The Animals

From "The House of the Rising Sun" to Psychedelic Sensation

The Animals in 1966
The Animals in 1966. Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Animals band — formed originally as the Alan Price Combo — were one of several British rhythm and blues bands touring the United States in the early 1960s, distinguished mainly by their authenticity and the scarifying, Deltaesque lead vocals of Eric Burdon.

The same year the Beatles invaded America, the Animals were not far behind -- but this five piece of blues-rock upstarts delivered a more authentic, cerebral, white R&B than anything the Merseybeat bands were capable of.

Indeed, it was a cover of a Leadbelly standard "House of the Rising Sun" that gave them their first transatlantic smash.

The Beginning of Stardom

Formed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, England in 1962 when lead singer Burdon joined the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo with John Steel on drums, Bryan "Chas" Chandler on bass, and Hilton Valentine on guitar. Burdon contributes the renaming to the Animals to a group of friends the band used to hang out with, notably in honor of one of those friends, "Animal" Hogg.

Due in part to Beatlemania at the time, the band relocated to London in 1964 to join in the beat-boom takeover of the music scene there. This movement became known as the British Invasion, and the Animals landed right at the forefront of that wave of new British artists invading American culture. 

"House of the Rising Sun" is by far their most popular and therefore heard most in TV and movies, whether in a cover version by a character in "Mad Men" or during karaoke in the series "Girls" or as the soundtrack to Sharon Stone's final descent into drug madness in the classic Scorsese film Casino. 

The track became known as one of the first folk-rock hit in the states. 

International Success

Legendary producer Mickie Most took the group under his wing, encouraging them to continue their updating of blues, R&B, and folk standards, but also introducing them to the best songs the New York Brill Building scene had to offer.

For two years, the quintet was the toast of two continents, authentic enough to have backed luminaries like John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson.

The band appeared in two forgettable teen romps in the Sixties, performing Bo Diddley's "Around and Around" in 1964's Get Yourself a College Girl and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" in 1967's It's a Bikini World. Burdon got the later version of the band some much-needed street cred, however, by getting them screen time in the 1968 concert film Monterey Pop, while Burdon himself has a cameo as a backstage manager in the Oliver Stone biopic The Doors (1990). 

However, before any of this, Alan Price was beginning to chafe under Burdon's insistence that the group expands their repertoire, and he left in 1965, followed the next year by Steel and soon after by the others.

U.S. Psychedelic Rockers

Undaunted, Burdon assembled a new group under the same name, moved to San Francisco and embraced the psychedelic boom; by 1969 he had abandoned the band name entirely and scored a hit ("Spill The Wine") with his new discovery, a Latin-funk band called War. Soon after, Burdon embarked on a spotty solo career; the original band members have since reformed on occasion with equally uneven results.

Burdon continues to record and tour on his own today.

No less than four different Animals line-ups, all containing some original members, have toured in the 21st century. Other members included: Dave Rowberry (b. Jul7 4, 1940, Nottingham, England; d. June 6, 2003, London, England): piano, organ; Berry Jenkins (b. December 22, 1944, Leicester, Leicestershire, England): drums; John Weider (guitar and bass); Vic Briggs (guitar and piano); Danny McCulloch (bass), Zoot Money (b. George Bruno, piano and organ) . 

Legacy

Members of The Animals went on to experience great later-career success: Lead singer Eric Burdon is known for discovering and originally singing with the band War, late-period guitarist Andy Somers would go on to become Andy Summers of The Police and bassist Chas Chandler would go on to even greater fame as the man who discovered and managed Jimi Hendrix.

 

The original band members (Burdon, Chandler, Valentine, Steel and Price) reunited in Newcastle, 1968, for a one-off concert with later comeback performances in 1975 and 1983. Other members formed partial group reunions multiple times since the band broke up, performing under a variety of monikers. 

In 1994, The Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1999 they were inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame. Over their career, the Animals had over ten top-20 hits on U.K. and U.S. charts.