By Stephen K. Peeples
Signal Contributing Writer
It may be hard to imagine now, but in the late 1960s, multi-ethnic, multi-racial bands like War, who are set to capture fans at the Canyon Santa Clarita Friday night, Jan. 11, were rare in popular music.
Breaking out of Long Beach 50 years ago this year, War and their genre-blurring musical attack – blending R&B, soul, rock, funk, Latin and jazz with powerful lyric messages (“Why Can’t We Be Friends,” for example) – was like a peaceful invasion that transcended racial, social and political barriers at another time when the nation was very divided.
With songs like “Spill the Wine,” “The World is a Ghetto,” “Lowrider” and “The Cisco Kid,” War also opened a worldwide window to the lives of people and characters living in the gritty urban environs south and east of Downtown L.A.
War’s record-buying and concert audiences – black, white, Latino – likewise mirrored the band’s ethnic makeup at a time when few artists had that kind of crossover appeal.
War’s original eight-member lineup was working as Nightshift and backing football great and singer Deacon Jones in a North Hollywood topless joint in 1969, when songwriter-record mogul Jerry Goldstein and British blues rocker Eric Burdon caught their act.
With Burdon joining as front man, the band rebranded as Eric Burdon & War and scored with the smash single “Spill the Wine” that year.
After Burdon split in 1970, War went solo and achieved massive success over the next decade-plus with albums like “All Day Music,” “The World is a Ghetto,” “Deliver the Word” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” the aforementioned hit singles and more.
Today, a half-century later, the War catalog now includes 18 studio albums – 2014’s “Evolutionary” – plus three live albums, seven compilation albums and 60 singles. Nine albums are RIAA-certified gold and two are platinum million-plus sellers.
The War lineup has certainly evolved since ’69; keyboardist-vocalist and longtime bandleader Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan is the sole veteran of the original eight.
The group now features Marcos J. Reyes (percussion since 1998); Sal Rodriguez (drums, vocals, 1990); Stuart Ziff (guitar, vocals, 2002); Stanley “The Baron” Behrens (harmonica, 2011); David “Pug” Rodriguez (percussion, vocals, 2011); and Scott Martin (sax, flute, 2017).
War plays more than 150 gigs a year for audiences ranging from tens of thousands at festivals around the world to intimate clubs like the Canyon.
“The world is still a ghetto,” Jordan said. “There will always be a reason to play our songs.
“We have a lot of second-generation fans and they’re seeing the same things their parents saw. They’re hearing the same messages,” he said. “We’re like Levi’s, and there’s nothing nostalgic about Levi’s. In fact, they’re not really good and funky until they’ve been worn awhile.”
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Find the Canyon Santa Clarita on the ground floor of the Westfield Valencia Town Center. Get tickets at the box office 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, by phone at 888-645-5006, or via TicketMaster.com. For more info, visit WheremusicmeetstheSoul.com.
Santa Clarita journalist and Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples has covered the SCV music scene since 2004. Contact him via stephenkpeeples.com.