I would need several books to do justice to the career of Eric Burdon. Born in Newcastle in the north-east of England in 1941 Eric is best known for his time with The Animals.
The band represented a remarkable collection of talent including keyboard player Alan Price, future Jimi Hendrix manager Chas Chandler, and, of course, lead singer Eric Burdon himself.
Despite being a leading figure in the British rhythm and blues movement of the sixties Burdon’s career has also been surprisingly varied and diverse. The Animals first single “Baby Let Me take You Home” introduced the record buying public to the gritty sound of the band.
However, it was their hugely popular and timeless interpretation of the traditional “House Of The Rising Sun” that cemented their place in rock history. It stormed to number one on either side of the Atlantic and led to a run of further hit singles, such as “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”.
When Chas Chandler left to manage Jimi Hendrix, the band were left to morph into the more psychedelic sound of Eric Burdon And The Animals. Following the US success of singles “San Francisco Nights”, “Sky Pilot”, and “When I Was Young” they relocated to California and appeared at the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.
By 1969 The Animals had run its course and Burdon stayed in the States to team up with the multi racial Californian funk and afro rock band War. They released two highly influential albums Eric Burdon Declares War and Black Man’s Burdon both of which remain sought after items today.
In 1971 Burdon left to form the harder edged but short lived Eric Burdon And Tavarich and by the spring of 1973 was putting together The Eric Burdon Band. It was around this time that he was approached to write the musical score for a film Mirage about the Vietnam War. Sadly, United Artists withdrew their support and both the film and the music were shelved.
Burdon had characteristically poured his entire creative energy into Mirage which resulted in a double album’s worth of material. Heavy themes of war, sex, drug addiction, conscription, and black America led to some of his most potentially powerful tracks ever.
However, the album was destined to only appear as a bootleg and lay gathering dust for many years. Now the Esoteric label has finally made it available, in re-mastered format, some 35 years after the sessions were recorded.
Mirage opens with “Dragon Lady” a powerful track of drug addiction amongst young soldiers facing the horrors of conflict in Vietnam. The funky “Jim Crow” leads to “Ghetto Child” a track that delves into the continuing struggle for equality inside black America, a struggle that was being carried onto the front line in a seemingly endless war.
The 'down on the street' blues of “Mind Arc” come complete with wailing police sirens. Meanwhile, “River Of Blood” remains a tough, and rough gem amongst the Burdon catalogue.
Perhaps the most fascinating track, and one of great interest to all fans of rock music’s hierarchy, has to be the title track itself. “Mirage” has lyrics reportedly written along with his friend Jimi Hendrix on the night that the legendary guitarist died and because of this its value hardly needs emphasising.
Sadly, what we have here is the rough form of this idea but one that was clearly worth further development had the chance remained.
The overall highlight has to be “Driftin’/Geronimo’s Last Stand”. It leaves you contemplating just what could have been had the film and its soundtrack actually been completed.
The remastered re-release comes with informative album notes by Esoteric’s Mark Powell that include some excellent photographs including a signed one of Burdon alongside Jimi Hendrix.
Despite the extensive passage of time Mirage remains powerful, sometimes abrasive, eccentric, disjointed, unfinished, and yet is still somewhat compulsive listening. The tracks are suitably unpolished in a way highlighting the reality of the heavy and all too relevant subject matter.
As with anything Eric Burdon has done during his remarkable career he met that subject matter head on and in uncompromising and fearless style. This is of interest to rock historians, collectors of unearthed gems, and of course the many admirers of Eric Burdon himself.