had the pleasure of interviewing John at the end of the Animals &
Friends tour with Steve Cropper:
are your first musical memories growing up in Gateshead?
remember sitting on my auntie’s knees as she was singing “Give me 5
minutes more, give me 5 minutes more”. I was a little toddler and
that was a popular song the time. Other memories are just records that
were in the house; that was anything from Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Fats
Waller, a British guy called Sid Phillips in a post-war early trad jazz
outfit. All sorts of odd stuff really. I was the youngest of four kids
so I got to hear all sorts of stuff. My sisters were fond of musicals,
Oklahoma and stuff like that. My brother tended to be touching on jazz
so that was the Fats Waller and the Sid Phillips stuff and my dad liked
Bing Crosby. One of my sisters was married to a guy who was an Al Jolson
you come from a musical family - is there a long musical heritage?
I'm the only one that actually made a career of it. We all had to do
piano lessons when we were kids. It was completely the wrong thing to do
to make us have piano lessons. The old theory was that if you can play
piano you'll never be short of money. It was a generation that had just
gone through the depression and World War II and that was the way things
you always want to become a musician?
it was one of my ambitions early on to become a musician. My first
instrument was a trumpet so my first influences were jazz, initially
trad jazz and then I got into modern jazz. But when I played drums
rather than trumpet I never felt really confident enough, because the
people I was influenced by and admired were jazz drummers like Elvin
Jones and Art Blakey and people like that. There was no way I was going
to be that good so I never considered myself good enough to aspire to
that kind of thing. But somehow I just accidentally fell into Rock 'n'
Roll and R&B.
believe you met up with Eric Burden at college, tell me about those
times and why you switched to become a drummer.
was 1956 and I had already been playing a little, and I could carry a
few trad tunes in B flat from about 14, so it was when I got to art
school as a 15 or 16-year-old that I first met Eric. Both Eric and me
were dropouts, everybody in the class was a dropout basically, rather
than get a job. It was so easy to get into art school in those days. You
had to have a little bit of talent but it was a great option rather than
working for a living, going to art school. I was playing trumpet and
Eric and me got on like a house on fire in the first-year class and he
said I've got some friends who have started to form a little band. It
was just at that point on the cusp where up until rock 'n' roll first
showed, trad jazz was the dance music for teenagers and that's what you
played. So that's why I took up trumpet; I just loved the music anyway.
I pretty soon realised that behind the British jazz that we were hearing
there was the original stuff and I pretty soon discovered Louis
Armstrong, the 1925 Classics, The Hot Five and Jelly Roll Morton, Bix
Beiderbecke and people like that. I fell in love with it. Again it was
just a question of having a bash at it, not just listening to it, just
try and play it. So the first band I got in [The Pagan Jazzmen] was with
Eric playing trombone and with two mates of his,
on drums -
which was snare drum and a hi-hat, that's it, that was the kit - and
Jimmy Crawford played the banjo. So the core of it was banjo, drums,
trombone and trumpet, you could never got a bass player. Within a very
short time Lonnie Donegan had 'Rock Island Line' out that year, Elvis
Presley came out with 'Heartbreak Hotel' and everybody started to go
"Oh, what's going on here". Lonnie Donegan turned everybody on; get a
cheap guitar and learn three chords and away you go. So that's more or
less what did it. Eric couldn't play trombone to save his life anyway.
He just said he wanted to do rock 'n' roll.
drummer said he wanted to play a new flat Fender bass. And Jimmy the
banjo player said he wanted to play electric guitar, so I said I'll just
play drums then - just like that! So it was that easy.
first attracted you to the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
Whilst appreciating trad jazz there was what you would call 'classic
blues' like Bessie Smith and people like that. Then, once you get into
rock 'n' roll, again similarly with jazz as it was with rock 'n' roll,
where you start looking behind and asking "where did that come from?".
One of the first rock 'n' roll records I bought was 'Shake Rattle and
Roll' but I pretty soon discovered that Bill Haley didn't write it, he
nicked it off Big Joe Turner and then you start thinking "well, what
else is back there" and you start digging and finding Muddy Waters and
guys like that. Then there were contemporary players in America - black
guys who were playing rock 'n' roll were a lot different to the white
guys you know. You get Elvis Presley doing Hound dog, then you start
thinking "where did that come from?" and it's Big Mama Thornton and so
on. Then you listen to Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Fats Domino
you think "Oh, I'll just go that way!".
