While prepping for an interview I’m doing with legendary Animals frontman Eric Burdon for The Houston Press, I was inspired to revisit the discography of his onetime collaborators and backing band—who went on to produce a lot of fine music on their own—War.
After splitting from Burdon (with whom they made radio favorite “Spill the Wine”), War produced a hot, stewy gumbo of R&B, funk, rock, blues, jazz, and—most noticeably—a Latin tinge on records like All Day Music, The World is a Ghetto, Why Can’t We Be Friends, and Galaxy. Their most famous song, of course, is the inescapable “Low Rider” which has appeared on countless movies, TV shows, and commercials.
They’ve been on the ballot for nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice now (but not made it in) and are—in my mind—criminally underrated.
The classic lineup included (in above photo, left to right) Papa Dee Allen (congas, percussion), Lonnie Jordan (keyboards), Harold Brown (drums), Charles Miller (flute, sax), Lee Oskar (harmonica), Howard Scott (guitar), and B.B. Dickerson (bass). All members contributed vocals.
So where is War today? Well, sadly…living up to their name. With Miller’s tragic murder in 1980 and Allen’s onstage heart attack-related demise eight years later, five members are left, but showing little of the harmony they did on so many records.
In a nutshell, due to lawsuits, counter lawsuits, and disagreements about royalties, publishing, band name, and song rights—many involving the band’s former manager/producer Jerry Goldstein—the official version of War touring today includes only Jordan and a list of hired guns, while Scott, Brown, Oskar, and Dickerson tour as The Lowrider Band. They are unable to use the name that made them famous, or even mention that they are former members in any advertisements, even as they play all the same songs that came from their pens.
The Lowrider Band: Brown, Oskar, Dickerson, Scott
I interviewed Brown and I got to spend time with when they came to Houston in 2008 for a one-off gig. And I mean real time.
Driving around in a van with Brown…picking up Dickerson at the airport in my fabulous Honda Civic (where he immediately told me a filthy joke at the baggage carousel)…hanging out at the modest Sun Suites where they were staying…eating and downing plenty of wine at an Italian restaurant.
It is probably one of the greatest regrets of my life that I turned down Brown’s offer to visit their full rehearsal and hang out more the next day because I didn’t want to take two days straight off from day job. What an idiot!!! Oh well, I do have that harmonica and a singing “Low Rider” toy car that Oskar mailed me afterwards.
The outdoor show that weekend was incredible, the playing was solid, and the harmonies intact. I was especially happy to see what looked like original era fans, blissed out on lawn chairs, reminiscing in their heads.
Along with touring members Lance Ellis (sax) and Chuk Barber (percussion) the band also brought out special guest (and Houston resident) Alice Tweed Smith—a member of a later lineup—on background vocals. The sheer joy on her face for that entire show stays with me still.
“I think things are really going to happen soon. We’ve got a lawyer who worked on the Elvis estate,” the energetic Brown told me back then while piloting the van through the streets of north Houston. “Those songs—and that name—belong to us.”
Unfortunately, that was almost five years ago, and the lawsuits drag on with seemingly no end in sight, Goldstein/Jordan vs. the Lowriders. It’s a shame that, during a time when they could be doing such great things together, collecting accolades and playing as a single band under a single name,—War (and Goldstein) continue to battle.
Great article, Bob. I, like you, had the pleasure of spending REAL time with the Lowriders, during a rare Midwest stay in Chicago (last summer, along with a new keyboardist, Peter Cole). And I videotaped the performance for a short promo reel that I’m putting together. It was the first time that I had seen these guys live in ANY capacity. Let me just say that the experience was transcendental! They cat’s are in their 60’s and have stamina to spare! I manage to capture a soundboard recording of the show…I’m NOT kidding you, the version of The World Is A Ghetto played at that show is THE BEST VERSION OF THE SONG I’VE EVER HEARD! These guys ARE War. The sound of the actual guys playing these songs is something that just can’t be duplicated with a glorified cover band. The music is an extension of the performers; nobody can do Howard Scott feedback like Howard Scott, and Lee Oskar on the harp? Fugettaboutit! There’s really no comparison. I just with that Mr. Goldstein will realize that someday.
