Eric Burdon does not like to waste time in the recording studio, which made working with the Greenhornes a particular pleasure for the former Animals frontman: they knocked out their new four-song EP in a single weekend this past spring.
"A lot of the stuff was pure jams," Burdon tells Rolling Stone. "We did the whole project within the space of two days. The actual recording time was probably one day, no overdubs."
The EP, Eric Burdon and the Greenhornes, is a Record Store Day Black Friday release produced by Brendan Benson, who met Burdon at this year's South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. After Benson sat in with Burdon, 71, and his band for a radio session they were recording, Burdon returned the favor and joined Benson onstage that night on a medley of "Inside Looking Out" and "When I Was Young" that Benson had been working on.
"He killed it," Benson says. "I didn't know what to expect. I mean, obviously, he's an older guy, but he doesn't act old at all."
Things went so well that Benson invited Burdon to Nashville to record, and the former leader of the Animals and War surprised him by agreeing to show up the following weekend. "I went home and frantically tried to put together this session," Benson says, laughing. "I was panicked, like, what have I done? I called up the Greenhornes and said, 'You've gotta get down here and do this.'"
The Cincinnati garage-rockers were game, but Burdon wasn't so sure about them at first. "I sent them a song, they sent it back. I wasn't too happy with it," Burdon says. "It wasn't until I got there and met the guys personally that things started to flow. I was so impressed with their knowledge and the way they played my old material – it sounded so different, so sharp-edged and aggressive and cleaner."
Burdon arrived in Nashville with a few tunes in mind: the gritty rocker "Black Dog," a song he wrote based on Winston Churchill's term for depression, and "Out of My Mind," a soulful, bluesy number that Burdon says "came from sitting in my barber's chair, listening to him complain about this woman who ripped him off."
Another song, "Cab Driver," Burdon wrote in a taxi, on the way to the studio, about the driver. He walked into the building and right into the vocal booth. "I heard the guys playing a little lick; I said, 'Keep it going, keep it going,' and I got on the mic and we knocked it out in one take. I still had the lyrics written on my hand and on a piece of paper from the bar the night before."
Benson says the moment is representative of the entire weekend in the studio. "It happened really fast, and worked out really well, to my surprise," he says. "Those kinds of impulsive things don't always come together so amazingly, like this one did. I'm really proud of it, and I think he is, too, and I want to do some more with him."
Indeed, Burdon enjoyed playing with the Greenhornes so much that he's keen to take them on the road and, if possible, record with them again. In the meantime, he's readying another album, Until Your River Runs Dry, for release in January. One thing Burdon won't be doing, though, is reassembling the Animals.
"I have utilized the name the Animals [for] a long time now, and I think it's time to put it behind me and be the best that I can be. Be myself," he says. "It's been good, and I'm glad that I have that history behind me in the music world. Also, my time with War, that helped me realize there was another side to me. Where it's going to go next, I don't know."