Eric Burdon is one of rocks few legendary performers left who refuses to sell out. Yes, he still performs the Animals ever-requested hit of 42 years past, House of the Rising Sun, for masses of reminiscing baby boomers at 60s retrospectives. Yes, he still brings to life the erotic, funk quality he honed while fronting for War in the 70s. But he insists on peppering his nostalgic rock shows with what he prefers: raucous and soulful blues that win him new fans among the old. He has often been referred to as the best white R&B singer of the 60s, but his voice today is deeper and gutsier than ever. His last three albums, My Secret Life (2004), Athens Traffic (2005) and this years Soul of a Man, are each a testament to the blues that inspired him at age 14, growing up in Newcastle, England. Today Burdon resides in the California desert and tours worldwide.
While waiting for his call time before for a recent summertime concert in the park in Woodland Hills, Burdon quietly pads around his hotel room in bare feet, looking innocuous in black shorts and a wrinkled white T. With closely cropped snow-white hair and stubble framing his face, sipping a Starbucks caramel frappuccino, Burdon looks a far cry from the sexy bad boy of rock he once was. But with a sly look of yore, he sets up his own recorder next to this interviewers apparently mistrustful of the media. With two tapes running, the questions begin, and it becomes clear that at age 65, this animal is still champing at the bit to tell the world a thing or two.
Your songs, Sky Pilot, Monterey and San Franciscan Nights, reflect a type of musical journalism common in the 60s. Do you still try to convey political or meaningful messages in your songs?
Quite honestly, over the last few years there hasnt been much going on that interests me. You live long enough and things start to repeat themselves, and you go Oh, Ive been there before. Look at Vietnam and where we are now. Im reading a book on the history of the Vietnam War The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990 by Marilyn B. Young and Ive heard people compare Vietnam and Iraq. In either case, we shouldnt have went. Its too late now, man. Once youre in, youre in. Tragic things went on in Vietnam. There was a weird karma going around. When Vietnamese leader Diem was assassinated, President Kennedy was assassinated soon after. Very strange. People are manipulated and sold a bill of goods by our media you guys and its like, oh man, not again.
What do think about the recent terrorism plot in London?
When Britain lost India and they started pulling out, it was written in the constitution that those people were allowed to come to the mother country to find work. The British wrote it, they set it up, but now that its in the works, they dont want it. If you go to the Midlands or you go north where I come from, you might as well be in India. Theres a mosque on every corner, and what drove them there was the British Empire.
This is not only happening in England, its happening everywhere. Its the way of the world today. All of the borders are down well they were before 9/11 nothing is the same after 9/11. But leading up to that, all the borders came down in Europe, and there were no more border checks. The European Union is a huge concept where supposedly there are no more border checks. They pretend that there are no racial problems. You look at BBC television and you get sold a bill of goods. The sitcoms are white people in white situations with one or two blacks cast in roles out of gratuity to be politically correct. People have a massive problem dealing with outsiders being unable to recognize the human being through his black skin or his white skin, and seeing him as an individual.
Do you not touch upon these issues in your new music?
[Shouts] Im bored with it. I think that its the same with warfare. Its so out of date and so stupid. I cant stand stupid people and stupid things that dont make any sense. Centuries before, an American went to war against the British oppressor to free this country away from British taxes and the rule of law from London. They went into battle with weapons that were secreted in they were given German rifles so they had better guns than the British. There used to be a reason to believe in the weapon you were holding because it was manufactured by your people against an enemy. Now everybodys facing the same weapons that were all dealt out by the same people. What we have to stop if weve got any sense at all is the international arms trade. Even countries like Sweden they make machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, and SAAB jets. And then they make pretty little cars and they have ads on TV saying [makes the blasting sound of a jet taking off] Go on some jets! Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex, a phrase we know so well yet dont take any notice of. Am I going to stand up to the plate and open my mouth politically these days? No, let Neil Young do it.