Bruce Fessier • Desert Post Weekly
June 12, 2008
Eric Burdon's Joshua Tree home is filled with artistic affidavits to
his international citizenry.
Amid his paintings of blues legend Howlin' Wolf and New York record
promoter Red Robin is a recent photograph of Burdon with former
U.S.S.R. Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev.
Burdon asked him to lunch in Stuttgart, Germany, Burdon said, because
"he's the only politician I've read about who is clean."
Burdon, 67, is best known as the lead singer of the '60s British
Invasion band The Animals, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame in 1994.
He was born in Newcastle, England, but lived in Spain and Mexico
before becoming a U.S. citizen in the Coachella Valley.
His wife, Marianna, is Greek. He's most popular in Germany. And, if
there's a chance to be part of history anywhere in the world, Burdon
will be there.
His hit songs, "Monterey" and "San Francisco Nights," chronicled the
Monterey Pop Festival and the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene,
respectively. His recent recordings of "Red Cross Store" and "Forty
Days and Forty Nights" chronicle the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.
"Highway 62" tells the story of Gram Parsons while giving a nod to
the highway that runs through Joshua Tree.
"Nina Simone said to me, 'I think you're a musical journalist, and
that's what you should keep up,'" said Burdon, sitting in a spacious,
hacienda-like living room in the only house visible from his east
windows for miles.
"I was always wanting to be in the wrong place at the right time. The
only one I missed was the fall of the wall in Berlin."
Burdon chose not to go to the 1969 Woodstock Festival, but he was at
the standoff at Wounded Knee. He was run out of Alaska when a
promoter tried to stage another Woodstock there, and he was once met
in Denmark by "a phalanx of cops with machines guns," when a pilot
thought his multi-racial band, War, was the Black Panthers.
He performed a reunion concert with War at London's Royal Albert Hall
in April that created international buzz.
He'll perform a concert Saturday at Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella
with a new band. Its being rehearsed this week by longtime pianist
Red Young, featuring original Animals guitarist Hilton Valentine,
Palm Springs-based guitarist Kal David and Bobby Furgo, the first
violinist he's used in a career that was launched in America in 1964
with his blues-rock standard, "House of the Rising Sun."
He'll hit the road June 26 as part of the traveling Hippiefest. That
will run through Aug. 10.
Burdon actually hates the word "hippie" and didn't like much of the
hippie lifestyle of the 1960s, too.
"I didn't like communal living," he says with his heavy Geordie
accent. "I didn't like eating gruel all day. I didn't like scruffy
little hippie girls with dirty feet. I liked cleanliness."
But special projects give Burdon a chance to expound on the news like
the musical journalist he is.
His problem is finding journalists willing to listen.
"The general media in this country has done a great disservice to
journalism," he says.
"When I run into people and they say, 'Have you heard the news?
Universal Pictures burst into flames.' That's news? Don't you know
that 'Gone With the Wind' was made when they set fire to the set and
filmed the fall of Atlanta and got the insurance to build a new
studio? I mean, who's to say, 'No, no, no. That's (not) the real story'?
"I love Paris. The Parisians get out on the street and vent their
anger on every level. One year it's the Reds, the next year it's the
blacks. One year it's hospitals, the next year it's lawsuits. And
that, in America, has gone the way of the dinosaurs.
"I always remember Jim Morrison on stage in Hollywood, out of his
brain and on one of his raps. He said, 'America has had its
revolution, and it will never have another revolution.'
"The word 'revolution' today in America means you're going to get a
break on your new Chevrolet, a revolutionary design in housing. How
about a revolutionary hairdo? The language has been stolen. We have
to steal back the language from the people like the car dealers."
Burdon realizes he can't use his stage as a forum for his political views.
"You get bum rapped, and you get press coming down on you," he says.
But his constant world travels and vast experiences give him a true
He says the world is excited about Barack Obama being nominated for president.
"Just to see him and his wife up there - and the way the two of them
react to each other - it's so different, it's a breath of fresh of
air," he says. "The whole world is waiting for this to happen."
But, Burdon can find a political parallel between today and the hippie era.
"There was a bumper sticker in the '60s that said, 'Fix America
first,' and I still think that's what needs to be done," he says.
"Mass transit, better health. I think everybody should serve their
country at one time or another. But, to get medicine and education,
there's an old English expression, 'Oh, yeah, they want to give it to
you, but they want to take an arm and a leg.'"