songs are about Dylan, rather he seems forever to be wearing a mask, always playing with the listener... he might use the terms "I" and "me" but it's a persona. With Burdon, it's different -- each of these songs, to various degrees, is transparently personal.
As a blues singer and rhythm and blues artist, Burdon has had a love affair with black America, going back to "The House of the Rising Sun" and beforehand in Newcastle... that song having been recorded by black blues singer Josh White in 1947, and adapted with swirling organ and mesmeric guitar licks by Animals organist Alan Price and lead guitarist Hilton Valentine. Thus perhaps it's no surprise that one of the tracks on the new album is the fun and funky "Bo Diddley Special" -- not the first time Burdon has sung about that rhythm and blues artist who did a show in the singer's native Newcastle in those early years, and whom Burdon describes in the lyrics as "The most African American I ever did know!" Nor that the ending track of the CD is a great version of Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me" which fully matches some of the rhythm and blues numbers done by the original Animals.
Perhaps the nadir of Burdon's career was a track on his 1967 Winds of Change album, a pretentious piece titled the "Black Plague" (check it out if you dare on Youtube), and unfortunately "River Is Rising" begins with similar doomy shades as Burdon intones, "And darkness was upon the face of the deep / And the spirit of God moves upon the face of the water" ... but ultimately and luckily for us, the song shakes off such lugubriousness and becomes a funky, jazzy piece. And it does at least fit in with the water theme.
Social consciousness is also a characteristic of "Memorial Day" which explores some themes that the singer has treated before (e.g., in 1968's "Sky Pilot" etc) -- how it is the poor that fight the nation's wars. The veteran singer told Rolling Stone, moreover, "on Memorial Day, I don't want to only remember the combatants. There were also those who came out of the trenches as writers and poets, who started preaching peace, men and women who have made this world a kinder place to live. So it's the hippies, the poets and the spartans that I will remember on this Memorial Day."
"Wait" is a poignant and engaging tribute to the singer's wife Marianna who took the atmospheric black and white photographs for the album.
"Old Habits Die Hard" contains the admission by the former Animals frontman that Scotland Yard has a file on him... er, well, along with Jagger, Richard, the late Brian Jones, a certain Sir Paul McCartney, and other rockers who indulged in drugs during the Sixties and Seventies: "Well, I was born in troubled times / Yeah, yeah, I've wasted my youth / Moving so fast / I missed middle age / but I found out the truth...."
In a similar vein, perhaps, "27 Forever" is an affecting song memorializing the singers who got involved with drugs and other celebrity excesses and didn't escape the grip of such vices. Burdon is now age 72 (he was born May 11, 1940 and will celebrate his 73rd birthday at his Southern California ranch in three months time). He knew and performed on the same stage as performers who died early such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix -- in fact, he knew Hendrix well: Chas Chandler, the bassist for the original Animals, became Hendrix's manager following the Geordie group's demise. After Hendrix's death on the night of September 18, 1970 at the Samarkand Hotel flat of Monika Danneman, in Landsdowne Crescent, Notting Hill, London, she called Burdon who advised her to call an ambulance (see the Rolling Stone obituary on Jimi Hendrix). The coroner's verdict was that the rockstar died after choking on his own vomit.
"Medicine Man" is a strong, affecting song that asks "who is gonna save the Medicine Man" -- Burdon said: "I fell in love with this song as soon as I heard it. It's penned by Mark Cohn. I never met the gentleman but this song is more than brilliant. It's a great story, a novel wrapped up in the form of a song." It could be about an Indian medicine man or equally about any doctor or healer.
Before the fine Bo Diddley track that closes the album there is "Invitation to the White House" which is something of a tour de force -- Eric Burdon's interesting reflections on and imagined interactions with President Barack Obama, yet another black man that Eric Burdon has romanced in song during his long career. The veteran singer mused to Rolling Stone -- "My visit with him was just a dream but maybe someday my dream could become a reality."
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