The Animals Biography

This leading UK R&B band was formed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, in 1963, when vocalist Eric Burdon (11 May 1941, Walker, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne & Wear, England), joined local R&B band the Alan Price Combo. The Animals comprised Alan Price (b. 19 April 1941, Fairfield, Co. Durham, England; piano), Hilton Valentine (b. 22 May 1943, North Shields, Tyne And Wear, England; guitar), John Steel (b. 4 February 1941, Gateshead, Co. Durham, England; drums) and Chas Chandler (b. Bryan James Chandler, 18 December 1938, Heaton, Tyne And Wear, England, d. 17 July 1996; bass). Valentine had previously played with the Gamblers, while Burdon had played trombone, together with Steel on trumpet, in college jazz bands.

With their raucous and exciting stage act, the Animals quickly attracted the attention of several music business entrepreneurs. R&B legend Graham Bond recommended them to his manager Ronan O’Rahilly. The band became stars at the legendary Club A-Go-Go in Newcastle. On one occasion they performed with Sonny Boy ‘Rice Miller’ Williamson (an album of this explosive gig was released many years later). By the end of 1963 they had moved to London and became an integral part of the fast-burgeoning club scene. After signing with producer Mickie Most, they debuted with the energetic ‘Baby Let Me Take You Home’ (a version of Eric Von Schmidt’s blues standard, ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’), which became a respectable hit. Their next release was to be both controversial and memorable. This four-and-a-half-minute pop song, about a New Orleans brothel, was at first resisted by their record company Columbia Records as being too long for radio play. Upon release, the record, Josh White’s ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’, leapt to the top of the charts all over the world, and eventually sold several million copies. The combination of Valentine’s now legendary but simplistic guitar introduction and Price’s shrill organ complemented Burdon’s remarkably mature and bloodcurdling vocal.

Over the next two years the Animals had seven further substantial hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Their memorable and dramatic version of a song popularized by Nina Simone, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, featured the autobiographical ‘Club A-Go-Go’ on the b-side. Their choice of material was exemplary and many of their hits featured thought-provoking lyrics, from the angst-ridden ‘I’m Crying’ to the frustration and urban despair of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann’s ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’. Their albums contained stirring renditions of classics by Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Jimmy Reed and Burdon’s hero, Ray Charles. During this time Price departed (allegedly suffering from a fear of flying), and was replaced by Dave Rowberry (b. David Eric Rowberry, 4 July 1940, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England, d. 6 June 2003) from the Mike Cotton Sound. Burdon maintains that Price’s departure was because he had taken ownership of the lucrative publishing rights to ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ and was therefore financially secure. Steel left in 1966, replaced by Nashville Teens drummer Barry Jenkins (b. 22 December 1944, Leicester, England). The new band found success with the brilliant ‘It’s My Life’ and the adventurous ‘Inside Looking Out’.

By 1967 Burdon and Valentine had become totally immersed in psychedelia, both musically and chemically. This alienated them from the rest of the band (who preferred good old-fashioned alcohol), and led to its disintegration. Chandler went on to discover and manage the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Burdon, however, retained the name and immediately re-emerged as Eric Burdon And The New Animals. They found greater favour in the USA where they were domiciled, and courted the west coast sound and school of bands from that period. ‘San Franciscan Nights’ perfectly echoed the moment, with the lyrics: ‘Strobe lights beam creates dreams, walls move, minds do too, on a warm San Franciscan night’. Burdon further encapsulated his reverence in the song ‘Monterey’, cleverly eulogizing the epic Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. A number of interesting musicians passed through various line-ups of the New Animals, notably John Weider, Vic Briggs (formerly of Steam Packet), Danny McCulloch, Zoot Money and future Police guitarist Andy Summers.

The tamed Burdon was now writing introspective and thought-provoking lyrics, although many of his fans found it difficult to take the former raver seriously. Long improvisational pieces began to appear in their live performances, with watered-down versions to be found on the albums Winds Of Change, The Twain Shall Meet, Everyone Of Us and Love Is. The group eventually disbanded at the end of 1968. The original line-up regrouped twice, in 1977 and 1983, but on both occasions new albums were released to an indifferent public. For the 1983 revival tour it was reported that Valentine had become so rusty on the guitar that a lead guitarist was recruited. Valentine and Steel continue to gig on the pub circuit as Animals II.

The Animals’ contribution to the 60s was considerable and at times their popularity threatened even the Beatles and Rolling Stones. ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ gave them musical immortality, and will no doubt continue to be re-released at regular intervals. It is surprising therefore that in the new millennium their standing is noticeably low.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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