Whilst you have documented the history of The Animals so eloquently on
The Animals & Friends website, inevitably I would like to ask a few
questions about the band and the music. Firstly tell me in your own
words about the original incarnation of The Animals, when was it, where
were you, who was in the line-up and what did you play?
The original was probably Eric and me and Jimmy Crawford and
We started off as the Pagan Jazzmen and we morphed into the Pagans, a
slightly R&B rock outfit and we were playing a church hall in Byker
[East Newcastle] with a band called The Headley Trio lead by
pianist/singer Frank Headley playing Jerry Lee Lewis covers - nowadays
you'd call them a Jerry Lee Lewis tribute band. We played our little
spot and we were doing different things and this kid from the other
band, who was playing rhythm guitar, came over and said "Can I sit in?".
It was one of these church halls with an old upright piano and we were
playing beside it and this kid sat at the piano. So we said "Sure", and
he hammered this piano with a strong left hand boogie style; this was
Alan Price. We went "Oh come on, you're in the wrong band, you should be
playing piano not guitar!". That's how we became a kind of keyboard
fell apart and I left art school and got myself a job as a technical
illustrator at the De Havilland aircraft company down in Hatfield,
Hertfordshire. So I left Newcastle and the Pagans band more or less
folded. But I couldn't stand it, I was in the wrong place in this
drawing office, rows and rows of big drawing boards, all of us drawing
the insides of Comet aircraft. After a few months I thought "To hell
with this, I'm going back to Newcastle".
immediately hooked up with Eric and we asked Alan Price to join us in a
new band. We found this album by Joe Turner called 'Boss of the Blues'
which was Kansas City urban blues with Pete Johnson playing really
powerful boogie on keyboard. We thought that was good so we started
calling ourselves the Kansas City Five and lifted a couple of numbers
off that album and added it in with the rest of the mix. Then we added
some brass and became the Kansas City Seven. We had a tenor player and
an alto player and a trumpet player, then two trumpet players, so it
became the Kansas City Several, based on however many that turned up.
City Five had got a regular gig and Alan was poached by a band called
the 'Kon Tors' and in that band was Chas Chandler on bass, so Alan went
with in them because they were making more money than us, The Kansas
City Five then just fell apart because we needed that keyboard input. So
I got a job in a nightclub with a bow tie, playing cocktail jazz and
backing cabaret artists singing the likes of Moon River with piano, bass
In the space
of about a year Alan had got a bit bored with playing in the Kon Tors
because they just did covers of American hits basically. He formed this
splinter band with Eric, Chas on bass, a guy called Nigel Stanger on
tenor sax and Barry Preston on drums. They didn't have a regular
guitarist at the time. So I was walking down the street in Newcastle one
day. I'd been in this nightclub job for about 10 months and Chas stop me
in the street (who I knew anyway) and said "Just the man, we've got this
drummer in the band, a guy called Barry Preston whose driving everybody
crazy, he's not right musically and is getting up everybody's nose
personally as well". So he said "Do you want to come and join us?" and I
thought, with being down in the basement playing cocktail jazz for 10
months I'd lost touch with what was going on in the dirty end of town;
the Downbeat Club, the Club AGoGo. I didn't realise what they'd been up
to and I said "That's all right I've turned professional now", as I quit
the little day job I had. I said I'm on 15 quid a week which was all
right at that time, this was 1963. Chas said "Well we're doing that,
14-15 quid a week" and I said "What, playing good stuff?" and he said
"Yeah!" and I said "Oh, OK I'm in". I said I had a week's holiday in
Belgium or France. This was only a week or two away, so I said "How
about when I'm back in the September?" and he said "That'll do, we'll
make that the date for our first gig". So I went down to the Downbeat
Club, it was an all-nighter - it started at midnight - and the place was
rammed. They'd built up this following in R&B. The Rolling Stones were
coming off at that time and there was a huge groundswell of interest in
R&B rather than just pop and The Beatles. There was this kind of dirtier
scene going on, and we didn't realise there were people all over the
country doing exactly the same thing. So I walk in, sets me kit up and
says "Hello". By this time Nigel Stanger the tenor player had gone to
Oxford University, he was following an academic life. They said we've
got this new guitarist called Hilton Valentine. No, it's his real name,
and that was the first time I met Hilton. We just got up and played a
three-hour set. In those days we just knew so much material. All Eric
had to do was call the number and we could play it. So that was the
first time the five people were on stage together who became the
Animals, but at that time were called the 'Alan Price Rhythm and Blues
you started as 'The Alan Price Rhythm & Blues Combo, how did the band
get the name 'The Animals'?
we became the house band, the Downbeat session at midnight was an extra.
