Eric Victor Burdon was born May 11, 1941 in Walker-upon-Tyne, England on a night German bombs rained down on the city of Newcastle. He was raised in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, an industrial city whose main export was coal. Eric’s father was employed as an electrical engineer during the Second World War, working in the Naval Yard several miles from their home. As a young boy, Eric was fascinated by weapons of war, a fascination which is apparent in his art.
At fifteen, Eric enrolled in Clayton Road Art College to pursue a career in set design. It would be here that he would grow the roots of his musical tastes in the form of the American Blues. While at Clayton Road Art College Eric began what would become an illustrious musical career. It was while Eric attended Art College that he became friends with a wild local gang who called themselves the Squatters, a wild and capricious bunch who fought, drank and lived hard. It was not an easy life but it was an exciting one. It was a time when music was reaching new bounds and breaking old barriers, with the new and exciting sounds of Jazz, the Blues, R & B and the early chords of Rock falling on the impressionable ears of Northumbria’s youth.
Eric’s roots in rock stemmed from the poor, black and working-class America. That is the form of life he identified with and formed his musical interests accordingly. He met Johnny Steel at the Clayton Road Art College in Newcastle and formed a long and lasting friendship that has endured through many long and difficult years. They found a mutual interest in jazz and formed a band called The Pagan Jazzmen. This venture lasted until they discovered American R & B. They dropped "Jazzmen" from the name of the band and came to be known as The Pagans. They soon began playing in numerous clubs in Newcastle and found that they had formed quite a following. While Eric experienced the music scene down in the Smoke, jamming with such future rock personalities as Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart, Johnny Steel and Alan Price formed what would come to be known as the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo. Alan sang and played the organ/piano and Johnny played the drums. In September of 1963, Eric came back to Newcastle and rejoined the band along with two more musicians, guitarist Hilton Valentine from The Wild Cats and bassist Chas Chandler from The Kontours. Local club owner, Mike Jeffries became their manager and they realized that they needed a new name, one that bespoke their roots.
One evening they sat with a group of friends in a Newcastle Pub throwing about a number of names they could call themselves, many of which were completely absurd. Eric suggested Animal Hogg and The Squatters after the most engaging character of the local gang many of them were associated with. Alan Price suggested a shortened version, The Animals, and a legend was born.
In September of 1963, The Animals signed a contract with Mike Jeffreys which stated he would be their manager. The week before Christmas Mike made a deal with Yardbirds’ manager, Giorgio Gomelsky. The Yardbirds would play a series of dates on the Newcastle circuit and The Animals would play a series of gigs on the London circuit. The plan worked. They were embraced by the unfamiliar London music scene who took The Animals’ brand of "sweaty R & B to their hearts". Jeffreys introduced them to Mickie Most who would become their record producer and in March of 1964, The Animals went into the recording studio to record a portion of their debut LP. The first single released by The Animals was a variation on an old blues ballad, "Baby Let Me Take You Down". The Animals version, "Baby Let Me Take You Home", made considerable progress, rising to number fifteen on the UK charts.
In May of that same year, they toured Great Britain with their idol, Chuck Berry. During that tour, The Animals stopped briefly at the recording studio to record "House of the Rising Sun". The session lasted less than twenty minutes. The song that would burst them onto the international music scene had been recorded in one take. It is important to note that due to the number of names they could fit on the recording label, Alan Price’s name was the only one credited to "House of the Rising Sun". This was incorrect but after being reassured that they would all be paid equal royalties for the song, they went ahead with its release. They would later regret that decision. Within three weeks of the songs first pressing, it hit Number One on the UK charts. On September 5, the song made it to Number One on US Billboards Chart and by the time The Animals hit US soil, the fans were waiting.
The US tour began in late September during which The Animals made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show performing "House of the Rising Sun". They went back into the recording studio in November and by February 1965 their third hit single, "Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood" was steadily climbing its way towards the top. Royalties for "House of the Rising Sun" began pouring in about the time that Alan Price began to feel uncomfortable about flying abroad. He left the band in April of 1965 to pursue his own career in music, deciding to tour with Bob Dylan. The only Animal to receive money for the single which grossed millions was Alan Price. Needless to say, this left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth because everyone of them had taken part in writing the monstrous hit.
With Alan out of the picture, The Animals moved forward replacing him with Dave Rowberry in May of 1965 and went on to tour the US and make another appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show to perform "Bring It on Home to Me" and "Bright Lights, Big City". "It’s My Life" was recorded in September of 1965 and was another big hit for The Animals. It would be the last single The Animals would make with producer Mickie Most. They didn’t feel that they were evolving musically because, with Most, they were unable to record the material of their choice. Their break with Most signaled a significant musical change for the band.
In January of 1966 they recorded tracks for their fourth US release, Animalization, which is the first of two their less "pop" oriented albums. Animalism is the second. Animalisms, released in Europe, is in essence, a compilation of both these records. On March 5, 1966 John Steel played his last gig with The Animals. By March 15, he had been replaced with Barry Jenkins. But by this time The Animals were worn out and, quite frankly, angry. The ordeal with Alan demoralized the entire band and signified the end of this chapter in the lives of The Animals. In addition to that, the guys had been on a virtual non-stop tour of the World since bursting on the scene a year and a half earlier.
After the release of their last LP, Animalism in mid-1966, The Animals disbanded on September 5. But, that was not the end of Eric Burdon and those Animals. Less than two weeks passed after the official break-up before Eric was back in the recording studio. Session men and an orchestra created the showcase for Eric’s vocals and the chosen songs were a repertoire of commercial pop written by Randy Newman and Carole King among many others. Why Eric decided upon those particular compositions is a mystery because it was such a vast departure from his earlier, more bluesy choices. Although the resulting LP, Eric is Here, released in March 1967, would be credited to Eric Burdon and The Animals, the new band had yet to be formed at the time of recording.
After an appearance on Ready, Steady, Go! with Otis Redding and Chris Farlowe in September 1966, Eric began his search for a new line-up. Auditions commenced and by mid-October 1966 Vic Briggs (guitars), John Weider (violin) and Danny McColloch (bass) had joined Eric and former Animals’ drummer Barry Jenkins forming Eric Burdon and The Animals. Their first public appearance was made at Finsburgy Park on October 20th complete with new musical direction largely inspired by the American West Coast music scene.
Their first single, "When I Was Young" was recorded in January of 1967 and the next month they began a tour of the US and Australia during which they gathered, wrote and recorded the material for their next LP, Winds of Change, which would be released in October 1967.
Eric Burdon and The Animals played at the Monterey Pop Festival during the height of the "Hippie Movement". It was here that they performed excellent renditions of "Hey Gyp", "Paint It Black" and "Gin House Blues", albeit while taking part in the fad of the decade, LSD. The Festival proved to be an inspiration for Eric, afterwards writing the hit single, "Monterey", based on his experiences there.
After the release of The Twain Shall Meet in December 1967 and the successful hit singles "Monterey" and "Sky Pilot", Zoot Money joined the band on keyboards and the LP, Everyone of Us, was released in early 1968. This LP is often regarded as the least favored of those released by Eric Burdon and The Animals but is regarded as one of their best but most unusual.
During the last American tour, Vic Briggs and Danny McColloch quit and their replacement, Andy Summers of Police fame, was found. They debuted August 4, 1968. In October they recorded their LP, Love Is, but by the end of their Japanese tour in late November, Eric Burdon and the New Animals ceased to exist.