Eric Burdon

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 29: Eric Burdon performs at J&R Music World on January 29, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

Former Soviet Union chief Mikhail Gorbachev helped give "'Til Your River Runs Dry," Eric Burdon's first solo album in six years a lift-off.

Burdon tells Billboard that he met Gorbachev in Germany a few years ago, when the former Animals singer was there to perform on a TV show. The two got into a conversation during a private reception that Burdon says led directly to "Water," which opens the 12-song set, as well as the album's title.

"I was wondering, 'What can I ask this guy that he would know more than I ever know? What can you tell me about? What's the world in for?' " Burdon remembers. "And he said to me, 'Water,' and I went, 'Wow.' The interpreter he was with told me that (Gorbachev's) whole political being is now to promote water awareness and how important it is,' and I would've told him right there and then, 'Well, look, can I join you? Can I help you? Is there anything we can do?'

"And then the lyrics to 'Water' came to my head. I thought, 'This is the best way...to join the program of making people aware of how important water is in today's world.' So that was a long time ago, but the song was just recorded in the last few months."

Burdon worked on " 'Til Your Water Runs Dry" in the Los Angeles area with co-producer Tony Braunagel. The set also includes a number of autobiographically tinged songs, a tribute to one of his musical heroes ("Bo Diddley Special") and a cover of Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me." "The basis of everything that I plugged into when I was younger was blues, and it always stayed with me," Burdon notes.

He'll be promoting " 'Til Your River Runs Dry" with a short tour beginning Jan. 31 in Milwaukee, and Burdon is also planning a return to the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference this year after joining Bruce Springsteen on stage at last year's edition -- and being name-checked in Springsteen's keynote address. The Animals 50th anniversary will be celebrated in Austin as well, with artists such as Brendon Benson, the Hush Sound, members of Wilco and Calexico lined up to record Animals covers and video tributes for Daytrotter, but Burdon says it's unlikely he'll be a part of those festivities.

"From my personal point of view, the Animals are dead," he explains. "They killed themselves. I kept using the name for strictly promotional purposes so that young kids would associate the Animals with the Beatles and the (Rolling) Stones and that period...but I got sued for using the name by former members of the band. So for me it's the past. I'm all for allowing other people to do and say what they want to say, but for me it's over, and I'm on my own."

In addition to the new album, meanwhile, Burdon is also working on his third memoir, a follow-up to "I Used to Be an Animal, but I'm All Right Now" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood: A Memoir." This book, he says, will explore different aspects of his life.

"It's just about my world and people that I've met and people I love and respect," Burdon notes. "I made a conscious decision to stay away from music and musicians because that's what I've written about before. This time I'll find people in-between the gaps and the people standing the shadows and, y'know, the fellow travelers -- the fans, the promoters, the managers, the crooked cracks beneath the pavement in London and New York and Los Angeles. And the creative accountants!~ (laughs) I'm concerned a lot with my childhood and how World War II had an ongoing effect on me, things like that. At the moment I'm writing about how and when I met my missus, the woman I'm married to at the moment. That was an adventure in itself. So I have to go on a trip of discovery on that level."