Thursday, March 09, 2006

Backstage with Eric Burdon

We had traveled to Oshkosh to see rock icon Eric Burdon, lead vocalist on the Animals' number one hit, "House of the Rising Sun," who was performing at the annual WaterFest summer concert series.

Pre-show anticipation was growing as we got situated near the stage, finding the best spot to hear Burdon's unmistakable Newcastle baritone shred through his repertoire. I was about to see a musical hero from my youth perform the songs that made him legendary. Songs like "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "It's My Life," and "When I Was Young," were anthems to me.

But, as dark storm clouds gathered over the Fox Valley, our enthusiasm began to wane. After waiting in the rain for some time, it was announced that the show was being cancelled in order to protect the safety of the musicians at the outdoor venue.

My wife Sue and I were devastated. We knew we'd need a miracle to get backstage following the concert, but now that slim possibility seemed to vanish. The disappointing announcement, however, did not dash the hopes of fellow concert-goer and former Gladstone resident Jim Pierron.

Dejected, we accompanied Pierron to the nearby Oshkosh Convention Center. Pierron, who's collected tons of music autographs, has a charming ability to talk his way backstage after concerts. He chatted with various security personnel and before long we were surprised to find ourselves in a small room where Burdon was signing autographs and talking to a handful of fans.

Although a giant in the world of rock and owner of a powerful voice, Burdon is relatively small in stature. He conversed easily, wearing an outfit which included cowboy boots and a well-worn jean jacket. (Considering the location, you might think Burdon would sport Oshkosh B' Gosh denim products, but according to his website, he wears Antik brand clothing.)

He also posed for pictures with his fans, including me, seemingly to compensate for the cancelled show.

Pierron had come armed with old records by the Animals and compact discs for the British singer to autograph. Burdon obliged until he noticed a bootleg recording which he refused to sign. "Where did you get this?" Burdon demanded, adding he had received no royalties for the recording. Burdon's uncharacteristic response amazed Pierron who was unaware one of his discs was of dubious legal status.

Like many artists of the fifties and sixties, Burdon was victimized by various management deals and recording contracts which sought to exploit his talents without fair compensation. While he has the right to be bitter, Burdon instead has concentrated on pleasing his fans.

Burdon has had his ups and downs, but continues to tour and record. He has had dozens of recordings both with the original Animals, later with the "new" Animals, and as a solo artist.

He made his first "comeback" in 1968 and fronted the group War, taking "Spill the Wine" to number three on the Billboard singles chart in 1970. A member of the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame, Burdon also took the time to pen an intriguing autobiography.

Today, the 64-year-old Burdon lives a life on the road and often performs 100 or more shows a year.

Currently, he's touring Europe in support of "Soul of a Man," a new compact disc released in January. The 14-track recording, hailed by critics, highlights Burdon's musical roots. It includes songs first performed by his blues idols including Blind Willie Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters.

In a four-decades long career, Burdon has refused to compromise. Just like he did with his original Animals' recordings, Burdon continues to reinterpret vintage American blues classics, recycling them both on stage and in the studio, for an appreciative audience.

Thanks, Eric for putting us fans first. And, it was great to meet you.

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