It was like an all-nighter, the main gig was the Club AGoGo in
Newcastle. Mike Jeffrey founded it, owned it and ran it, and he had us
on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, then we'd go down to
the Downbeat Club for the all-nighter. We used to play two three-hour
sets on a Saturday night. We became the house band and became massively
popular as the local band. We also got to be support for guest people
like John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson.
was quite something for a young band, how was the experience?
were so used to each other, with those two guys especially, who didn't
play like anybody else in the world. They didn't play a set structure,
you would go a couple bars over or a couple bars less and you just had
to go with them you know, and Sonny Boy Williamson was just evil. He
would pull an harmonica out and call a key and play a completely
different key - a subtle switch. Great fun and education as well. There
were also visiting bands, we would play a set, then they would do their
set and we would play at the interval or something like that. One night
it was Graham Bond, the Graham Bond Organisation. Brilliant band, Graham
on keyboards, Jack Bruce on bass guitar, Ginger Baker on drums, and Dick
Heckstall-Smith on sax. When we did our bit Graham got up and had a blow
with us because he played alto sax as well as Hammond organ, a good jazz
musician he was. He got talking to Mike Jeffrey and said "You want to
get these guys down to London because it's all going off". Its 1963, the
Beatles were already knocking the doors down and Mike thought he would
sign us up with a management agreement. He wasn't going to lose us! What
happened was Graham got Mike down to London and introduced him to Ronan
O'Rahilly, who later founded Radio Caroline, but he had a club in the
West End call the Scene Club, just up near the Windmill in a basement.
He also introduced him to Georgio Gomelsky who was managing the
Yardbirds at that time and had been involved with the Rolling Stones
earlier, then the Yardbirds had taken over the Stones circuit because
the Stones have started to move up a rank. Mike came back to Newcastle
just before the end of 63 and he said we've got a good deal, the
Yardbirds are going to come up here and do your gigs for 10 days or
something and we are going to go down there and do the Yardbirds gigs in
and around London; gigs like the Ricky Tik clubs and Eel Pie Island.
Also we were going to have a base at Ronan O'Rahilly's Scene Club in
Piccadilly. He said "Oh, by the way, you've got a new name. Graham Bond
had suggested that you want to get rid of that 'Alan Price Rhythm and
Blues Combo' name. You want something more snappy, so your called 'The
The Animals set up their base in London, I read the Mods [a purely
London 'subculture' phenomenon at the time] became an important fan base
in the city, why do you think the Mods took to the Animals in such a big
don't know, I could never understand it because that Scene Club was a
Mod hangout. When we first arrived there in the afternoon to setup, have
a bit of a rehearsal and then off to get something to eat, we came back
and the yard outside the gig was packed with scooters, Lambrettas and
Vespas all gleaming chrome, mirrors and aerials. We'd never seen
anything like it because it was purely a London phenomenon at the time.
Also, when they danced it was exactly what became rhythm and soul
[Northern Soul], that kind of very slick dancing, they were doing it
then in the Scene Club. These were Mods and they were listening to all
this kind of imported records. Guy Stevens was the disc jockey and he
was bringing all this imported American stuff in, and we were listening
to this and watching these kids dancing, and we were thinking they are
going to hate us. But we got up and we played and they loved us. I met a
guy just two or three years ago who had been one of the Scene Club Mods
and he said "You were our band!"
believe Animals gigs were often frequented by other artists such as
Chris Farlow & The Thunderbirds, Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Zoot
Money & The Big Roll Band, and John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. Was this
reciprocal and are you still in touch?
yeah, it was very incestuous you know. You had the Marquee, you had the
Flamingo, the Scene Club and others. Georgie Fame was more or less a
resident at the Flamingo. There was Chris Farlowe and Zoot Money, they
were all regulars at the Flamingo and the Marquee.
