They shot to fame in the early 1960s with hits like ‘House of The Rising Sun’ and ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’, but broke millions of hearts just a few years later when they went their separate ways.
Now, original drummer John Steel has revealed the band’s downward spiral from being close friends who were barely aware of their own fame, to battling heavy parties and drugs at the height of stardom in the 1960s.
Speaking in an exclusive chat with Starts at 60, the 77-year-old musician – who has continued performing under a new line-up of the band in recent years – has claimed psychedelic drugs took hold of two members of the band in particular, completely changing their personalities in front of his eyes.
“I’ve always had a very cagey attitude to mind-bending drugs,” he said. “I saw a lot of people in the ‘60s who dived feet first into the psychedelic thing, the acid. I was very cagey because I saw people I knew well who had personality changes. I’ve never to this day touched acid. We all had a toot of pot now and again, but nothing more serious than that for me.”
John admitted other members of the band, which included Eric Burdon, Alan Price, Chas Chandler and Hilton Valentine, got caught up in the drugs however. Asked if they ever tried to stop each other, he admitted: “I wish we had in a way. Eric Burdon and Hilton Valentine of the original Animals took the acid.
“In fact, that to me had a lot to do with the band fracturing and falling apart. Suddenly there were personality frictions going on. I have to say, in my experience anyway, the drug culture are a bit holier-than-thou when it comes to sneering down at those who like a glass of wine. There was something of that with them.
“They seemed to think they were in this psychedelic world and we were still back in the grey world. It was scary and it contributed a lot, I think, to the final break-up of the band. I’ve known quite a few people who took the acid route and some of them are quite damaged.”
The original line-up of the band officially split in the mid-1960s, with a few members continuing alongside other musicians. When asked what finally tore them apart, Steel said: “They [Burdon and Valentine] literally seemed to be living in another world. It wasn’t arguments, it was more bafflement. ‘Where did these guys go? They’re not the same guys I knew back in the day’.”
Steel became friends with Burdon when they were just 15 years old living in Newcastle, UK. As the band formed and grew in success, they moved down to London and very quickly got swept up in the ’60s post-war parties at the time.
Luckily, Steel himself remained grounded throughout the fame, marrying young and welcoming a child with his wife Anne, all while enjoying chart-topping success.
“When it all kicked off I was an item with my girlfriend and she was from the same background as me. We got married very early on in the whole thing and had a baby. I had that to come home to every time,” he explained.
“Personally I managed it well because I was very grounded. When it all started to kick off I thought, ‘I’ll give it two years and then I’ll be back here in real life’! And here I am now. I’m still a stupid teenager at heart.”
He’s been happily married for 53 years since and now lives in the English countryside with Anne.
“I guess we almost grew up together, we know each other so well,” he said of his wife. “Neither of us have any extreme habits and we’re both still the same weight as we were back then. We’re still the same people, just a bit wrinkly!”
Steel is now preparing to tour Australia throughout November with the new Animals line-up, including keyboardist Mick Gallagher, Danny Handley on guitar and vocals and Roberto Ruiz on bass and vocals.
To buy tickets to one of their shows, visit their official tour site here.