Like Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, the Animals' Eric Burdon, 71, defined the sound of the British Invasion. After the Newcastle five hit with "The House of the Rising Sun," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," and other electric blues hits bent into pop, his revamped version of the UK group closed the Sixties with Vietnam-era staples "When I Was Young," "Monterey," and "Sky Pilot," before he jumped ship to West Coast funk group War, hitting with "Spill the Wine." Burdon, who's lived in California untold years, released a powerful new album in January, 'Til Your River Runs Dry, and plans to finish his third memoir this year. He was reflective when reached by phone during an epic cab ride across Manhattan.
Austin Chronicle: Let's start with a rumor: I heard that after you performed "The House of the Rising Sun" at South by Southwest last year, you declared that you were done and tired of singing that song. Any truth to that?
Eric Burdon: Well, you know, at the end of a show, every night, I have to sing it before leaving the theatre. If I don't, I don't get out of there. It's become such a part of my existence, I either hate it or love it, or love to hate it or hate to love it. It depends on where you're standing at the time. I guess I'm always going to be involved with it. They're probably going to be playing it when they're lowering my coffin into the dirt. With little angels twittering around – angels imported from New Orleans.
AC: How do you stay fresh creatively? You're still writing songs, and you've got a book you're working on.
EB: The first two books I did, I was learning to write. And everything I write, it's for me, really. I'm not trying to reach people. It's selfish in that regard. The books were written for me to retain my memory. I want to remember things! That's how I can recall stuff now, in a sort of photographic way. I can't get the dates and everything right. I have to research that. And what's helping me a great deal with the current book is that I can tell a story, and then I can figure out the actual time and date that it was, even where I stayed. You can get that off of Wikipedia in fine detail.
AC: During the Conference keynote last year, Bruce Springsteen made a pretty big deal about your role in his career, then you played together during his showcase. Did that feel valedictory for you?
EB: I had back problems. I was on the verge of collapse the last time I was at South by Southwest. I had no idea what was going on, what I was supposed to do, who I was supposed to do it with. But my people told me, it's a must-do, you better go there. And I'm glad I did. Now a year later, I'm awake, and I'll be up to whatever they throw at me. But it's gotten to the point where the story is that I had a hit record called "House of the Rising Sun," and then I became a drug addict, and I ended up in the sewers and sidewalks of Philadelphia, where Bruce Springsteen came driving along in his tour bus and saw me lying by the roadside with a sign saying "Will Work for Money." He picked me up and dusted me off and got me a record deal. [Laughs] That's the way it is now. And if people want to say that, it's fine with me.
AC: Your new album includes a cover of Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me," and the song "Bo Diddley Special." Tell me about that connection.
EB: The first time I saw him I was 16-17 years of age, and I wanted to meet him, but I didn't get to meet him. So, to make up for that, I wrote a song about the pretense of meeting him. That became a part of my repertoire, and people liked it, so that was one thing. And then the next thing over the years, we worked the same places together, but it was always the story of me going on stage and him going off stage, or vice-versa. So we never met. Then I got invited by his family to his funeral service in Clearwater, Fla.
So the first time I met him face-to-face was when he was lying in state in an open coffin. Which is pretty bizarre, you know, and, from a writing standpoint, I ended up with that song about his funeral. A road manager friend of mine went backstage to get his autograph and found him complaining that I was always running from him and never showing up. My friend said, "No, he's not running from you. That's just the way it is. You know, accidental. You just haven't met." And Bo Diddley, the last thing he said to my road manager was, "Just tell him to sing more Bo Diddley songs!"
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