Thursday, February 24, 2011

There’s a Better Life for Me and You

(Reprinted courtesy Creem Magazine, 1977)

The Beatles, gone. Cream, vanished. Jimi Hendrix, dead. The Animals, still standing, after years of squabbling and turmoil. Though the band underwent a series of lineup changes in the second half of the Swingin’ Sixties, they hung in there and now, with original keyboardist Alan Price back on the ark, The Animals are howling away as if the clock stopped circa 1965. A reunion, of sorts, is happening, with some original members of the band joining the Animal lineup that has remained intact since late 1968, the latter configuration that features Zoot Money on keyboards and Andy Somers on guitar.

The Animals were always the top white blues band, Jagger be damned. Nobody, NOBODY could growl them out like Eric Burdon, his beautiful soulful crooning a contrast to his gnome like stature. They broke big in ’64 with “House of the Rising Sun,” Burdon’s vocals melding with Price’s insides-ripping organ solo. (My fave rave was always their “Story of Bo Diddley,” a brief history of the British Invasion complete with tongue in cheek impersonations of The Fab Four and the Stones.) There was no stopping them. Or so it seemed. Like any marriage, money problems led to family squabbles.

See, Price was given arrangement credit for “Sun,” and the gang assumed it’d be split equally. So did Price, until the record soared to number 1 in England and the U.S.A. Ol’ Alan gave things a second look and wasn’t quite sure he wanted to share the loot. By mid-1965, after the seminal “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” was recorded, Price took his piano and left the band.

“Fear of flying,” he said.

“Fuck off and give me my money,” Burdon replied.

Burdon and Somers dropped in to the Creem office for a little chat and mucho alcohol. Burdon looked like any old aging hipster, late 30’s style, sporting Jordache bell bottoms and a leather coat that looked like dried chocolate frosting. His platforms gave a bit of lift to his 5 ½ foot height. Andy look was more current, black jacket and slacks, shaggy blondish hair. Though only one year apart, they look as if they were of two different generations. Not father and son, but older brother who never attained his potential and younger who hasn’t yet tasted the big time. But Eric’s big time didn’t last too long after Price took the money and ran.

With Alan out of the picture, it was a non-stop Burdon ego-trip. “Eric Burdon and The Animals” the records and marquees shouted loudly. It’s hard to remember how bad this band sucked in the late ‘60’s. “Monterey,” “Sky Pilot,” pure unadulterated drivel. Their 10 minute cover of Traffic’s “Coloured Rain” was about the worst pile of shit ever recorded, though it did mark the debut of Somers. Andy’s intelligence-destroying 200-bar solo was almost enough to make you want to go deaf. It was at that point the band was ready to call it quits. Seemed like a good idea.
At the height of his beads, batik and bongs flower child phase, Burdon abruptly announced he was going to quit the band and make movies about American Indians. Could there be a more dated hippie stereotyped path than that? The rest of the band was left hanging, but not for long. They summoned Burdon to Somers’ Laurel Canyon home and threatened to beat the crap out of him unless he reconsidered. As Andy waved a fireplace poker in front of Burdon’s face, Eric quickly decided it may be better to stay together.

Once the metal tools were put down, the group got to talking, real seriously, about their direction and it was then and there they decided to move forward by looking backward. Back to the blues, back to black music, soul-shaking, funky sounds that once upon a time they did best. No more Shankar inspired sitar shit.
It wasn’t easy. Somers wasn’t a Clapton, brought up on the blues, but the guy could play and he set out to master the style. No more trippy, long-winded, six-string jerk-off solos. And the return to form paid off with “Spill the Wine,” a loose groove that had the teenyboppers dancing and buying 45’s. Just like that, they were back.

The first half of the ‘70’s were solid for the band. Festivals, records, television appearances, the occasional magazine cover, but something, or someone was missing. It was time to bring Price back in the fold.

