I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

A Time for War: Eric Burdon at Beat Club

by Daniel Creahan
June 20, 2012

“Good-day, dear Beat friends. The time gas cine, In a few seconds we will begin the first show on German television made especially for you. As for you Ladies and Gentlemen who do not like Beat music, we ask for your understanding. This is a live show for young people.”

When it comes to introductions for a live music program, it doesn’t get much better than this caveat announced before the beginning of Bremen’s Beat-Club television show, on-air in West Germany between 1965 and 1972. Featuring bands from across the spectrum of Rock and Roll, the show was another entry in the long list of post-war youth television to provide a platform for the numerous bands trekking across Europe in the late 60’s and early 70’s (1).

It was the classic Europe-America dialogue that Rock and Roll did and is still doing so well, the constant flow of performers and musicians back and forth across the Atlantic for performance, collaboration and habitation. Following the same routes that their music took before them, the Rock explosion of the 1960’s scattered musicians across the globe as artists wandered where their passions led them: Damo Suzuki popped up playing with Can, The Rolling Stones jammed with Howlin’ Wolf, The Beatles played with more or less everyone they got even close to (Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston, the list goes on).

It was in this context that Eric Burdon, the frontman of British Invasion mainstays The Animals found himself living in San Francisco, scouring the West Coast for fresh talent. He got it in Los Angeles, with the breezy, psyched out grooves of “Nightshift,” who he quickly linked up with and redubbed “War.” Turning them into his own personal backing act, Burdon led the ensemble through show after show of long-form jam sessions and free-wheeling psychedelia. The marriage between the two bands is fascinating, combining Burdon’s surreal imagery and long, rambling narratives with the prolonged funk attack that his backing band did so well.

With the raw talent of both sides running over, they burned through two celebrated releases together in the course of 1970 alone, not to mention several albums released by War on their own. Their debut collaboration, Eric Burdon declares “WAR” was an instant hit, particularly the debut single, “Spill The Wine.”

The band managed to release another well-received album, The White Man’s Burdon later that year, as well as embark on a major tour of the US and Europe. It was during this whirlwind of activity that the band recorded this performance on Beat-Club. Let’s count now: that’s two albums (not counting the two that War released on their own without Burden in that timeframe), and a major world tour, all in the course of two years. It's a daunting schedule, particularly considering the extended jams on their songs, and the energy exerted by Burdon on each number.

You can tell from the video that the man’s a giver. Even without his hands on an instrument, Burdon drives the band forward, bellowing out lyrics, free-associating lyrics, and bouncing back and forth as the band flows around him. It’s no wonder then, that in the middle of a 1971 European tour, he collapsed on stage, then had to drop off the rest of the run, citing exhaustion. This was the beginning of the end for Burdon’s stint with War, but his band continued on without him, scoring hits with “Low Rider” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” forever cementing their status as the preeminent choice for Saturday morning cruises around town. Burdon would also go on to a productive solo career, continuing to record and perform up until the present day (2).

Burdon's stint with War was one of the great rock and roll collaborations, opening the door for the fusions of style and form that would continue to proliferate over the next 20 years. Watching this video, it's easy to see why; the vision of the collective illuminating what's possible with Rock and Roll, the psychedelic experimentation of the 60's opening the door for near-infinite musical expansion.

1. http://www.tv.com/shows/beat-club/

2. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/war-mn0000191947

Daniel Creahan currently spends his days in Brooklyn, NY, dividing time between music, writing, and questionable photoshop collaging.  He prefers any and all of these while slamming 3-5 cups of coffee and wearing a warm pair of slippers.  You can read him complaining about Rihanna on his Twitter (@SupposedGhosts), or check out some music at his label (prisonartcatalog.com).