#1328: I Put A Spell On You by Alan Price Set
Alan Price was born in northeastern England in 1942 in the village of Fatfield. By the age of seven he started to teach himself to play piano. He added the organ, guitar and bass to his repertoire by his mid-teens. The skiffle craze that swept England in the ’50’s captured Alan Price. Rock ‘n roll became his musical focus and Jerry Lee Lewis, with his piano antics, was Alan Price’s hero. He formed a band named the Black Diamonds. By the end of the decade Price added jazz and rhythm and blues to his instrumental showcase. He got a reputation as a young musical genius in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. In 1961 Alan formed the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo. By 1962 the lineup consisted of Eric Burdon providing lead vocals, Chas Chandler on bass, Alan Price (keyboards), John Steel on drums and Hilton Valentine on guitar. They played at the Downbeat Club on Carliol Square, with its audiences populated with beatniks and Bohemians. From that launching pad they got gigs at Club A-Go-Go. Both clubs were owned by the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo’s manager, Mike Jeffrey.
The musical style of the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo also shifted from easy jazz and cool blues to a harder edged R&B sound with the arrival of Eric Burdon in ’62. From the start, the musical inclinations of both Burdon and Price were a source of tension. Additionally, Price was reserved and Eric Burdon’s stage presence made audiences assume he was the bands’ leader.
In 1963 the manager of the Yardbirds proposed that the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo do an exchange. The Yardbirds would do a series of gigs in Newcastle-on-Tyne and Price’s band would play in London. The experiment worked and expanded the following of both bands in the north and south of England. In 1964 the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo decided to move to London. With that move came a change of name to the Animals. The idea for the name came from overhearing some fans at Club-A-Go-Go telling each other “the animals are playing tonight,” while the band was doing a mic check. However, in a 2013 interview Eric Burdon disputed this longstanding report. Burdon said the name, the Animals, emerged from a gang of friends the band used to socialize with whose nickname was “Animal” Hogg. The name, the Animals, was intended as a kind of tribute to their friend.
In 1964 the Animals released their first single, “Baby Let Me Take You Home”. The single made the Top Ten in Chatham, Ontario, in the fall of the year. But their followup single, “House Of The Rising Sun”, took them to #1 across the UK, USA and Canada. The song also climbed to #2 in New Zealand, #5 in Belgium and the Netherlands, #9 in West Germany and #10 in Ireland. A self-titled album was released in the UK and in North America. The North American version included R&B classics including Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It”, Ray Charles “The Right Time” and Fats Domino’s “I’m In Love Again”.
The Animals second album, The Animals On Tour, was recorded between January and November 1964 and released in February 1965. It included their second Top Ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (and #7 in Vancouver), “I’m Crying”. It was written by Price and Burdon. A second single from the album, blues guitarist John Lee Hooker’s 1961 “Boom Boom”, missed the Top 40 in the USA but peaked at #9 in Vancouver. The Animals On Tour included more classic 1950’s R&B tracks including Shirley and Lee’s “Let The Good Times Roll”, and Ray Charles “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and “Mess Around”.
In 1965, Alan Price spoke in an interview with Melody Maker about the prominence of organ in the Animals recordings. “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.” Price created the organ riffs for “House Of The Rising Sun” and organ instrumental bridge in the middle of the tune.
In 1965 the band released Animal Tracks. The first single from the album was “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. It stalled at #15 on the American Top 40, but made the Top Ten in Vancouver, peaking at #8. The album included the 1962 hit for Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home To Me”, which climbed to #32 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #12 in Vancouver. The final single from the album was “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”. It climbed to #5 in Vancouver and #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was the sixth Top Ten hit for the Animals in Vancouver, fifth Top Ten hit for the band in the UK and the fourth Top 20 hit in the USA. “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”, perhaps ironically, signaled that somebody had got out of this place. Alan Price left the Animals the day before the band was flying to Helsinki, Finland, to perform at the cities Linnanmäki amusement park on May 1, 1965. Consequently, Price quit before Animal Tracks was released. This left it to Price’s replacement, Dave Rowberry, to play keyboard on “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”.
Alan Price’s departure from the Animals was due to continuing tension around musical direction with Eric Burdon. It was also due to his fear of flying in the face of the Animals extensive touring schedule abroad.
The Animals went on to release “It’s My Life” in the fall of 1965. The single climbed to #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the CFUN chart in Vancouver. The Animals chart runs on the Billboard Hot 100 managed to do just well enough to miss getting any of their single releases to appear on this website. This was due to the threshold for songs reviewed on this site had to do no better than one fifth as well on the Billboard Hot 100 as their peak in Vancouver. (i.e. a #5 song in Vancouver could chart no higher on Billboard than #25 etc.) All the songs by the Animals had a smaller gap in chart performance between chart runs on the Billboard Hot 100 and in Vancouver. Between 1964 and 1968 the Animals released ten albums and 21 singles. Three of these made the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA and twelve songs made the Top Ten in Vancouver. Curiously, “Sky Pilot” which received a lot of airplay on AM radio in Vancouver in the summer of 1967 didn’t have a chart run. This is likely due to the song being 7:27 minutes in length. Nonetheless, “Sky Pilot” was voted #?? by radio station listeners on the CKVN Top 300 Countdown of All Time in the summer of 1971.
