Eric Victor Burdon, born on May 11, 1941 in Newcastle, England, threw himself into the worlds of American blues and jazz. In 1962, Burdon became the frontman of the Animals, known for hits like “House of the Rising Sun” and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which became an unofficial anthem for US soldiers during the Vietnam War and made both Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” lists.
In 1969, Burdon joined up with California rock band War. The newly-dubbed Eric Burdon & War released their debut album, Eric Burdon Declares “War,” containing the hit “Spill the Wine.” The band released a second album, The Black-Man’s Burdon, before Burdon left, going solo that year with the Eric Burdon Band, whose 1971’s Guilty! featured bluesman Jimmy Witherspoon. In the following eight years, the Eric Burdon Band toured and released two other albums.
Still touring and recording, Burdon published his autobiography, I Used to be an Animal, But I’m All Right Now. In 1994, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is on Rolling Stone’s “The 100 Greatest Voices of All Time” list. A painter and actor, he has appeared in several major films and has just released his latest solo album, the politically- and environmentally-themed ‘Til Your River Runs Dry. (See page 38 for review)
Born April 10, 1983 in Frankfort, Michigan, fun.’s Andrew Dost plays bass, trumpet, piano, French horn and flugelhorn, and his structural and arranging talents are vital to the indie pop superstars’ sound. Dost began his career in 2003 as the keyboard and flugelhorn player for Anathallo. In 2006, Anathallo relocated from Michigan to Chicago, so he parted ways with the band. Two years later, Dost released a solo album based on his musical about Christopher Columbus.
That year, singer/songwriter Nate Ruess invited Dost to join his new group, forming fun., which found success almost immediately. The theatrical pop sound of their debut, Aim and Ignite, released in 2009, opened the door to huge tours and festivals like Coachella. Their follow-up, Some Nights (2012), went for an even grander sound, and the single “We Are Young” stayed at Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks. The album spawned two more successful singles and six Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year and Album of the Year, and wins for Best New Artist and Song of the Year.
What are you listening to right now?
Eric Burdon: I’m listening to my own album, which has just been remastered locally. In my car for a month, no less than John Lee Hooker with Miles Davis, Taj Mahal and Roy Rogers, called The Hot Spot. It was an awful movie, and the director had the smarts not to spend a lot of money on the soundtrack, so it’s stellar.
Andrew Dost: We had our first break in about a year, and I got home and dug into my record collection. On the road we listen to music on our phones, but I love vinyl, I love buying records, I love going to the record store and learning about stuff I’ve never heard of. I love the process of flipping the record over and putting the needle on. I listen to a lot of Brubeck records. My background is rooted in old pop music like the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but also a lot of classical music. Claude Debussy is probably my favorite.
What was the first record you ever bought?
EB: Johnnie Ray, “Cry,” and on the B-side, “The Little White Cloud That Cried.” The other was Tennessee Ernie Ford, “16 Tons.” That was the top-selling single for two or three years. Every working man would sing that song.
I have lost and parted with everything I ever had, and I was an avid collector when I was a kid. When you travel and leave home, your treasured collection is tossed out the window by your over-efficient mother. Then the invention of CDs, and you start to play CDs in your car, and they’re separated from the album cover, and the album cover gets lost, the CD gets scratched, and the next thing, you’re using it to dangle from your mirror. It’s a touchy subject, what happened to my collections.
AD: Red Rose Speedway by Paul McCartney [& Wings]. The copy was in horrible condition, smelled awful, covered in mold, but I knew that it was a Paul McCartney album. I thought any record like that was terribly valuable, so I got it for a dollar and thought, “Oh my God, I’ll be able to sell this for a thousand dollars!” It was warped, scratched and decomposing. Still, that was the first one. I found it in a big, never-ending flea market in my home town, a cool place to hang out.
I’m a big fan of the vinyl art form. When we record stuff, we always think about things in album length, around 45 minutes or so. We never talk about things as singles
or individual songs.
Where do you buy your music?
