Saturday, 19 April 2014

The British Invasion: Looking Back At 1964 With Animals Drummer John Steel

The Animals in 1963
Wikimedia Commons
As part of Record Store Day, The Animals self-titled second 1964 EP The Animals is getting a debut release on vinyl in the USA on 10 inch vinyl,  featuring Boom Boom, Around And Around, Dimples and I've Been Around.

I recently chatted to the original Animals drummer John Steel as he undertook The Ultimate Rhythm N Blues Tour with Animals and Friends.
John, along with Eric Burdon, Alan Price, Chas Chandler and Hilton Valentine formed the original incarnation of The Animals in 1963. The band's version of The House of the Rising Sun hit the top of the charts in the UK and USA in 1964. “64 was a big year for so many bands,” recalls John.
There has been much controversy over the years as to who did what on the record, particularly as keyboardist Alan Price was credited with arranging it. John recalls all band members had an active part in the songs success, including late guitarist Chas Chandler who would  manage rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix three years later. 
“Chas, I have to say back then, must have really had his business head on, long before Jimi Hendrix,” says John, “ I can remember him distinctly saying “Everyone’s going to be trying to out-rock Chuck Berry. We should try to stand out with something that’s different. We weren’t consciously trying to create the first ever folk-rock crossover single or the first single that broke the 3 minute barrier. We just did the song as we felt it. Hilton introduced this beautiful guitar intro, Eric rewrote the lyrics to be about a gambler because we’d never have got a song about a prostitute played on the BBC and I was always a jazz influenced player. I picked up that vibe from Jimmy Smith’s Walk On The Wild Side." 
The Animals EP
 The House of The Rising Sun topped the UK charts in the summer of 1964 and for a while The Animals were seen as the next serious challengers to The Beatles pop crown.
“We were always talked about in the same breath as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.” says John, “When we went into a studio to record a single we’d knock off half a dozen or so tracks with almost one take on every one of them. A lot of them were a live performance just recorded live.” 
“We got left behind because The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had very successful writing teams and wrote original material. The Animals unfortunately never got that act together.” 
Despite not writing their own material, The Animals raw energetic appeal was strong enough to capture the imagination of the American audience where the similarly topped the charts and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. 
 “When we were kids in the 50s America was our inspiration,” remembers John,  “everything came from across there, blues jazz, rock n roll, movies, everything! Britain was hard and grim especially in the North East.  America on the big silver screen was like another planet. For five working class Geordie lads flying across the Atlantic and landing in JFK we were driven into Manhattan in individual sports cars with models dressed as tigers and police escorts riding on bikes with sirens on, we couldn't believe it, it was our promised land.”  
  • A version of this interview previously appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide in January 2014 
  • Find out more about Record Store Day events around the world at the official website.

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