Yes, it really is a shame, and that this has gone on for years. I did not know they had a new keyboardist. I’m taking to Eric Burdon tomorrow, and one of my questions will be about his ballyhooed “reunion” with War in England in 2008 (actually just Lonnie…) and what he thinks of it. And I’d be very interested in trading you something for a copy of that soundboard recording!
Thanks so much for this interview, Mr. Ruggiero. I’m looking forward to Eric’s answer about the “WAR reunion”.
Having experienced the wonderfully intense camaraderie of the Blues Cruises, I always look to the inclusion of the Lowrider Band to that lineup as being worthy. I do not know any of the pending court case’s facts, of course, but feel any deal that was originally reached excluding all, but one member of War was ingenuous. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing The Lowrider Band as often as possible in the future.
Mr. Ruggiero, I really enjoyed this article. I’ve known these guys for years and just hearing them perform in Long Beach on Jan. 19th was outrageous. B.B. Dickerson played like he was wearing Bellbottom Pants and Platform Shoes. ( I told him this personally). Their performance was wonderful. They were on point on every song they played. Just a treat to be had. That, was the Real War! Hopefully Jerry Goldstein will come to the light. This is who the people want to hear…Now know as the Lowrider Band!!!
Great article Mr. Ruggiero
Hopefully that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction can make everyone see the light. Because if that does happen. The Lowrider Band & 1 Lonnie Jordan from WAR have to take the stage together once again!!!!!! The same way the Temptaions did. That would be great to see!!!! And, maybe Lonnie will one to reunite with his old pals.
Here’s what Eric Burdon had to say about the “War” reunion in my interview for The Houston Press:
RO: A few years ago, you did a “reunion” show with War, but it was the current group that has the rights to the name with only Lonnie Jordan in it. The other surviving members — Howard Scott, B.B. Dickerson, Lee Oskar, and Harold Brown, have to perform legally as The Lowrider Band due to lawsuits. Do you ever see a day where you’ll do a show with all five of them?
EB: Well…what can I tell you? I tried. I did that show in London at the Royal Albert Hall and tried to get my point across…find my position in that band that I once helped create. But it just wasn’t offered to me. So been there, done that.
Same with the original Animals, or what’s left of them. One minute they’re telling me I’m the voice of a generation and the next they’re taking me to court and winning a lawsuit and excommunicating me from the name The Animals.
It doesn’t leave a very good taste in my mouth, as much as I might say “It’s only business…forgive and forget.” Well, I might forget, but I won’t forgive. But there’s plenty of things to do with other musicians.
I’m in this business to keep learning. I’m just a vocalist, I’m not a musician. I absorb music and I transmit it through my voice. I’m a receptacle. And if you have to keep drinking from the same water cup, it gets pretty boring.
If you truly want to hear the REAL WAR then listen to Lowrider Band. I heard what Jordan and Goldstein are calling WAR and OMG, what a disgrace to the music. All you have to do is listen, that’s it, nothing more, nothing less, just listen.
I love the Lowrider Band so. What is the conflict about ? I went back to refresh or re-aquaint myself of WAR w/Eric Burdon. I am a little younger than they are but not much. I like the sound that evolved in 1972-3. They came to a little rinky-dink club in my hometown and partied I think 4-hours. I had the time of my life. 1972. I’d love to see them live again, but meanwhile, they are on my regular playlist. “The World Is. Ghetto” is my theme-song. Peace and deep love to you all. Thanks for all the joy and the article that gave me an opportunity to comment !
An Avid Fan,
Sometimes band members can be so trivial and miss the bigger picture. People LOVE the REAL WAR band.
I knew a guy that knew just what songs from war to put on the turn-table and they were so beautiful and I’d never heard them before. Back around 1976 that was.