Classic funk band War hits Tahoe before reunion
March 25, 2009
Sometimes fans at War concerts are surprised to hear so many familiar songs.
The band has recorded numerous hits since 1969, including “Low Rider,” “Cisco Kid,” “Spill the Wine,” “Summer,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” “Gypsy Man” and “The World is a Ghetto.”
The surprise comes to the newer generations of fans who have heard the songs for years on the radio and in movies. Beatmakers also frequently sample War.
“We’ve been getting that ever since we started,” said songwriter and keyboard player Lonnie Jordan, the only remaining original member. “We’re used to it, and that’s why are nipping it in the bud by making people aware of all the songs we have done by releasing this live DVD and CD.”
War released the CD and DVD on Oct. 14, but the band is making more headlines these days, as a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee whose former bandleader is coming back.
Last March, Eric Burdon reunited with the band for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The long-haired leaping gnome will join War again for a tour next summer.
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“We want to do (smaller venues) like the early days Fillmore West, Fillmore East and Whiskey (A Go Go) crowds,” Jordan said. “We want to get back into that. Then we’ll do the festivals as we grow.”
Burdon, whose band the Animals was part of the British Invasion in the 1960s, was living in Los Angeles when he saw Jordan’s band the Nightshift, which notably included singer Deacon Jones, a Rams defensive end. Burdon was seeking a new musical project.
Jordan said his future bandleader, producer, road manager and manager were all part of an entourage who attended a Nightshift show. Harmonica player Lee Oskar came onstage toward the end of the show.
“We thought Lee Oskar was Eric,” Jordan said. “We said, ‘Thanks, Eric,’ after the song.”
Burdon and Oskar, who is Danish, joined Nightshift, which had black and Latin members. The group that later became War was one of the few multiracial bands from that era.
“There was also the Chambers Brothers and Sly (and the Family Stone) and Carlos Santana,” Jordan said.
But of those groups, only War and Sly and the Family Stone were successful on both the pop and R&B charts.
“Eric helped tremendously,” Jordan said. “He introduced us to the world; otherwise we were still stuck in Compton.”
War’s first hit was 1970s “Spill the Wine.” Jordan described the contemporary Burdon: “He’s a short-haired leaping gnome now.
The band’s road manager came up with the new name as a commentary on the group’s size and attire after a tour in Japan.
“As we were walking behind him, he turned around and said, ‘My God, I’m glad I know you guys, because if I didn’t I’d probably be walking a little faster to get out of this alley because it looks like you just came out of a battlefield.’ And a big lightbulb went up in his head.”
Nightshift’s members first thought the name War was too radical. But they later warmed up to the idea.
“Let’s wage war against wars in the streets and abroad,” Jordan said. “Our choice of weapons would be instruments instead of guns, and instead of shooting bullets, it would shoot melodies, rhythms and, most of all, harmony.”
War’s lineup today includes members from all over the globe.
War failed to receive induction April 4 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This year’s inductees will be Jeff Beck, Metallica, Run-DMC, Bobby Womack, Spooner Oldham, Bill Blacks and Little Anthony and the Imperials, who performed at Harrah’s in January.