Burdon is the kind of person I thought John Lennon
would have turned into hadnt he been brutally killed.
Burdon has done everything from creating hit song after
hit song for numerous different bands (the Animals, WAR,
the New Animals), to acting and writing for films and
television (appearing in Oliver Stones The Doors).
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Burdon is
a modern Renaissance man who has done everything and been
everywhere. He may have pulled himself out of contact
with the world except through his music and books but
he isnt cynical, just practical.
recent book, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, certainly
does disprove a lot of the falsehoods that have been written
about him over the years. Here, he lays it all on the
table good and badmostly because its a collection
of stories other people reminded him of.
You wrote another autobiography [I Used to Be an Animal,
but I'm All Right Now in 1990]. Why was it time for
a second one?
Burdon: Because it was the wrong time for the first
one. Back in the 1980s when I wanted to write my
first book, I was told that this is not a great time to
write a book. It wont do you any harm but it wont
do you the most good, that I should probably wait until
the 1990s to write a book. And of course back in
the '80s the '90s seemed to be
well, who knows how
long anybody is going to live. [laughs] So I went ahead
and wrote a book anyway, just for the experience of it.
It became kind of an underground cult classic, its still
selling on eBay for like $200-300 a copy. It suddenly
appeared in hardcover, which Ive never seen before.
Where the hell that came from, I dont know.
many copies do you have?
It's not even in my house. Ive got it stored because
Im probably going to reissue it soon.
you write the new book [Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood]
because you were unhappy with the first book?
it's just that its purely about the early '60s in England
and about the early days with the Animals in the U.S.
Theres been a lot of water under the bridge since
then. Plus, Im always going to parties and stuff
where people say stuff like, "Hey, do you remember
?" And Ill go, "Yeah, was that
you?" We get talking and they come up with stories
that I had forgotten about. Its like a jigsaw puzzle,
which Ive been putting together, and now it's time
to lay it down. You cant compare the two books.
Theyre apples and oranges. They both come from the
same tree but one is different from the other.
you read Tarot cards in writing this book. How did that
dont read Tarot cards, but if you look at a tarot
card deck you see that its based on human experiences.
I think the Egyptians came up with them and in a way you
can think of it as an ancient Middle Eastern computer.
An emotional computer about all emotions, it depends on
what you read into it. I took the basic movements in a
tarot pack and, say I was writing about 1965, you play
the cards and the death card comes up, so you think, who
died in 1965? You go to the research and find out who
died in 1965, and you choose the person that you were
closely related to. Then the fortune card comes and you
find out who had the number one hit record in 1964stuff
like that. It gives you a key to unlock the door to emotions.
was your initial impression the first time you were in
was every bit as extreme as I thought it would be. Just
the weather to start with, New York is as hot as its
ever going to get in the summer and as cold as its
ever going to get in the winter. Then you go to peoples
temperaments. I remember after we made our grand record
company entry in New York when we were each provided with
a sexy girl dressed in animal skins and fishnet stockings
in a Ford Mustang. We were paraded through New York but
the first chance we got, we turned on the television and
watched the news. Watching the American news alongside
the BBC news"Good evening, this is the BBC
news at 6 oclock"so stodgy and rigid.
While American news is like horns blaring: "DA DA DA,
6 oclock this is it, here it is." The first thing
they report on are football scores and we just cracked
up. We thought it was hilarious. We got to travel through
the South, and saw the Klu Klux Klan on parade in Memphissaw
the dark side of the American dream. When I came out West
I felt like the top of my head was just peeled off. I
felt like I could breath properly for the first time in
my life, just to see landscapes without any people for
the first time in my life. I thought this is where I want
to be and thats where Ive stayed.
Animals were considered part of the British music invasion
of the 1960s. Were you surprised or unhappy to be
lumped in with that because you were more influenced by
blues and R&B music rather than rock?
still unhappy with that. Your past is bigger than yourself.
The pop press invent stories that suit them and eventually
that becomes the truth, which is another reason for writing
the book. I was on my way to America by myself in the
Merchant Navy if I hadnt found myself in a rock
band. I wanted to come here to find out what had been
the root cause of the bluesthe simple beautiful
music that had changed the world. America at the time
had trashed its own culture. Blues was out in the trash
bin and verbotenthe stories of the Los Angeles police
department having men around record stores that sold black
music to white people. This to my generation in England
coming out of art school became our political stance.
England was ready for a cultural change in the shadow
of World War II. Us college kids were really disgusted
with the lies told in school. When we were told that World
War II would be the last war that would ever be fought
and then the next thing Korea and then the British Army
was in Cyprus fighting over the Suez Canal. We were just
totally disillusioned and we needed something else to
project our hopes and beliefs in, and that came in the
form of Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, John
Lee Hooker, and Ray Charles.
being political was always a big part of the music?
politic is the music. Art is the politic.
were a painter before you got more involved with the music?
I would have liked to but I still dream of being one.
It's probably too late now because you cant just
jump into something new right away. Theres still
a chance for me to make my own movies and videos. When
I was a kid I dreamt of being what was known back then
as a set designer for movies. If I had taken that path
these days I would have evolved into what is known as
a production designer. The amazing thing is that thats
what I had targeted myself for, and when I was 18 years
of age there were just no facilities in England to school
yourself in that. The only thing to do was to get into
theater or at worst dressing shop windows, which really
wasnt for me. Ive watched set designers become
production designers and production designers become the
most important people in a film crew because movies today
are all about the design.
been involved with several movies but just as a visiting
spirit, a cameo role and such.
you score some feature films?
did a feature film in Germany in which I played the lead
part, scored the music and wrote part of the screenplay.
