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Music

1960s soulmates: The friendship of Eric Burdon and Jim Morrison

Eric Burdon is one of the most powerful vocalists from the 1960s. Although he didn’t pen ‘The House of The Rising Sun’, his voice wraps around the words like the familiar strains of a writer singing his own work. And that’s exactly what we get on ‘The House of The Rising Sun’, The Animals’ blistering rendition of a blues standard. 

Burdon had many fans, including members of The Doors. In a shared interview from 1995, Ray Manzarek and Danny Sugerman discuss the influence that the singer from Newcastle had on Jim Morrison. “Eric Burdon,” Sugerman begins, “As I recall, was the one person in town, when Jim Morrison was out of control at the Whiskey a Go-Go, or The Troubadour, or some topless club, people would call Eric to calm Jim down”.

Chuckling to himself, Manzarek can be seen nodding approvingly. “Eric was a soulmate of Jim’s, that’s for sure,” the keyboardist agrees. “They shared a love of the bottle, Jim succumbed to it, but Eric’s still around.” 

Those words hold more extraordinary prescience in 2022: Sugerman, who worked with The Doors as a roadie, died in 2005, before Manzarek followed in 2013. Burdon, however, is still alive and well, singing his heart out for whoever wants to hear him. 

In a rare interview, Burdon expressed his gratitude at his standing in life, explaining: “I’m thinking, ‘What did I do right?’ that got me through that period. I’m glad I can’t do it anymore – that I’m happily married and settled down. Chasing tail is a lot of work. [Smiles] But the lack of me getting high and going on stage – it’s affected me in a way that I never thought it would. I’m more aggressive because I’m more aware of what I have to say, what I should be saying and how I’m going to say it. And, of course, that spills over into the recording process as well.”

While he couldn’t save Morrison from temptation, Burdon did get to perform with Manzarek in the early 1990s. “Actually,” Manzarek remembered, “We played in Mexico, in a little festival called Woodstock (starts speaking Spanish) en México.” Amused by the nostalgia, Manzarek equated the festival to the spectacle organised by Michael Lang in 1969. In one charming part of the video interview, Manzarek informs Sugerman that Leon Russell did indeed play at this version of Woodstock. The roadie looks stunned, clearly impressed by the stamina these rock artists hold 25 years after their supposed “prime”. 

Re-iterating that Burdon was a “soulmate” of the late Morrison, Sugerman insists that there was great mutual respect between the two singers. “Jim respected Eric,” Sugerman points out, “And Eric knew how to talk Jim down”. Sugerman laughs, as does Manzarek, both clearly indebted to Burdon for putting up with the mercurial frontman when other members of The Doors extended entourage felt powerless to do anything. 

There is a telling sadness at the close of this clip. Here are two men reminiscing about their experiences of a decade that was long committed to the annals of memory. What emerges from the video is context, and the pair rattle on about small nothings for the viewers at home. In their absence, the two-minute video now doubles as a souvenir to two men who built a fascinating body of work. 

There will come a time when everyone who witnessed the 1960s won’t be around to describe it, and when that day arrives, clips like the one of Manzarek and Sugerman enjoying a chuckle will feel more important than they ever did before. And as long as Burdon can sing, then he should bloody well sing.

See the clip below.