Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

by Eric Burdon

ISBN: 9781560254485

Publisher Da Capo Press

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Specific Groups, Entertainment/Music

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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

unethical treatment of

Fucked from the get-go.

    Not a terribly graceful way to begin my tale, but it's true. The Animals never had a chance when it came to protecting ourselves from the vampires in the music business.

    There were stupid contracts and bad decisions, but I'll tell you how bad it was even at the peak of our early success and fame. Following our third appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," Alan Price, John Steel, Hilton Valentine, Chas Chandler, and I slipped out of the CBS studios, protected from the screaming fans by a flank of NYPD uniforms and private security. We jumped into the deep leather of our limo's seats, heavy TV makeup still caked on our faces, feeling very much like showbiz veterans.

    Our East Coast promo guy, Frank Mancini, was already in the car, tucked away in a shadowy corner behind dark sunglasses, munching on salted peanuts.

    As we pulled away from the curb, a young white kid ran toward us, our new album in one hand and a big black marker in the other. He was looking at the limo instead of where he was going, and ran smack into a light pole, and fell onto the sidewalk. Frank yelled at the driver to stop, and he rolled down his window. The kid sat up, blood trickling down his forehead.

    "You all right, son?" Frank hollered.

    "Yeah, I think so," the kid said.

    "Good, good," Frank called out. "Remember, kid, buy the records. Buy the records!"

    He rolled up the window and told the driver to move on.

    The band chuckled for a moment, then Frank said, "You guys feel like your shit is gold ... top of the world, eh? Well, just remember that we put you there."

    "What do you mean?" I asked.

    "The record company bought enough copies of "House of the Rising Sun" to make it go No. 1. We put you on top, and we can tear you down just as fast."

    Talk about a bubble bursting. I know now that this has gone on for years—record companies routinely buy up their own product to make it chart higher. But it was a hell of a bringdown for us. After all, we'd just made the second triumphant landing of the so-called British Invasion bands, preceded by the Beatles, and to be followed by the Stones.

    By now it's all painfully clear to me: The nightmare part of the rock 'n' roll dream is the business—the money. The Beatles got ripped-off, even the savvy Mick Jagger and the Stones got screwed out of royalties in the early 1970s. The rock `n' roll highway is dotted with little white crosses marking the casualties, some literal, many more financial.

    The great American blues band Canned Heat, in fact, didn't get ripped-off only once in its career. That was when, for a brief time, they hired a member of the Hell's Angels to manage them. Their gigs were always great, they always got paid what they'd been promised, when they'd been promised it—and nobody fucked with them.

    What does that tell you? To survive in the music business, you can trust the mob and outlaw bikers, but put yourself in the hands of lawyers, accountants, and executives and you're a goner. But what are you gonna do? Applause junkies need a constant fix. Once you taste the stage it's pretty hard to give up. Once you have felt the power of music, and seen first hand that you are capable of touching the hearts and souls of people all over the world, the magic is something you can never forget.

    Then there's fame and how it affects people. I learned about that even back in Newcastle, when I was singing with local bands prior to the formation of the Animals.

    One of my first experiences was a girl with dark, flashing eyes who made sure we connected one night at Newcastle's Downbeat club. She lived on the coast and the last train from Newcastle was at 1 A.M. I walked her to the train and was shocked when, as casually as saying good night, she devoured me in a cold, windy corner of the sparsely populated station.

    The following week, I was sitting in with Mighty Joe Young's jazz band at the Rex Hotel on Whitley Bay. Friday nights down there in the summer, people went wild and the crowd would spill out onto the sea front.

    A note was passed to me onstage while the saxman played his sleaziest solo of the night. She waited there for her latest target ... her newfound secret lover ... the singer in the band—me!

    Leaving the heat of the ballroom and its mirrored walls for the chill of the North Sea breeze, I found my willing fan—and her jilted lover, who begged me to leave her alone.

    I took the last train from the coast and jumped off at Newcastle Central, then walked to the Downbeat through the West End in the drizzling rain, the hood from my duffel coat over my head. I was as happy as a lark. I was who I was supposed to be, a poverty-stricken art student. Not a care in the world, a spotty-faced teenage animal living on fish and chips and Newcastle Brown Ale. What a life.

    Back at the Downbeat the minions hired to run the joint had just about finished cleaning out from the first set. That's when the all-nighter would begin. I couldn't afford the entrance fee so I explained to one of the bouncers that I had to go upstairs to retrieve some equipment that was left there from the previous set. Once inside I hid underneath the stage and waited in silence until the place filled up with older people who'd come to listen to jazz, drink their whisky, and catch up on the latest gossip.

    I crouched there in the darkness watching people coming and going. Ronnie Scott's drummer, Phil Seaman, set up his kit onstage right there in front of me. He was a legendary percussionist and junkie, staggering around assembling his kit. But even with an arm full of smack, he was probably Britain's finest jazz drummer. And soon Ronnie Scott himself strolled onto the stage, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and tenor sax hanging around his neck.

    "Test, one, two, one, two, test," he said into the massive silver microphone. People took their seats, and there was a buzz as the jazzmen got ready to play. Ronnie made an announcement, introduced the band, and told the same joke he told every night. People laughed as they always did. The band began, marking my opportunity to emerge from beneath the stage. I casually brushed myself down, stepped out into the light and walked across the stage, bowing toward Ronnie and the band. No one in the audience seemed surprised or even cared. I took the first empty seat, sat down, relaxed, and soaked up everything the jazzmen from London had to offer.

    It was on such a night in the Downbeat, three stories up underneath the shadow of the high-level bridge, that my mates and I first talked about putting our own band together. We'd fallen in with a local gang of wild guys called the Squatters who drank hard, played hard, and were among the first to embrace American music. We were like a motorcycle gang ... without the motorcycles.

    We were regulars at the Downbeat on weekends, and we began looking for other players outside of our college. Our first group was a jazz outfit called the Pagan Jazzmen. It didn't last long as we were soon taken over by R&B—and we dropped the "Jazzmen" portion of the band's name and became the "Pagans."

    Less than a year later, the magical combination of the Animals fell into place.

    One key find for the band was Chas Chandler. Chas, the oldest member of the group, had played bass and sung backup with an outfit called the Contours. When we met he certainly seemed an unusual bloke. He didn't go out to the music clubs much, preferring workin' man's clubs, playing darts, staining his custom Burton's suits with tobacco smoke. Always in a sharp necktie and spit-polished shoes, Chas was a big guy, standing head and shoulders above us all. He'd worked in a machine shop and had made a great copy of a Fender guitar, which impressed us all. He was clever, and among the things I picked up from him was the lifelong habit of never being without a book.

    There was one bad moment between us—one that Chas never forgot. One night after a gig in the Midlands, we were all climbing aboard the old army ambulance we used in those days as band transport. Everyone was there except Chas. We'd heard the news that we were about to depart for London and possibly fame and fortune.

    A discussion ensued, sparked by the other band members, about Chas's inability to play like other bass players we'd seen, such as Jack Bruce.

    Of course, we didn't realize at the time that Chas's approach of underplaying was key to the original Animals' sound. But with Chas's real and strong ability to function as a manager, why, we thought, don't we make him full-time manager and get another player to step in on bass?

    Everyone agreed. But who was to tell him? Without really thinking, I, as the band's lead singer, volunteered.

    When Chas got in the van, I told him. The others went white. "We didn't mean it," Alan said. "It was only an idea."

    Thanks a fuckin' lot, guys. I felt like a real bastard when I saw tears in the big guy's eyes. From then on I was known as the guy who'd wanted to ax Chas. And I was seen as the shit-stirring, irresponsible maniac.