Eric tossed an acetate of the new album on our hi-fi. We opened another bottle of gin, and gave a listen. The Animals laid out a tight groove track after track. Burdon’s vocals are spot on and Somers plays some tasty blues licks. On “Please Send Someone to Love,” Price shines on piano as Burdon stretches his range, hitting notes from thundering low to screechy high. Eric gives a grudging nod of approval, eyes closed, ears open.

“Alan’s a greedy fuck and that hasn’t changed one bit,” Burdon snarled through a forced grin. “But if I don’t think about it too much, we can work well together. There’s nothing like the magic of those first few years of The Animals and we both want that back again.”
And Somers? “It’s fine by me. It makes Eric happy and Alan is terrific. It was very easy and comfortable integrating all the personalities. So far, so good.”
Can The Animals’ blues sound make its way through the disco and punk that dominate the current musical landscape?

Eric thinks for a moment. “In a strange way, we have more in common with disco than punk. R & B, blues, dance music, the whole black tradition is in our music and in disco. We’re no Bee Gees, though!”
Burdon took another swig as he moved on to punk. “Music has always come first for us and making a political statement was never a big concern. Even ten years ago I was into peace and love, not overthrowing the ruling class, you know?”

Somers is more in tune with the British youth movement. “Yeah, I agree with Eric. I’m a guitar player, not a revolutionary. But there are some fine musicians out there. Elvis Costello is a fantastic songwriter. I like what I’ve heard of The Clash, and there’s a group I met in Newcastle that’s led by an American drummer, and a local bass player. They have a pretty weak guitar player. They’re backing up Cherry Vanilla, from New York, but they deserve better.”

The Animals deserve your time. You want bullshit posing and faggy ass-shaking, go buy the last Stones albums. You want the real deal, buy The Animals next one.

Though “House of the Rising Sun” was a group arrangement, executives insisted on a single member receiving credit. Alan Price was the fortunate Animal. That was no problem until the money came flowing in. That, plus a rift between Price and Eric Burdon on the direction of the group, led to Price’s departure in May 1965. Many lineup changes ensued, the last included Zoot Money and Andy Somers in late 1968. Burdon broke up The “New” Animals in December. Burdon went downhill, except his short lived involvement with War. Their collaboration on “Spill the Wine” resulted in a #3 hit in 1970. A reunion of the original Animals took place in both 1977 and 1983. Somers, who later changed his last name to the easier-to-spell Summers, joined American-born Stewart Copeland and Newcastle bassist Sting to form The Police.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This Can’t Be the Scene

“Dr. James to the ICU. Dr. James to the ICU.”

Ah, that’s a laugh. A call for Dr. Jimmy! Roger grinned as he stared at the tiles surrounding his tennis- shoed feet. Elbows on knees, head down, a flood of brownish-blonde curls camouflaging his head. It felt good to have a chuckle, even a little one. Helped with the nerves.

He felt a slight tap on his shoulder, then a slight weight. He picked up his head and looked to his left, where he spotted a slender hand resting on his tight checked shirt.

“Have a Coke?” the nurse asked. Roger shifted in the too hard white plastic seat. No way to get comfortable. It’s not easy to wait in a hospital waiting room. Not easy to sit and not easy to cope with the uncertainty.

“Thanks, luv.” Roger smiled as he took the cold sweaty bottle from her left hand, lingering a bit. Holding her hand, if even for a moment, felt nice. He wasn’t trying to pull this bird, no. Just looking for a bit of human warmth.

“He’ll be alright, really,” she said seriously, softly. “Really, he’ll be just fine.”

Roger appreciated the encouragement. Did she know for sure? Did she? Or was it just a meaningless, though sweet, comment to ease his pain?

Was it my fault that Pete provoked me? Roger thought. Fuckin’ Pete, he’s always going on about my “fucking shawls” and my wanting to be an actor.

“Oh, now you ARE Tommy, are you?” Pete sneered. “You do know that means I created you. You’re my Frankenstein, mate.”

Roger would burn at the mockery, clenching his fists. It wasn’t like he hadn’t slugged Pete in his big nose before.

“Well, you are deaf, dumb and blind. Especially dumb,” Pete went on, slurring drunkenly.

