5 Decades of Hit Making
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Depending on your age, you first heard the music of War:
(a) Sampled on tracks by The Beastie Boys or The Offspring;
(b) in the movies Boogie Nights, Dazed and Confused or Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke; or
(c) on regional AM radio (WGL or WLYV Fort Wayne, WERK Muncie, WLS Chicago or CKLW Windsor/Detroit).
Yes, that’s a lengthy time in music and pop culture, and that’s exactly the incredible musical legacy War, the American funk/jazz-rock/R&B band from Long Beach, California, has achieved.
Formed as a musically eclectic and racially diverse band in 1969, War will bring their unmistakable stage presence and wide array of hit songs to the Clyde Theatre in Fort Wayne for an all-ages performance Thursday, June 8 at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.).
War have sold 50 million records worldwide and have achieved Gold, Platinum and multi-Platinum status 17 times over their career. Their 1972 release The World is a Ghetto was Billboard magazine’s Album of the Year and best-selling album of 1973. The song “The Cisco Kid” topped at No. 2 on the U.S. singles chart, and the sprawling album title piece, achieved No. 7 in the U.S. and No. 3 on the U.S. R&B ranking.
War’s familiar music is embedded in our culture. The Beastie Boys and The Offspring each sampled “Low Rider.” The film Boogie Nights featured “Spill the Wine,” Dazed and Confused included “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” and Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke spotlighted “Low Rider.”
Older music lovers will remember their first contact with War during the summer of 1970 when “Spill the Wine” hit the AM airwaves and eventually peaked at No. 3 on the U.S. pop charts. This incarnation of War was fronted by Eric Burdon, the bluesy growler formerly of The Animals, a leading group in the British Invasion and 1994 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees (“The House of the Rising Sun,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “San Franciscan Nights,” “See See Rider”).
Melding the founding members of War with Burdon was the brainstorm of Jerry Goldstein, War’s longtime manager/producer/songwriter and Burdon’s friend. Goldstein’s influence in rock history is profound; he was a member of The Strangeloves (“I Want Candy),” collaborator with The McCoys (“Hang on Sloopy”) and managing and producing Sly and The Family Stone.
In 1969 Goldstein saw a performance of musicians who would become War, including current frontman and keyboardist Lonnie Jordan, backing up Los Angeles Rams lineman Deacon Jones, who was attempting to jumpstart a singing career at a North Hollywood club. Goldstein was aware that Burdon wanted to go in a different musical direction, so he offered him the opportunity to join War. The 1970 album Eric Burdon Declares “War” brought the band to the national stage with hits “Spill the Wine” and “Tobacco Road.”
Eric Burdon and War toured throughout Europe and the U.S. in the early 1970s and were hailed as one of the premier performing bands at the time. A club show in London on Sept. 18, 1970 is of historical note for being the final public performance by Jimi Hendrix, who joined Burdon and War onstage for the last 35 minutes of their set. A day later Hendrix was dead of a drug overdose at age 27.
Burdon and War released a two-record set entitled The Black-Man’s Burdon in 1970. While on a 1971 European tour promoting the album, Burdon collapsed on stage from an asthma attack, essentially curtailing his association with War until a reunion concert in 2008 at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
War’s self-titled album without Burdon was released in 1971 and was a minor success. Later the same year the group produced All Day Music which included singles “All Day Music” and “Slipping into Darkness.”
The World Is a Ghetto, the band’s third album, vaulted War into the rare air of musical heights and was Billboard’s Album of the Year in 1973.
Deliver the Word, also released in 1973 contained the hits “Gypsy Man” and “Me and Baby Brother.” The songs charted at Top 10 and Top 20, respectively, and the album sold nearly 2 million copies.
Why Can’t We Be Friends? hit the airwaves in 1975 and included the title track as well as “Low Rider,” both becoming two of the band’s biggest hits.
A greatest hits compilation in 1976 premiered a new song, “Summer,” a Top 10 single on both U.S. pop and R&B charts.
War have produced 17 studio albums, three live albums, eight compilation albums and 60 singles during the group’s nearly 50-year career.
Lone original member Lonnie Jordan has maintained his presence with the band since its inception, although some founding members now perform as the Lowrider Band.
Jordan once explained WAR’s name, germinating from the volatile late 1960s. “Our mission was a message of brotherhood and harmony,” said Jordan. “Our instruments and voices became our weapons of choice and the songs our ammunition. We spoke against racism, hunger, gangs and turf wars as we embraced all people with the hope and the spirit of brotherhood.”
Current members of WAR in addition to Jordan are Stuart Ziff, guitarist; Marcos Reyes, percussionist; Scott Martin, saxophone; Stanley Behrens, harmonica; Rene Camacho, bass; and Sal Rodrigues, drums.
War is heading east from a West Coast tour, and the Clyde show is their first stop.