you still see much of them?
yes, Zoot's played with as a lot of times when Mick Gallaher is doing
his stint with the Blockheads. We did a tour with Georgie Fame just
three or four years ago which was very good. They were great because
everybody was digging each other, there was mutual admiration
absolutely, yeah. They were good days.
were the biggest influences in your music?
think probably Ray Charles in those days became a huge influence. I
loved that kind of stuff he was doing.
is your view on the origins of the song ‘House of the Rising Sun’?
to be quite honest, the first time I ever heard it was on Bob Dylan's
first album the very first album - all acoustic. Then I learned that it
had been around for donkeys years and nobody knew who originally wrote
it. I'm pretty sure regardless of all the stories it was the first time
any of us had heard it. We liked it, we loved that album. We knew there
was something significant that had just come into the world with Bob
Dylan's first album. I knew there was something special - the rising sun
stood out. Since then it's been sung by Led Zeppelin, Josh White, all
sorts of people around the world.
people think it refers to a New Orleans brothel or a jailhouse or even a
slave pen on a plantation, have you any thoughts on that?
got no idea and I don't think anyone else has really, it's all
conjecture. One of the things we had to do though was rewrite the
lyrics. When we recorded it we knew there was no way it was ever going
to get played on the radio singing about the house of prostitutes, not
in those days anyway!
do you think are the reasons for the continuing popularity of so many
Animals songs? They've been going so long and are still loved.
know, it's because they're about life you know. They're not pop songs,
they're not la, la, la songs. They are songs about the dark side of
life, 'We Gotta Get Out of This Place', 'It's My Life'. 'We Gotta Get
Out of This Place' is about a guy who's going to be a stud, he has to ,
to get some money so him and his bird can get out of where they are.
was also the US Armed Forces anthem during the Vietnam war.
was yeah, apparently it was in the forces charts for three years. Even
now when we play, you get a lot of young kids going to our shows and
they all know the words. Apparently it's what all the schoolkids sing at
the end of term or when leaving school altogether: 'we gotta get out of
strong was the Blues influence in the classic Animals hits? They're not
pop songs are they.
we did a lot of kind of bluesy stuff on B-sides and album tracks because
that's where the heart was. To some extent we were going by the need for
more commercial aspects with our choice of numbers, but at the same time
Mickey Most never tried to force us to do anything we didn't want to do,
and we wouldn't have stood for it anyway. If we didn't like it we didn't
do it. In fact the only reason we did 'Baby Let Me Take You Home' as our
first single was from one of Mickey suggestions. He would go to the
States and come back with an armful of stuff and say this is good for
you. It was a sort of pop version of 'Baby Let Me Follow You Down' from
Bob Dylan's first album and we said if it's good enough for Bob, it'll
do for us.
is your favourite Animals song?
don't know, I've never been embarrassed by anything we've done. I
suppose it would have to be 'House of the Rising Sun', because it was
such a life changing thing. One minute we were five working-class
Geordie lads just having a nibble at the charts with 'Baby Let Me Take
You Home' and the next minute we're jetting off to America with a number
one. It had an enormous effect on us, and apart from that, it's a bloody
good song. I still think it's the definitive version, in electric terms
Looking back on your career, what are your fondest memories?
Fondest memories? I don't know. I used to love the Newcastle scene in
the early days before we went to London. Going back to five
working-class Geordie lads in those days in 1964 you didn't go to
America unless you were rich, a film star, a big businessman or
whatever. It's not like today when you just jet across for a holiday in
Florida or whatever. All our influences growing up as teenagers in
post-war Britain, which was a bit grim, was American movies and American
music and books. We read Faulkner, Steinbeck, JD Salinger and people
like that. So to find us heading across the big pond to land in New
York, it was like another planet in those days. When we were in a sort
of grubby dirty place like Newcastle used to be in those days, it was
soot Black, and you couldn't get a drink after 10 o'clock. You'd seen
those movies where people would take a couple of drags of a cigarette
and stub it out and you'd think how can you do that, that's a cigarette.