It’s been getting worse lately, the tension, the taunting. Fine, I know he’s the writer, he’s made us big, but at the beginning it was my band. I’m the singer, and I have something to say too. He wants to work on his operas, does he? Fine, I want to tour more. He’s not the King, though he acts it.

I don’t need him either, at least not only him. Sure, Pete and “Ox” had their own albums out before I did, but mine actually sold! It felt good being the man in charge, choosing the songs, shaping the direction.

Still, what happened today was too much, too ugly. Roger flashed back. They were rehearsing Quadrophenia at Shepperton, getting themselves together for their upcoming tour of America. Pete was wasted, the usual these days. Roger had been clear he didn’t like the music much, the soul-searching, the reflection, the “who am I?” nonsense. I know who I am, Roger declared to himself, who the fuck are you?

Roger reached up and rubbed his shoulder as he thought about the row, another round of yelling and name-calling.

“This is shite, really,” Roger spat with disgust.

“Really, what is it you don’t like today?” Pete replied snidely. “I respect your opinion, Roger, you’ve written, what, ONE FUCKING SONG in your life?”

Roger wasn’t going to take it much longer. He was feeling pretty good about himself, about the success of his last record. Roger wasn’t much for backing down, ever, but even less these days.

“Listen you fucking nob. These songs are terrible. ‘Helpless Dancer?’ Come off it mate, you ain’t that sensitive.”

“You’re a no-talent piece of crap, nothing without me, without MY songs. I’d like to see you prance around in your pretty little fringe vest, twirling your microphone like you’re doing a circus trick. And that hair? Ridiculous, you look like a Soho tart.”

Roger started balling his fists. Pete had him going and wouldn’t stop.

“You’re just a cardboard cutout, a puppet singer that I manipulate from behind the scenes. What can you do about it? Are you gonna hit me like you used to? Grow up!”

Roger unclenched his fists and, in that brief second, Pete turned from verbal violence to real. He smashed the neck of his Gibson Les Paul guitar on Roger’s shoulder, hard. Roger winced at the pain, then flew into a rage. Pete was staring, daring Roger to respond, but that wasn’t going to be a problem. Roger punched up from his 5’5” height and banged Pete square on the jaw.

Pete toppled like a freshly cut tree, crashing horizontally to the floor. From behind his drums, Keith, who had been watching and giggling as his bandmates squabbled, leapt to kneel by Pete’s side.

“He’s out cold, Rog. You got him good that time.”

“Ahh, he’s fine. It’s not like I haven’t given him a bunch of fives before.”

But he wasn’t fine. Keith shook the unconscious Pete.

“Come on Pete, darling, come on. Time to wake up now.” A hot flash of fear swept over Moonie. “Rog, I think he’s dead!”

Roger kneeled down and held Pete’s wrist.

“He’s not dead, you twat, he’s got a pulse.” But as the minutes slowly passed, and Pete remained immobile, Roger grew frightened. An ambulance was called and it was off to the hospital.

That was three or four hours ago. Since then, Roger was consumed with anxiety. Would Pete come out of it? Did Roger cause any permanent damage? Pete did hit his head pretty hard when he landed. Even if everything was alright, would Pete forgive Roger? Would The Who be able to continue?

“Mr. Daltrey?”

It was that same nurse.

“I’m sorry, but I have some awful news.”

In the fall of 1973, The Who was in crisis. Roger Daltrey, whose confidence was at an all-time high after the April release of his debut LP Daltrey, and Pete Townshend, at a peak of alcohol abuse and dictatorial demeanor, argued frequently on the direction of the band. Prior to embarking on a tour to promote Quadrophenia, Pete’s new rock opera that Roger didn’t care for, the band rehearsed at Shepperton Studios. After a heated argument, Townshend swung his guitar down, smashing it onto Daltrey’s shoulder. Casually, Roger knocked Pete out cold with a ferocious punch to the jaw. Townshend was taken to a nearby hospital and remained unconscious for nearly four hours, with a shaken Roger Daltrey nervously awaiting word.