    Despite this sore spot between us, Chas and I certainly had our share of fun. One night when the Animals were playing Barcelona, Chas and I went out carousing after the show and picked up two beautiful Filipino sisters who were on a Catholic tour of Europe. We invited them back to our hotel for drinks. As we went up to our room, the hotel clerk called in the law. I guess the girls looked a little too young, besides which, it was against Spanish law then for an unmarried couple to share a room. By the time the cops arrived the booze was flowing, and the sisters had shed most of their clothing. Nothing quite like a Catholic girl away from home. When they banged on the door, big Chas flew into action, first throwing the girls' clothes on top of a huge bureau near a window. Then, as I slid open the massive drawers, he lifted each of the petite creatures up and gently slipped them inside, putting his finger to his pursed lips.


    The cops weren't regular—they were the Guarde Seville—and they came barging in, their massive, bayonetted .303 rifles nearly scratching the plaster off the ceiling as they looked around, perplexed, unable to figure out what had happened to the girls. There were four vodkas and orange juice in the room, a detail that didn't escape their notice.

    "Señors," I explained, "We are alcoholics ... and the service in this stinking hotel is so slow!"

    Still, they looked under the beds and in the bathroom before leaving.

    Early in our careers, the Animals were appearing on the British television show "Ready, Steady, Go!" along with the Rolling Stones, and the two bands shared a dressing room. There was a line down the middle of the room dividing us. The place was piled high with clothing, open cases, shoes, boots, underwear, and shirts. Chas and I sparked a joint and huddled in a corner near an air vent. We had the sound on the TV monitor turned down so we could hear anyone coming. It was nice and quiet waiting for the moment we had to hit the stage and perform live on television for the whole nation.

    Silly from the weed, Chas wandered over to Mick Jagger's open case, on top of which was a new Pentax camera Mick had bought in New York. He handed it to me, and I pulled the lens cap off as Chas pulled his prick out of his pants. I snapped a glorious wide-angle shot, advanced the film and put the camera back in its place among Mick's white shirts and dandelion-stripped pants.

    A few days later we got an irate phone call from the Stones' office. Seems Mick's girlfriend, Chrissy Shrimpton, had taken the film around to the chemists to have it developed. Mick knew who'd over-exposed himself because Chas's big turquoise ring was in the shot!

    Drummer John Steel and I hit it off from the moment we met in class at the Newcastle Art College. He was a wealth of information about jazz, while I turned him onto the blues, and we shared a love for radical movies. He was always smartly dressed, clean and crisp. He had a dry sense of humor, laughing at even the most trying of situations, and was always the one able to think and talk his way through problems. He was probably the most house-trained of the Animals. We spent a lot of time together. One day, we were hanging out on the Left Bank in Paris during the summer break from college when we caught sight of Chet Baker standing in a doorway, jonesing while waiting for his connection. There were so many artists on the run in the city, and we got to know the locals well, watching Memphis Slim tickle the keyboards in the Trois Mallet, crowding around jukeboxes in cafes listening to Ray Charles, Elmore James, Bobby Blue Bland, James Brown, Etta James, and Charles Brown. John and I told them that we'd be back to storm the city with our own blues band and sell out the great Olympia Theater—and that our records would be on those jukeboxes.

    It wasn't too long before the dream came true. But John didn't stay an Animal for more than the first few years. In the spring of 1966, he met the rest of us in a pub—all band business was conducted in pubs—and said he was leaving the Animals because he was getting married. While we were all shocked and disappointed, there wasn't one of us who didn't understand: John and his gal, Ann, were, and are, such a perfect couple. We knew then it was a sure thing and that their marriage would last, and it has.

    My biggest love-hate relationship was always with keyboardist Alan Price. As it turned out, we were in competition with each other from the moment we met.

    In the wild northwest end of Newcastle, not far from the college, was an old '50s dance place called the Majestic Ballroom, which featured a terrific, large, tobacco-stained sign that read "No Jivin'." It was a great place to hang, as pretty local office girls liked to congregate there for lunch. Besides, there was always a chance the DJ would play some real American rock `n' roll, which in 1962 was something we could normally only hear on jukeboxes down at the coast.

    So after a pint and a ploughman's lunch, we'd head over to the ballroom and its wooden floor, coffee bar, and spinning spotlights.