They just lived a completely different kind of lifestyle compared with
our kind of life, so to be flying out there, arriving in New York, and
to be escorted into Manhattan with a motorcycle escort was just
did 'Animals & Friends' come about, who was the catalyst in bringing the
That's an odd one that, because Chas in the early 90s had moved back
from London to Newcastle and resettled with his wife Madeleine and
raised a family and everything. He was still involved in music, but
after Slade he never really managed to get another band that was going
to be an international hit. He did try but somehow he never got the
right band or the right person. He more or less said "I've had enough of
this" and moved back up to Newcastle. Madeleine was from the North-east
as well and she wanted to be close to the family, so Chas went along
with that. Chas went to see a band that Hilton was in, a local band
called the Alligators. The singer was a guy called Robert Kane who
didn't look at all like Eric but when he sang, they did a couple of
Animals numbers 'We Gotta Get Out of This Place' and 'Don't Let Me Be
Misunderstood'. Chas had commented it was remarkable how like Eric he
sounded on those particular numbers. He said, "You want to do something
about that, develop along those lines more". Just about the same time
Peter Barton, who was an agent - who is now our lead singer and bass
player, but at that point he was trolling around looking for the remains
of 60s bands that he could build into a new act but using the old name
and perhaps a couple of original members. He connected up with Hilton
and Chas and Peter said "I could do something with this if you develop
the Animals idea but you really, really need at least one of the
original members in the band to make it work. Chas said "Well, phone
Johnny up, give him a shot". Hilton phoned me up and I said "Well, I'm
not sure about this". I wasn't sure that I wanted to start working again
with Hilton, as he could be a bit difficult. But anyway I phoned Chas
and said "I hear you been hanging around with Hilton a bit", because
it was thought he
used to hate his guts back then. He said "I know, but he's changed, he's
a different character now, so I've been hanging out with him a bit, it's
a pretty good band. I said "Well, what do you think?". He said "Give it
a shot, it can either work or it's not going to work". So I phoned
Hilton back and said "I'll give it a shot then". So I turned up and
again it was one of these situations where the drummer they had wasn't
really right for the job. I remember being very proud at some point
after the Animals when Chas said "When Johnny Steel left the band all
the swing when out of it, and it just became another rock band". I think
that's what they didn't have with this other drummer which I was able to
provide. I came in and that's when we started, in 1993.
Animals & Friends are now on their second tour with Steve Cropper, how
did that originally come about?
again, it's Peter Barton, his philosophy is they can only say yes or no.
He was looking for this concept of Animals and Friends giving us the
freedom of inviting people to join us as guests with the band. I don't
know how he picked on Steve Cropper, but somehow he did. He just kept
phoning up and saying "Do you want to come over and work with us?" and
Cropper turned him down several times until eventually he wore him down.
This was about two or three years ago. So he came over and we did about
10 gigs and it was great fun. We got on well and somehow the combination
of the Animals repertoire and the Stax music worked. Steve has got such
a repertoire, hundreds and hundreds of songs. Anyway, we had this good
little tour and he went back to the States and we thought we'll probably
never see him again. But then he contacted Pete and said "Are we going
to do anything this year?". So Pete set to work and put about 20 gigs
together and we're just coming to the end of it now. We've been having a
have an amazing tour schedule into 2012, doesn't it get a bit tiring
after all these years?
this is the longest spell for a while, it's going to be five weeks and I
only got home two nights in the five weeks. In 1997 I think it was, or
1998, we did 3 1/2 months, a month in Poland, then we went on to
Southeast Asia, then we ended up in the States for six weeks touring
with the Yardbirds, and that was 3 1/2 months continuous on the road.
That was the longest I've done ever! But no, I don't get tired of it.
Sometimes I think I'm looking forward to getting into my own bed but if
it was really bothering me I wouldn't do it. Once you get the first few
gigs under your belt and you get into that kind of rolling routine
you're okay, then suddenly it comes to an end and you say we've done it,
we've done all those gigs and it's done.
thank you so much.
You're very welcome.
Evolution of The Animals (Animals and Friends
The Animals - The Complete Guide (Wikipedia Book)
Origin of the song 'House of The Rising Sun'
Mods - a London 'subculture' phenomenon of the 60s
Check out Animals and Friends with Steve Cropper -
Blues Interviews List
Website, Photos © Copyright 2000-2011 Alan
White. All Rights Reserved.
Text (this page)
All Rights Reserved.
For further information please email: