WAR. That was the name of Eric Burdon’s funk soul band in the sixties and seventies. A subliminal recollection of the day he was born perhaps - 11 May 1941.
“The hospital I was born in was hit by high-intensity bombs from the Luftwaffe, flying off from occupied Finland. So knock, knock. Wake up, Eric. Welcome to the world,” the 72-year-old, who appears at the Festival Theatre tonight as part of the Jazz and Blues Festival, once recalled.
Legendary front-man of The Animals, Burdon is the voice that broke America, a key part of the British invasion of the States back in the day thanks to classics such as Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, We Gotta Get Outta This Place, and his signature tune, The House of the Rising Sun.
And it is to the US that Burdon looks for much of his inspiration.
The Animals famously arrived in New York in a motorcade. The year was 1964 and the ‘British invasion’ was in full swing.
Recalling that trip to the Big Apple, Burdon has said, “I went straight up to the Apollo in New York, where I had the chance to see James Brown and BB King together on stage.
“I also was lucky to catch Count Basie and his orchestra in an afternoon show after a Western movie. I think I was the only white face in the theatre.”
It was Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, however, who perhaps had the biggest influence on Burdon musically, although for very different reasons.
“His rhythm was the source of everything that happened, from Buddy Holly to the Stones to The Animals,” Burdon said of Diddley, while he’s on the record as saying that Berry was also “responsible for a big part of influencing the British bands.”
“I realised every other band was playing Chuck Berry-related songs... I wanted to do something really different. I was thinking blues. I knew one and a half verses to House Of The Rising Sun...”
The rest, as they say, is history.The Animals’ version of the traditional folk song went to No 1 in the UK, the USA, Sweden, Finland and Canada, becoming one of the most recognisable anthems of the century.
Although he never met Diddley, Burdon did get to meet Berry
“I knew Berry had a reputation for being a rude, bad guy. And he was so nice to me, man,” he once revealed.
“He took me out to dinner one day. He said to me, ‘Keep your main money wad in your sock, and keep just a couple of dollars in your wallet. And don’t let booze and drugs tempt you like they did me. Of course, I didn’t take any notice whatsoever.”
Burdon too developed a reputation. Ask anyone who has seen him in action and three words are likely to crop up again and again. ‘Big’ is one. ‘Aggressive’ another. ‘Theatrical’ a third. All refer to his larger than life stage presence, which could simply be the frustrated actor in him shining through.
In 1970 Burdon turned down major roles in the movies Zabriskie Point and Performance, later appearing in the TV film The 11th Victim and the German movie Gibbi. He also had a cameo in the 1991 movie, The Doors.
“I’ve always loved cinema and any chance to get near people who are in the world of making movies, I’m up for it,” he has confessed in the past.
“But I don’t consider myself seriously as potential acting material, even though I did attend an acting school for a year in LA.... but it did help me learn a lot about my stage presence. It wasn’t lost on me.”
Dreams of Hollywood, it seems, may well be behind him now. “I’ve been involved in like half a dozen movie shoots and I’ve learnt one thing... that I just want to stay a movie fan. It’s much more fun to watch movies than it is to be involved in the making of them.”
Still, his showmanship is sure to be in evidence at the Festival Theatre tonight when Burdon takes to the stage to perform tracks from his latest album, Til Your River Runs Dry, along with the expected classics.
Even in his eighth decade, there’s no slowing down for the man Rolling Stone Magazine described as having one of the 100 Greatest Voices of All Time.
“I’ve done almost 40 years of stage performance under the worst circumstances,” he once mused.
“I’m running around out there like a little athlete singing my ass off. I’ve done that with an asthmatic condition. That tells you something about the power of music.
“Basically, what happens is the adrenaline from the audience gets into your system and kicks you to a point where it’s a supernormal thing.
“I can’t even run from one side of the street to the other in real life. But when I get on stage, something happens because it comes from the audience.”
Eric Burdon and the Animals, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, tonight, 8pm, £23.50-£35, 0131-529 6000