After leaving the Animals in 1967, Alan Price appeared in the documentary, Dont Look Back, featuring Bob Dylan. The documentary concerned Dylan’s 1965 tour of England between April 30 and May 10. In the film Bob Dylan asks Alan Price why he left the Animals. The film’s title, Dont Look Back, had no apostrophe in the first word. Director D. A. Pennebaker chose to punctuate the title this way as his “… attempt to simplify the language.” Alan Price told the press in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, “Let’s get this clear: there was no bad feeling between me and the others. My doctor had diagnosed exhaustion. He’d warned me I’d have a breakdown if I didn’t slacken the pace. I simply can’t stand the pressures of the pop world anymore.” Price later commented at the time he retreated from the spotlight. “I went into hibernation when I left The Animals. I had a bit of a drink problem…it was like a semi-breakdown. Except in Newcastle, you don’t have breakdowns. You get drunk a lot and play football with your mates.”
Alan Price left the Animals after a year that included 70 jet flights across the USA in 70 days. Years later Price told North East Life “We would appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York on Sunday night then get a police escort to the airport, fly to Heathrow, then a car would take you to the station then that night you would be on stage in Liverpool – in the same make-up and clothes you had performed in in America.”
In a number of months Alan Price moved out of his shell and formed the Alan Price Set Combo. The Alan Price Set became a regular feature at the Club A-Go-Go playing over a dozen concerts a month. After some lineup changes and a move back to London, the Alan Price Set featured Price on keyboards, baritone saxophonist Clive Burrows, tenor saxophonist Steve Gregory, trumpeter John Walters, guitarist Peter Kirtley, bass player Rod “Boots” Slade and drummer “Little” Roy Mills. The band consisted of tenor saxophonist Nigel Stanger, trumpeter John Walters and bass player Cliff Barton.
In September 1965 the Alan Price Set released a single titled “Any Day Now”, a cover of R&B singer Chuck Jackson’s 1963 hit. Though the song was not a big seller, it received rave reviews from music critics. But his next release, a cover of the 1957 Screaming Jay Hawkins R&B classic, “I Put A Spell On You”, climbed to #9 on the UK pop charts.
“I Put A Spell On You” is a song written by R&B recording artist Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Hawkins was adopted at an orphanage by a Blackfoot family near Cleveland, Ohio. He had an ear for music and also was a boxer by the age of 14. He enlisted in the U.S. Army by lying about his age. After the war he returned to boxing. But he got hired as a vocalist with Tiny Grimes R&B band. Grimes had played with Charlie Parker and accompanied Billie Holliday on a number of recordings. Grimes band, the Rockin’ Highlanders, played a number that was a jazzed up version of “Loch Lommond.” They had a gimmick which was to dress in kilts. Hawkins liked the theatrics of this and it inspired him when he became a solo act. He first moved on to be a member of Fats Domino’s band.
Hawkins had recorded the song for a Grand Records in 1955 as a blues ballad. The single was a commercial failure. But Okeh Records liked the song and arranged a studio session to make a new recording of “I Put A Spell On You”. Hawkins recalls the producer “brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version … I don’t even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.” Indeed, the producer had brought in bottles of Italian Swiss Colony muscatel. As the band got more and more drunk, the engineer kept running the tape as Hawkins band sang more and more outlandish versions of the song. It was no longer a blues ballad about a lover who couldn’t remain faithful, but a spooky tune with voodoo overtones. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had become the witch doctor of rock ‘n roll. Though the song climbed to #22 on WJJD in Chicago in most record markets the song was banned. It was judged to be too carnal with Hawkins grunts and wails.
In the song, “I Put A Spell On You”, it seems necessary for the spell to be cast since the romantic partner has been “fooling around” and “putting me down.” There are things their lover is doing that they need to stop. In putting a spell on their honey bunch they hope that playing the field and demeaning talk will cease. The vocals by Alan Price are restrained compared to Screaming Jay Hawkins. (Anyone would be). Price sings “I can’t stand the way you’re always running ’round.” In the middle of the song Price plays a wild organ instrumental riff. Next, Price takes the tune to an electrifying climax with a strong vocal blues ending. Price regards “I Put A Spell On You” and his “Jarrow Song” from 1974 as the two recordings of which he is most proud.
Alan Price told Goldmine magazine’s Dawn Eden in a December 1995: “I made the record the night after my mother died. My mother died on New Year’s Eve, in Newcastle, and I had go onstage afterwards. We traveled down to London immediately after the funeral. So I think some of the emotions sort of transmuted themselves onto the record, and I feel that’s why it was a success.” “I Put A Spell On You” climbed to #1 in Orlando, #2 in Dallas, #4 in San Jose (CA) and #9 in Vancouver (BC) and Hartford (CT). In 1968 Creedence Clearwater Revival took “I Put A Spell On You” to #8 in Vancouver.
The combo’s next release was a cover of the 1953 show tune, “Hi-Lili Hi-Lo” from the musical Lili, starring Leslie Caron and Mel Ferer. The Alan Price Set recording climbed to #11 on the UK singles chart in 1966. The song made the Top 20 in Orlando, Florida, but was off the radar elsewhere in North America. It was followed by a cover of the Chad and Jeremy song “Willow Weep For Me”. The song charted in Hilversum in the Netherlands and on a few pirate radio stations in England.
In 1967 the Alan Price Set had their best chart run with “Simon Smith And The Dancing Bear” which peaked at #4 on the UK pop chart. The song was about a sincere young man of modest means named Simon Smith who entertains affluent (“well-fed”) members of the public with his dancing bear. The song was written by a new songwriter named Randy Newman. It made the Top 20 in Orlando and the Top 30 in New York. That chart run was subsequently tied with the next release by the Alan Price Set, “The House That Jack Built”. In 1968 Aretha Franklin recorded a song with the same title that bore no resemblance to the one by the Alan Price Set. Once again the Alan Price Set enjoyed a successful chart run with “The House That Jack Built” into the Top 20 in Orlando and Top 30 in Upstate New York. In May 1968 the Alan Price Set had their final hit single titled “Don’t Stop The Carnival”, which peaked at #13 in the UK.
In the mid-’60’s the Alan Price Set shared the stage with Dusty Springfield, Dave Berry, The Fortunes, Chris Farlowe, Peter & Gordon, Jackie Trent, Pink Floyd, Gladys Knight & The Pips, the Animals and Georgie Fame.
In the late ’60’s Alan Price hosted a show titled Price To Pay. It featured other recording artists Price introduced including Fleetwood Mac and Jimi Hendrix. In 1971 Georgie Fame and Alan Price recorded a duet of “Rosetta”. The song climbed to #11 on the UK pop chart. In 1972 Georgie Fame and Alan Price appeared on a number of episodes in the BBC comedy series The Two Ronnies. In 1973 he wrote the score for the comedy-fantasy film O Lucky Man! The film starred Helen Mirren and Arthur Lowe, the latter won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Supporting Actor. Price also appeared in the film.
In 1974 a single release of “Jarrow Song” from his album Between Today and Yesterday climbed to #6 on the UK pop chart. Price’s song was about The Jarrow March of October 5 to 31, 1936. It was also known as the Jarrow Crusade and organized to protest unemployment and poverty suffered in the English Tyneside town of Jarrow during the 1930s. Around 200 men “Geordies” (or “Crusaders” as they preferred to be referred to) marched from Jarrow to London, carrying a petition to the British government requesting the re-establishment of industry in the town following the closure in 1934 of its main employer, Palmer’s Shipyard. The petition was received by the House of Commons. However, it was not debated. The Jarrovians returned to “the North” believing that their march had been a failure.
In 1975 Alan Price starred in a leading role in the film Alfie Darling, a sequel to the 1966 film Alfie. In 1977 Price appeared on Saturday Night Live. Alan Price took part in the Animals reunion tours in December 1968, 1976 and on a world tour in 1983 that included dates in Seattle and Atlanta. The Animals had their last concert with Alan Price when they were an opening act for the Police at Wembley Arena on December 31, 1983. Between 1966 and 2002 Alan Price released two studio albums with the Alan Price Set and twelve more as a solo artist. He also collaborated on five more studio albums variously with Georgie Fame, Dutch musician Rob Hoeke, actor Trevor Peacock of The Vicar of Dibley British sitcom and The Electric Blues Company.
Between 1965 and 2001 Alan Price released 48 singles. Price has continued to tour over the decades in the UK and continental Europe. He has three dates in Barnes, London, in February, March and April 2019.
April 6, 2019
“Alan Price Biography,” Absolute Elsewhere.net.
Carinthia West, “How We Met: 46. Georgie Fame and Alan Price,” Independent, August 9, 1992.
Michael Hamilton, “Singer Songwriter Alan Price Talks of his North East Roots,” North East Life, May 10, 2010.
Ed Ward, “The Animals: The British Invasion That Wasn’t,” NPR, May 1, 2014.
Nick Jones, “Dusty Springfield, The Alan Price Set, Dave Berry, The Fortunes: Finsbury Park Astoria, London,” Melody Maker, London, October 8, 1966.
“Survey Dollar Survey,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, September 3, 1966.
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