EB: The shops where I used to get my CDs are now getting phased out, and now the only place is online, which doesn’t give you a chance to browse. Then, you passed records around to your trusted friends—You can have this, for like two nights—and you’d make friends that way, formulated clubs, talking in the pubs at night about what you’d just gotten into.
AD: Downloading is a last resort. I buy vinyl, and the vinyl comes with a download code so I can put the music on my phone. If I can’t wait for it, or if I can’t find the album anywhere, I’ll buy it on iTunes. I really wanted to get a jazz album by Oliver Nelson; I checked several record stores in Detroit but couldn’t find it, so I downloaded it.
What was the first instrument you played?
EB: I tried trombone, and it was miserable. I could sorta get away with ratty, traditional, what Americans call Dixieland, jazz, but I never took myself seriously because I was exposed to jazz trombonists like J.J. Johnson, and I wanted to play like him, but I couldn’t. At school, I made a copy of a Fender bass in woodwork shop and managed to amplify it. At the stage door, I showed it to Jimmy Brown, known for his Fender bass work. He was laughing inside, but he was such a gentleman, saying, “This is really cool.” Then he showed me his Fender, and I felt it— the weight, the smoothness on the frets—and that was enough to tell me, Just get the microphone, jump onstage and enjoy yourself. That’s what people seem to like most, so I just stayed with it.
AD: The first instrument I was formally trained with was trumpet, but I’d say that piano was the first instrument that I started to make some progress on. I messed around on a little keyboard when I was about four, but I didn’t get more serious about it until I turned nine. The trumpet is a really great instrument, but the piano is such a more complete instrument. In the school band I learned about theory and texture and everything you can do with the piano. If you can play ten notes instead of one, why not do that?
I picked up the guitar because a lot of the music I was listening to was guitar-based. When you hear “Paperback Writer,” you want to learn that lick. Mostly, I thought it just looked cool. I became obsessed. I bought a bunch of guitar magazines. I’d draw guitars. I was originally more excited about the idea of playing guitar than actually doing it, but fortunately acquired a guitar and learned how to play at about 13. I played guitar primarily through college. I didn’t give up on other instruments, but that was where my focus shifted at that age.
Now, my main focus has shifted from learning instruments to composing and learning how to write, rather than learn how to physically play. I’m trying to think more like a composer than an instrumentalist. I’m never going to play the violin on a professional level, so why should I even try? But I do want to learn how to make instruments really sing rather than how to actually play it myself.
Who would you like to write with that you haven’t?
EB: I wish I had somebody—I probably do without knowing it. You see someone who’s got a talent on an instrument—which I don’t have—and you ask, “What are his geopolitics? What does he feel?” I like Springsteen’s words, I like his writing. Bob Dylan has written the Bible three times over, the guy’s a genius.
AD: With fun., the whole process is very collaborative. I’m left to do what I do best and the other guys are, too; it works really well. I’m good with chord structure, with song structure, with arrangement and texture and harmony. I wrote lyrics for one song, but I’m not going to take over for Nate, he’s better than me at that. He’s a storyteller; he comes up with some creative melodies, and that’s the signature sound of fun.. Jack can say so much with the guitar, and he brings a certain energy. Those guys provide things that I don’t provide, and I provide things that they don’t, so it’s a good union. We trust each other not to step on each other’s toes.
I would really like to do something with Mark Mothersbaugh [from Devo]. I love what the Vampire Weekend guys do. Van Dyke Parks is still making amazing stuff. Kanye West would be a dream of mine.
When I grew up, I was a little conceited and I thought, “Everybody sucks.” Now, I’m realizing that all of these people have so much to say. I’d love to collaborate with a visual artist on a musical piece. It’s just an exciting time to be making art if you have the right attitude.
I’m surprised you don’t mention Paul McCartney.
AD: I think he would intimidate me too much; my jaw would just be on the ground. Without the Beatles, I don’t think I would have even considered making music.
What musician influenced you most?
