War in the running for Hall of Fame
October 2, 2008
Eric Burdon will rejoin his influential R&B group next summer
Many War concertgoers are surprised to hear so many familiar songs.
Since 1969 the band has numerous hits, 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 keyboardist and songwriter 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.”
The release date is Oct. 14, but War is making more headlines these days. It’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee, and the former bandleader is coming back.
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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.
“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, comprising 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 singles charts.
“Eric helped tremendously,” Jordan said. “He introduced us to the world; otherwise we were still stuck in Compton.”
The 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 light bulb 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.
“I love the fact that I have a mixed salad bowl,” said Jordan, coincidentally a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee in the same year as his childhood favorites Little Anthony and the Imperials.
“The songs that (Little Anthony) sang, they will never end,” Jordan said. “I’ll have no qualms if Little Anthony wins over us because for me it’s not about winning. My Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is my fans. That’s my awards. It’s not if I win or lose it’s how well I’ve been playing this game.”
War’s members are as diverse as the music they deliver. Here’s a look at the band:
– Keyboard player Lonnie Jordan is the only remaining original member still with WAR. As a teenager, he said, he and his brothers and sisters “pretended we had a vocal group and did songs by Little Anthony and the Imperials and Stevie Wonder. I was the youngest, so I was the lead singer, with my brothers as background singers.”
– Saxophone and flute player Fernando Kerkless has a background in jazz and blues. He might be best-known for playing in Marvin Gaye’s band.
– Percussionist Jarcos J. Reyes is a coveted session musician rooted in Afro-Cuban and Brazilian sounds. He’s been with War for 11 years and has a separate project called Salsiology.
– Guitarist Stuart Ziff has a rock background but left New York to work as a songwriter in Nashville, where he co-authored a No. 1 country hit.
– Drummer Sal Rodriguez has been a musician for 31 years, the last 15 with War, but he aspires to become a comedian. He’s appeared on several television shows and in the cult movie “Mars Attacks.”
– Francisco “Pancho” Tomaselli wasn’t the Pancho who drank the wine in “Cisco Kid.” This is the Pancho from Ecuador who has two solo Latin jazz albums.
– Harp player Mitch Kashmar, 47, has been the subject of praise from Charlie Musselwhite, John Hammond and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who said, “Out of all the younger generation of blues harp players, Mitch Kashmar is my favorite. He’s also a first-class vocalist. His singing really knocks me out.”