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British invasion rocker Eric Burdon brings his legacy to McPhillips Street Station tonight

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‘IT’S my life and I’ll do what I want."

Blues rocker Eric Burdon sang these words more than 40 years in a hit song he had with his classic British Invasion band the Animals.

He plans to live up to them when he takes the stage for a sold-out show at the McPhillips Street Station Thursday night.

"This year I'm adding more songs from my recent albums, Soul of a Man and My Secret Life, plus a few of the more obscure Animals songs," said Burdon, who performed here last at the Red River Ex in June.

"If you don't please yourself, how can you begin to please others?"

However, he promises to do many of the timeless Animals tunes, including House of the Rising Sun and We Gotta Get Out of This Place, not to mention the fruits of his labour with the California jazz-soul-rock collective War in the '70s.

"I always keep in mind that people expect the '60s hits, but I must also satisfy my own soul," he said.

"I'd be an idiot to ignore past hits from Animals/War, but I reserve the right to refuse to serve anyone except myself."

Burdon, 67, who lives in California with his wife and manager, Marianna Proestou, agreed to a Free Press interview by email. He would not talk via telephone, even though he chatted Sunday with 92 CITI FM classic rock guru Howard Mandshein.

Burdon asked the Free Press for a list of questions and responded a few days later with coherent and literate answers.

"I like to keep track of everything," he wrote. "(I have) a great mistrust of editors. Sorry about that!"

In December, he earned headlines in England when he a lost a legal battle to prevent the Animals' original drummer, John Steel, from using the band's name. Yet he is appearing in Winnipeg and at two casinos in Ontario as "Eric Burdon & the Animals."

"My lawyers and management advise me not to discuss this ongoing lawsuit, but truth be told, it hurts!" Burdon wrote.

"The thievery that began with the Animals, right from our first hit, still percolates through the group. Who are these people and why do they want to possess my soul?"

After he split from War, Burdon spent many years in the musical wilderness, recording a series of largely undistinguished albums, both solo and with musicians he billed as "the New Animals."

Journalists have accused him of bitterness over being relegated to second-tier status among British Invasion bands. He also never saw anywhere near the money as did such contemporaries as Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.

"I'm not exactly living off my state pension, but due to certain members of certain past bands, not to mention gangster management, I work hard for a 67-year-old -- and love it."

Since the turn of the millennium, he has recorded a series of credible blues-rock albums, and last year he reunited with War at a much publicized concert at the storied Albert Hall in London.

In the fall, Rolling Stone magazine placed him at No. 57 in its list of the greatest singers of all time.

"I don't believe in competition in the arts," he said. "An enthused audience at the end of a show suits me fine."

When he first arrived in U.S., he never imagined he'd still be at it 40 years later.

"I didn't think I'd live past 30," he said. "Blame this on the atom bomb, (2) conscription into the military, (3) good Christian teaching, and (4) the copious amount of alcohol and cigarettes. Also, I was chronically ill with industrial disease. I'm in better health now than I've ever been."

The Animals' 1964 electric version of House of the Riding Sun remains the traditional folk song's definitive take, though Bob Dylan recorded an acoustic version on his 1961 debut album.

The story goes that when Dylan heard the Animals' version, it spurred him to rethink his methods. To this day, Burdon (who was also close to Jimi Hendrix) considers this his singular contribution to rock music history:

"Forcing Bob Dylan to move up to the electric rock 'n' roll world," he said. "so everybody would be able to hear what he's singing about."

Concert Preview
Eric Burdon & the Animals
McPhillips Street Station
Jan. 22, 8 p.m.
Tickets $40 (sold out)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2009 D1

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