The Animals - Biography
If rock and roll emerged from black spiritual gospel music and rhythm and blues, R&B gained back some of its independent spirit with the rock of The Animals, synonymous with the first British invasion and, invasions aside, one of the most influential bands ever forged as the timelessness of songs such as their “House of the Rising Sun,” “It’s My Life” and “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” and “When I was Young” makes quite clear.
While art school grad and vocalist Eric Burdon was bumming around the London music scene in the early 1960s, reputedly rocking out with such future luminaries as Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart, Burdon’s former Kansas City Five band mates, keyboardist Alan Price and drummer John Steel, had reformed as the Alan Price R&B Combo, adding bassist Bryan “Chas” Chandler to the lineup. Burdon returned to his hometown, Newport, England in 1963, and also to the group. Thus reconstituted, the four topped things off by bringing in guitarist Hinton Valentine and re-christening themselves The Animals, an alleged take on their wild and crazy live shows and perhaps, whether intentional or not, a nod to now frontman Burdon’s bluesy growl.
Not long after, The Animals caught the attention of Yardbirds’ manager, and all-around music industry renaissance man, Giorgio Gomelsky. He agreed to let the band gig in his big-city music club, the Crawdaddy, where The Rolling Stones had once been the house act. So it was back to London for Burdon, and the rest of The Animals. There the quintet were signed by manager Mickie Most who, it’s been said, saw them play the Crawdaddy and not long after, The Animals were signed to Columbia Records.
The Animals hit the studio in 1964 and recorded their first single, “Baby Let Me Take You Home,” which made the UK charts, and got them some tour dates with the formidable Chuck Berry. However, the band’s next release, the oft-covered classic of unknown origin about a fast-lane brothel, “House of the Rising Sun,” was the real coup, hitting the top of the pops in England. Better yet, on September 4, 1964, The Animals made their American debut at the Paramount Theater, in New York, playing with the likes of Jan & Dean, Del Shannon and Berry. The next day, “House of the Rising Sun” went number one in the US, making the fans clamor for more.
And more was delivered with the full-length, The Animals (1964 MGM), a collection of blues covers, including “The Girl Can’t Help It” and the heavy duty, “Boom Boom.” In early 1965, the band released one of their most beloved tunes, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” a cover song originally sung by Nina Simone with a timeless theme of the desire for acceptance. This was followed by another album, Animal Tracks (1965 MGM), which included such numbers as the Burdon-penned “For Miss Caulker”, as well as covers of Ray Charles’ “I Believe to My Soul” and Bo Dudley’s “Roadrunner.”
Alan Price left the band soon after these remarkable 1965 releases, claiming he was afraid to fly, a requirement for touring, though later conjecture suggested that the real reason may have been that Price, named as the sole arranger for “House of the Rising Sun,” essentially took the money and ran with it - in contravention of an agreement to properly divide the spoils amongst all The Animals. While Price went on to try his hand at a solo career, Dave Rowberry was recruited as the new keys man, and the band, perhaps a little more battle-worn and cynical, played on.
Other changes were in the air, and after the new manifestation of The Animals recorded the transcendent single, “It’s My Life,” a hit in America and the UK, they dropped their manager, dropped their label, and signed on with Decca/London Records. In May 1966, the band released their first Decca LP, Animalisms, another mixed bag of covers and originals, and considered one of their best. The record contained fantastic reduxes of old faves, “Gin House Blues” and Screamin‘ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” in addition to the Burdon-Rowberry penned “You’re on My Mind” and “She’ll Return It.”
One thing certain about rock and roll is that it evolves, and this principle proved no different for The Animals. John Steel left the band, and was replaced by Nashville Teens drummer, Barry Jenkins. Not long after, Chas Chandler and Hilton Valentine hit the high road as well. Eric Burdon and the New Animals, as they were sometimes called, rose from the ashes with the aforementioned Jenkins, as well as guitarist/violinist John Weider, bassist Danny McCulloch, and additional ax man, Vic Briggs (who had played with The Echoes and later with Dusty Springfield). While the original Animals had all exited by this time, the ever recalcitrant Mr. Burdon carried on. The title of The New Animals’ first album, Eric is Here (1967 MGM), pretty much said it all.
The late ’60s were a psychedelic time for all, and Eric Burdon and the Animals' bears witness to their times. Burdon allegedly had his first acid experience around this time, and his band embraced the acid rock of Jimi Hendrix. Change being the only constant, the Animals' lineup shifted again. Vic Briggs and Danny McCulloch left and were replaced by keyboardist Zoot Money and future Police guitarist, Andy Somers, as he was then known (he changed his name to Summers later). It was a prolific time for Mr. Burdon and the boys as three New Animals’ albums were released on MGM in 1968: Every One of Us, Love Is, and The Twain Shall Meet, the latter featuring the psychedelic hit, “Sky Pilot.”
But it 1969 it all abruptly stopped as Burdon ended the band’s memorable run by completely disbanding the New Animals. Being a resolute and tireless frontman, Burdon was quickly off and running. He fronted LA band, War (known as Eric Burdon & War during this period), which under his rule released 1970’s Eric Burdon Declares War (MGM), on which was the fantastic hippie-dippy anthem, “Spill the Wine”, as well as “Blues for Memphis Slim” and “Tobacco Road.” Eric Burdon & War followed with the release of the double LP The Black Man's Burdon (MGM) in 1971. However Burdon soon became restless and in 1971 decided to take a stab at a solo career. War carried on without him, releasing such memorable classics as “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” “The World is a Ghetto,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends” and “The Cisco Kid.”
Perhaps because his solo releases proved to be somewhat erratic, Burdon reunited with the original Animals in 1976 to record Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted (1977 Jet). Another Animals’ album consisting mostly of covers, Interrupted included such tunes as Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and Jimmy Reed’s “As the Crow Flies,” in addition to “Riverside County,” which was a band original. Later in 1983, this lineup of the Animals added Zoot Money to the mix for a second time, and released Ark, on IRS. The album led to renewed interest in the band, in addition to a full world tour.
This second reunion was short lived, and the band called it quits for good soon after the release of Ark. Nonetheless, the band’s mark was on history — in January of 1994, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.