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Alan Price

Alan Price was born on April 19, 1942, in Fatfield, County Durham, Northeast England. Alan was a natural, though largely self-taught musician, who began playing the old family piano at the age of seven. By his early teens he had become quite accomplished on piano, organ, guitar and bass, so it was clear early on that he was exceptionally gifted. Initially inspired by the skiffle craze, which swept over England in the 1950s, he switched to rock and roll during his grammar school days, due to his fascination with the popular American artist, Jerry Lee Lewis. Shortly thereafter, he began experimenting with jazz and rhythm and blues. By the late 50s, word had gotten out that he was one of the most impressive young musicians in Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Although the beat scene was vibrant in Newcastle, it wasn’t as large as the music scenes that were developing in other areas in Britain (such as Liverpool and London), and many of the young musicians would find their paths crossing repeatedly as they drifted in and out of the same groups. At one time or another, Price found himself playing alongside one or more of all his later Animals colleagues, in groups like The Pagans, The Kansas City Five, The Black Diamonds, and The Kontours. He eventually formed his own band in 1961, which he named The Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo. Initially the personnel was fairly fluid, but within 12 months they had established a settled lineup of Eric Burdon (vocals), Hilton Valentine (guitar), Chas Chandler (bass), John Steel (drums), and Price on keyboards.

Burdon’s arrival in the band in 1962 seemed to be an important turning point. Although Price had formed the group predominantly as a jazz-flavored combo, Eric brought barnstorming R&B and a charismatic stage presence to the group as a counterpoint to Alan’s slick, jazzy arpeggios. They were soon on their way. Using Newcastle’s sweaty Downbeat Club as their home base, they soon built a sizable following, eventually moving to the more prestigious Club A-Go-Go (both clubs being owned by their manager, Mike Jeffrey [or Jeffries]).

However, by all accounts, even at this early stage in the band’s life there were tensions between their original leader, the brooding Price, and the cocky, ‘new boy’ Burdon, who as their front man, always acted as though he was in charge.

Having conquered Tyneside and the Northeast, they set about widening their horizons. Various touring musicians were returning to London, enthusing about this wild, new R&B group, and eventually promoters and agents started to take notice. Their big break came in December 1963, when Yardbirds’ manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, came up with the unusual idea of a ‘job exchange’ scheme, whereby The Alan Price R&B Combo and The Yardbirds would change places and play one another’s gigs. They established an easy rapport with London audiences and soon found that playing down South also gave them the opportunity of working with other, more experienced musicians (most notably Sonny Boy Williamson, with whom they would later record a highly-acclaimed live album at the Club A-Go-Go). In early 1964, they decided to move down to London permanently, armed with a 4-track demo EP, which they hoped would help them score regular bookings and a record deal.

Along with the move to London in January 1964, the band’s name was changed to The Animals. Alan, naturally enough, put up a strong resistance and in the end was only ‘persuaded’ through the democratic process. [Webmaster's note: several stories have circulated over the years as to how the name change actually came about, but none of them are definitive.] Yet, according to Alan, the idea for the new name came about during their early residency at the Club A-Go-Go. One night between sets he overheard some fans saying “the animals are playing tonight,” not realizing they were referring to his band and their all-out wild way of performing their music. Anyone who was lucky enough to experience the raw, uninhibited live performances of The Animals, would most likely accept this story as fact.

Their impact was immediate. Basing themselves at The Scene club in Soho, within weeks they were being hailed as the hottest group to come out of the North since The Beatles. Price’s masterfully creative organ playing, complemented by Valentine’s rhythmic guitar and Burdon’s raw, powerful vocals gave them a far earthier, bluesier sound than any of the beat groups of the day.

In 1965, Alan described his playing style in Melody Maker: “I use a lot more chords than most organists and I’m careful to phrase them with the guitar. I tend to think of the organ as part of the rhythm section, rather than a frontline voice. The only time it dominates is during a solo, or when we play a low blues and I put figures in behind Eric’s vocals. There’s never any real problem fitting guitar and organ together.”

Fledgling indie record producer Mickie Most came to see them at Eel Pie Island and promptly offered to record them. He set up a licensing deal with EMI and began ‘sweetening up’ their raw, raucous R&B for public consumption. The band themselves never cared for their debut single, a commercial arrangement of a traditional folk song off Bob Dylan’s first LP, nonetheless Baby Let Me Take You Home charted, boosted by a couple of memorable appearance on Ready, Steady, Go!

But their second single put them on the map. Price’s hypnotic arrangement of the band's epic version of The House of the Rising Sun was released in June 1964 and went on to become a worldwide smash, topping both the UK and US charts. Selling several millions copies, the record propelled the group to undreamed-of success. The Animals became the first British group after The Beatles to chart a Number One single in America. I’m Crying (written by Price and Burdon on the fly), Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, and Bring It On Home To Me followed in short order, and by the spring of 1965 they were established as one of the biggest, most popular R&B bands in the world.

The Animals released only three albums (The Animals, The Animals On Tour, and Animal Tracks) during their 1964-65 heyday. [Webmaster’s Note: The Best Of The Animals was issued in February 1966, as the group was disbanding. This hit-filled collection was one of the stronger LPs of its time: it reached No. 6 and stayed on the charts for over two years.]

However, by this time the stress of the group’s whirlwind success had brought Alan Price to the breaking point. A complex, moody character, prone to prolonged bouts of bleak introversion, he’d always somehow been slightly estranged from his colleagues. Although he shared the same no-nonsense working class roots and a fondness for drink, he wasn’t gregarious by nature and this caused ongoing problems within the group’s dynamic.

His musical tastes were more sophisticated and altogether jazzier than those of his band members (with the exception of drummer Steel), and he’d long felt that his musical contributions to The Animals had never fully been appreciated. Having achieved a higher level of education, he had interests he couldn’t share with the others. This was often reflected in the use of leisure time, when Alan could be found sitting in the tour van reading Kafka, while the rest of the boys were out chatting up the birds.

Alan Price publicly announced that he had left The Animals on May 5, 1965. The official line given for his abrupt departure was his fear of flying, which was (and still is) essentially true: tours of the US, Australia and the Far East had taken their toll on him.

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NOTE: This biography is a work in progress. Over the days and weeks ahead, I will be updating information to fill in any gaps that exist and adding illustrations where applicable. ~ The Webmaster

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