    In the showband was a trombone player named Ronnie who told me that there was a talent competition and suggested that I should enter. Just for laughs, I thought I'd do it. Hell, there could be a few quid and maybe a gig out of it. So one rainy afternoon I asked for application forms and stuffed them in my coat.

    Come competition night, I showed up at the ballroom—and was stunned. I'd never been there in the evening and it was hopping. I handed in my application and met with the band leader, his hair slicked back and as shiny as his stage clothes.

    He asked if I had sheet music. No. What key I was going to sing in?

    "The best one you got," I answered.

    Then, thankfully, the horn player Ronnie came up and settled things, telling the band leader that he'd jammed with me on "Going to Chicago" and "Roll 'Em Pete."

    I went back to the bar for a bottle of Brown ale, amazed at the lurid makeup of the overdressed local girls.

    While I was checking them out, I saw a list of the other competitors. One name stood out, and I caught a glimpse of him at the bar. His name was Alan Price. I'd seen him before at the Methodist Church Hall, doing Larry Williams's "She Said Yeah!" with a group fronted by Thomas Hedly. He was fucking good. And on this night, he was planning to do his rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis's "Whole Lotta Shakin'." I kind of knew then that I was sunk. This guy sang and played piano. I figured I didn't stand a chance just singing with a big band, especially with such a straight crowd.

    I got another Brown ale and waited, letting my eyes settle on all those bra straps and seamed nylons. Then the band leader announced the competition.

    I knew before either of us went on who was going to take the show.

    At the side of the stage, Alan came up and said hello. He told me that he'd been playing with Hedly's group, but that he was playing guitar, not piano, which he would have preferred.

    "Well," I told him, "We're thinking about putting a real R&B band together. You can play piano with us anytime."

    When the band leader announced Alan's name he climbed onstage, headed right for the big black Steinway, and the 88s began to roll. Microphone stand between his legs, hair flopped over his forehead, Alan got into it, speeding up at the end and throwing off the big-band drummer, just like Jerry Lee.

    When he walked off, Alan seemed surprised at the enthusiasm of the applause, but this was a basically straight crowd seeing and hearing live rock and roll for the first time!

    At least he warmed them up, I thought as I was called next.

    The band kicked it off all I had to do was fall right in. Through sheer fear and adrenaline, I imagined I was alone, just singing in front of the world's largest record player, and closed my eyes.

"Well, you're so beautiful but you gotta die some day. Yeah, you're so beautiful, you gotta die some day. All I want is a little lovin' before you pass away."

There was a flurry of horn solos. The band was on fire. And so was I, which prompted them to keep going. I spat out some improvised lines to fit the riffs. We rocked until sweat and natural timing brought us to an incredible climax.

    The audience went fucking nuts. I couldn't believe it myself.

    It surprised me even more when I walked off with the first prize that I thought Alan had already earned. I'd won. Very soon we'd be on the same team: the Animals. But the competition never really ended.

    Alan was not a native son, which means he was from the twin city of Sunderland. This meant Alan supported the Sunderland football club instead of Newcastle's United. And he drank Sunderland's Double Maxim beer rather than the famous Newcastle Brown. As petty as this sounds, in terms of the Newcastle of my youth, this was quite a distinction. Despite this, however, we needed Alan and knew that he'd fit in. We'd wanted to put together an R&B band Newcastle could call its own.

    I was filled with enthusiasm as I'd been down to London where I met Alexis Korner at the club where he played out in the Thames Valley. His band of pioneering players included guys like Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, Cyril Davies on electric harp, and Dick Hexal Smith on saxophone. Within the hungry and appreciative crowd I'd seen Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. R&B was what was happening and we figured if we got a band together ourselves, we could play all the local clubs, most of which were owned and run by one guy, Mike Jeffery.

    While we looked for the rest of the players we needed, I was happy going to art school and jamming around the clubs wherever I could with whomever I could. I sang with rock bands and folk bands, at jazz clubs and dance halls. It was a crash course on how to sing with any band, any style of popular music.