EB: Ray Charles, Joe Turner, Jimmy Witherspoon. I’ve managed to make contact with these men that I hero-worshipped and become friends with Jimmy Witherspoon. I found my way through my teenage years because of Ray Charles—his voice, his attitude toward life and the proof that there is no such thing as a sightless person. We all have different forms of vision.
Bo Diddley came to my home town and we invited him and his percussionist to our club, and he didn’t show. I said, I’m not going to let the truth get in the way of a good story, so I wrote a song how Bo Diddley came to our club. He heard that and told my road manager, “You tell that little guy to record more Bo Diddley songs.” That’s why I wrote two Bo Diddley songs. We never actually met. The first time I met him face-to-face was when he was lying in state.
AD: Probably Paul [McCartney]. I think one of the biggest things I bring to fun. is because of him. His sense of melody is beautiful, but you only realize how complex and how harmonically dense it is once you try to take apart what he’s doing with the chords. In a song like “Penny Lane,” it’s modulating constantly and it has an interesting structure, but all you remember is the melody, because it’s so good, so beautiful. It’s deceptively smart and deceptively brilliant, and that’s what I want my music to be: memorable, catchy and pleasant to hear, but with substance as you go deeper into it.
What was the song or event that made you realize you wanted to be in music?
EB: Probably when I saw Brigitte Bardot in a movie. I thought, How do you get next to someone like that if you’re a working class Brit? First, you go to Paris. Then, if you’re a musician, you might get invited to a party where she might show up. You found out when you were playing in the garage that if you left the door open, every girl on the street would come down and see what the racket was. I think that girls and teenage sexuality and desire is what made me want to create. To me, it’s an obvious thing.
Performing is a Brigitte Bardot thing. How do you reach people like her? You can get onstage and make a complete fool of yourself, and if you’ve got them laughing, you’re winning. Or if you belt out a blues that makes their hair stand on end, then you’ve really scored.
The Animals, like the Dead, became a guy band—students with long hair, beards and duffle coats, smoking rollups—that was our audience. Eventually when we got to record and got to New York, it suddenly became wild, screaming Puerto Rican girls, and we realized we could appeal to both.
My true story is that I’m an asthmatic. When you’re in front of thousands or hundreds of people, it’s do or die, and you get this influx of adrenaline, that jolt which stricken lungs like mine need. If you’re small in stature like I am, you’ve got to gain respect, then the big guys who’d want to elbow you away instead ask you, “Can I get you a drink?” Even thuggies are into music.
AD: I had been a professional musician touring nationally nine or ten months out of the year for many years before there was any financial stability or success. My friends and I kind of assumed it would work out at some point. Everyone’d say, “Well, you know how hard it is, you’ve got to have a backup plan!” I graduated from college with a degree in journalism, but I’m going to be playing music forever.
Who would you like in your rock ‘n’ roll heaven band?
EB: Jimmy Smith on B3, Jon Cleary or Ray Charles on piano; bass, Monk Montgomery; drums, Abe Laboriel, Jr. and Willie Bobo on percussion. Guitars, Freddie Green and Buddy Guy. I’d have a great horn section: Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Fathead Newman, Thad Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, J.J. Johnson and Fela Kuti. For backup vocals and harmony, Amy Winehouse, Margie Hendrix and Annie Lennox.
AD: On guitar, George Harrison—he always came up with the most interesting melodies and the most interesting lines. He knew exactly when to play and was such a tasteful player. There aren’t a lot of drummers who would mesh well into the kind of music I want to make—I don’t know if Buddy Rich’d be comfortable playing 4/4 rock songs, so John Bonham. He was just ridiculous. I get the sense that he could have been the best at anything. Bass, Paul McCartney. His stuff is so melodic and supports the melody in an interesting way. Also this guy, Daniel Brummel, who played bass in Ozma and has very McCartney-like tendencies. Vocals, I’d go with Art Garfunkel; he’s got a real good, clean, soaring style that I really like. Would you have horns in that band? AD: I think when you’ve got McCartney on bass and Bonham on drums, you’re set.
What’s your desert island CD?
EB: The Boss of the Blues with Joe Turner or Ray Charles in Person
AD: Abbey Road