I also did a Greek movie called My Brother and I,
which was also never released in America. I did another
German feature film, which was released in 2000 and never
released in this country [Snow on New Year's Eve]
with a substantial part. That was quite a large production.
Six million marks were spent. But as we speak, Im
in the process of creating a video for a new CDI
will have a say in everything.
that for the New Animals?
I will use everyone and everything that is available to
me. The song is about the death of a friend of mine who
died up here in a motorcycle accident. It takes place
around where I live so we're going to recreate his funeral.
could say you helped birth San Francisco's psychedelic
you could. I came in to San Francisco when it just bloomed
about a year before. I was first in San Francisco in 1964
when it was still beatnik heaven. It was bongos and people
dressed in black reading jazz in smoky rooms. I went back
in 1967 and it had changed totally. I was infatuated with
the revolutionary zeal of the whole thing. The Vietnam
War was raging and people were raging against the machine.
I left my original band, moved to California and put the
New Animals together. I think we were one of the first
bands to tour with a light show. We toured nationally
and Europe with all the lights and bombs. We shot movies
in the Hollywood hills and projected them on a screen
behind us when we were playing. It was a fun, good time.
dont want to give away everything in the book, but
you had a bizarre stint in a German prison. What happened?
terrorist effect that we are feeling in this country now
has been going on in Germany since the 1970s. There
was a judge in Bavaria who was given the job of rounding
up everybody who had been involved with this terrorist
action. The terrorists were called the Red Army Fraction.
Well I was making a feature film in the 1980s in
Germany with people who had been more than friends with
these left-wing reactionaries. I had no idea until I was
arrested and incarcerated in a maximum-security prison
without any visitors, nothing. I was in a cell that was
condemned by Amnesty International as being unfit for
human habitation until eventually I was released. I had
to admit to doing certain things that I didnt do.
I just found out recently that they could have kept me
there until 2001. So I got in the middle of something
that I had no idea. It was an absolute case of guilt by
been some argument over whose decision it was to record
"House of the Rising Sun."
think I had an insight to that song before the rest of
the guys in the band did. But it was a collective decision
to record it. We were on a Chuck Berry tour and everybody
was trying to out-rock Chuck Berry. We needed a song that
would leave a lasting impression on people and I thought,
"What about 'House of the Rising Sun?' Its got a
magical thing to it." We rehearsed it, played it
on the Chuck Berry tour, and we left in the middle of
tour and recorded it in two takes one Sunday morning in
London. Then we rejoined the tour that night.
was it like touring with Chuck Berry?
were on the Chuck Berry/Jerry Lee Lewis tour. With everybody
on the same bus, it was hell on wheels. It was wonderful.
the years, many people you have known have passed away.
Do you ever ask yourself why youve survived?
dont know. Youd have to ask my mother that,
but shes no longer around. I firmly believe that
having the parents I had was a big part of it. They made
sure I knew the difference between right and wrong. Ive
been in ill health most of my life. I have asthma. In
a way, that helps you appreciate health more. But also
when you are healthy you know ill health is a breath away.
Anybody who hasnt experienced an asthmatic attack
cant explain it to anybody. You think youre
dying. I never thought Id live to see 20, 25. Im
probably healthier today at 60 than Ive ever been.
Im up every morning and I go walking.
it ill health that made you leave the band WAR in 1971?
But that was a different kind of sickness. I believe I
had a nervous breakdown in the wake of Jimi Hendrixs
death. He died when I was touring with WAR. That hit me
pretty hard. I left the tour because I couldnt go
did you first meet Jimi Hendrix?
that Ive done for the book has proven that the first
time I met him I didnt even know I was in the same
room as him. But I really first met him in Londonthats
where we got to be friends. I had an apartment in the
center of London so whenever anybody was in central London
they would drop by my place. I had a wonderful stereo
system and people would come in and Jimi would play us
his new tapes. Then I had a place in Los Angeles in Lower
Canyon so he would show up there after gigs. We saw a
lot of each other on the road. I wouldnt say we
were very close. Let's face ithe was a stranger
in a strange land, and so for me to have a place in London
then in Los Angeles at least he had someone to identify
were one of the last people to play with Jimi.
band was the last people to play with him.
you see that he was on the road to ruin?
looked terrible. I hadnt seen him for a year. We
played in a club in London and he came on a Tuesday night.
He came down to jam and he was totally out of it. I told
him to go away and come back, and he came back the next
night totally straight. We had a really memorable jam
that night. He left and was dead two days later.
your feeling on drugs now?
wish I could get more of what I used to have [laughs].
It's all timing. That was the right time then to be doing
that. Its not the right time anymore. I even gave
up smoking pot a couple of years back and I was a lifelong
pothead. My basic political feeling about drugs is that
unfortunately they didnt legalize marijuana when
they had the chance. If they had done that we would have
had much less problems with harder drugs in recent years
because kids would have had a softer alternative instead
of alcohol. Ive never heard of anyone dying from
an overdose of marijuana. But theres just too much
money being made from all drugs. It's in human nature
to want to get high; everybody wants to get higher. Thats
basically what religion was formed forto take people
to a higher level.
it like being a grandfather?
love my grandkids. Its a great role to be in. They
know Im different from other grandfathers. I have
a grandson named after me and everyone says hes
just like me, very artistic.
did you dedicate the new book to Clara Taylor, your grandmother?
was the most powerful and dominant woman I had ever known.
Awesome and Scottish and when she sang, everyone had to
shut up and listen otherwise you got the evil eye. If
the evil eye didnt work you got her shoe upside
your head from across the room. It made me really aware
of my Celtic side.
does one avoid getting screwed by the music business?
go into the music business. Get the hell out of there.