    We'd heard of a guy down at the coast who played rock guitar. He had his own amplifier and he also had an echo unit, which was like a secret weapon back then. He had the unlikely name of Hilton Valentine. Hilton was perhaps the trippiest member of the Animals, though he was certainly not without a temper. One time, annoyed at constant knocks on the dressing room door, he fired a pistol off—narrowly missing the manager of the venue and getting us banned for life at every theater in the company's chain.

    There were a few weird things I could never figure out about Hilton. At one point, in the early days, he'd had glasses made out of car reflector lenses. They were a deep red, so deep that he couldn't really see where he was going most of the time, a condition made all the worse by the fact that for a period of about six or eight months Hilton was continually tripping on LSD. What a trip he must have had, wandering around half blind, the distorted lights coming through those lenses.

    He then joined the Beatles in all that Maharishi Yogi crap and went on to develop a curious phobia about never changing the strings on his guitar—if one broke, it was replaced; otherwise, they didn't get touched.

    But we'd come up with the magic combination: me, Chas, Hilton, John, and Alan. We knew we had a shot at making it. Another local, Hank D. Marvin, had become the first Geordie to make it big in the music business, playing guitar for Cliff Richard.

    Since Presley had been drafted into the army, there was at the time a serious Elvis gap in England, and Cliff Richard came along and filled it. America's black music had become the new secret underground teen language. It seemed to us the best of American culture, and though Americans seemed determined to ignore or discard it, we were happy to pick it up, dust if off, shine it, and give it a new twist.

    We had also embraced Beat writers and poets. I avidly read people like Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Burroughs, anything I could get my hands on. The wonderful thing was to find that there was a connection between these writers, these books, and this music.

    Our first London gigs were at the Scene Club, which was tucked away in a back alley. The Animals played there during the club's transitional period from jazz to rock. It was hip, frequented by U.S. servicemen and much of the black London crowd. This mix, usually involving a girl, led to vicious fights, which added to the excitement. The dance floor was tiny, and would hold only about 100 people, while the stage was barely large enough for the band and me. Part of the problem was that there was a white piano hogging the stage. It was old, beat up, and never tuned—no one ever played the thing. It was a cumbersome relic from the days when the club had been a jazz lounge.

    One raucous night, I was having trouble finding room on the stage and, fueled by speed and alcohol, I decided to take things into my own hands. Or feet, as it were.

    While the band rocked, I climbed up on top of the piano in my thick-soled cowboy boots and just started stomping. The crowd went wild as my feet went through the piano, which crashed to the stage floor. The audience grabbed for bits of it, completing the demolition.

    The club's house band at the time was called the High Numbers, which soon changed its name to the Who. Pete Townshend was probably in the crowd that night, and I've always believed that the crowd's reaction to my piano stomp gave him the idea to start the instrument-smashing gimmick the Who became famous for.

    One of our great early experiences was going out on the road with Gene Vincent. Well, it was mostly great. Gene will always be one of my heroes but, man, was he a handful. I always liked to joke that he was exactly the kind of guy the American Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was created for: He smelled of all three all of the time. The dirtiest of the white boys. Sure, Elvis could move his hips and lips—Gene quivered. Always leather-clad and greasy, Gene and his band had once been thrown out of the Reprise studios by Frank Sinatra himself because of the way they looked.

    Seeing Gene on the big screen in The Girl Can't Help It was one thing, but to see him live with the English backup band Sounds Incorporated was quite another. He had a permanent limp, and wore leather gloves on stage.

    The first time I saw Gene in person, the show was great—he and Eddie Cochrane cooked. But on the road some days after they'd played the Newcastle Empire, somewhere near York, they crashed their car. Eddie died and Gene limped away. Undaunted, Gene stormed the country in the weeks that followed, playing live gigs and appearing on television. He was the leader of the pack for awhile.

    Peter Grant, the first Animals road manager—and later the brains and brawn behind Led Zeppelin's success—loved to talk about his time on the road with Gene on an Italian tour featuring Brenda Lee and Sounds Incorporated.


Excerpted from "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by Eric Burdon. Copyright © 2002 by Eric Burdon. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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