Eric Burdon’s best known for being the lead singer for The Animals,part of the bluesiest end of the 60’s British Invasion along with the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Of course The Animals are best known for their version of “House Of The Rising Sun”. After that band split up in 1969, Burdon and producer Jerry Goldstein formed the band War out of a group of black LA musicians such as Lonnie Jordan, Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen,Harold Brown and Danish born harmonica player Lee Oskar. And they were a commercial and musical success right of the box.
The debut album of this outfit was 1970’s Eric Burdon Declares War. Its blend of Latin rock and soul was an important part of the funk process. Recording only two albums while together, Burdon left the band to their own devices after collapsing onstage of an asthma attack during one of their performances. The band officially reunited for a live performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008. Via YouTube listening,one of my favorite songs by the Eric Burdon led edition of War is the title song to their 1976 archival release-which was entitled Love Is All Around.
With a hi hat tapping away at the beginning,the low growling bluesy guitar that defines Burdon’s vocal melody start out the song. Its one that has a very basic groove throughout it. It consists of that same guitar riff from the intro,the hi hat and lightly shuffling funky drum. Each bar is accentuated by a grooving organ riff. After several bars of this, a pitch bent horn section plays the refrains with the organ. On the bridge,the drums rock out a bit more-with the organ and horns in a more sustained. The basic groove of the song repeats itself with call and response vocal choruses until the song fades out.
When I first heard the way this song was put together,it instantly reminded me of the sound that Sly & The Family Stone had on their first three albums. Those pitched up and down horns,the rhythmic organ andthe instrumental trade offs. Most of this very late 60’s style groove (both musically and lyrically) is actually very instrumentally condensed -consisting mostly of an evolving refrain. The bridge more or less serves as an in a break in sound to the choral vocals that end the album. Even though it was released later,its a vital example of War and Eric Burdon’s contribution to the funk process.
War had an excellent creative and commercial run in the early to mid 70’s. From “Slippin’ Into Darkness” up through “Low Rider”,this LA band had a very full and interested audience. The funk/soul audience were wrapped up in them,many jazz folks admired their musicianship and the rockers enjoyed their hard driving sound. Having caught onto a similar kind of Latin funk/rock vibe of bands such as Mandrill and Santana,War completed a triad that represented the strongest end of Afro-Cuban based percussive sounds within the funk,soul and rock spectrum of music in their heyday.
By the time 1977 rolled around,the Afro-Latin sound that War had helped pioneer had become part of another sound. This was the middle of the disco era. And dance music built on the four on the floor dance beats often had this percussive style as an integral element to the rhythm. Saxophonist and flutist Charles W. Miller was murdered tragically 36 years ago. But today was the day of his birth in 1939. He was a key participant in writing a song that really helped to keep War vital as the musical tide was changing. And that song was the title track to the bands 1977 album Galaxy.
Laser-like space funk synthesizers start out the song. This serves as an instrumental wind to blow in the storm. First the light drumming,the five not bass thump and then the walk up piano. Than the 4/4 drums kick into high gear. On each vocal chorus,the band chant “it’s out of sight,it’s gone” to the tune of Miller Lee Oskar’s clarinet/harmonica unison. This pattern continues throughout a few refrains. Than the space funk synths come back in backing up tingling percussion with a full on piano walk up solo. For the finale of the song,Miller plays a solo on clarinet over the same rhythmic bed as the song fades out.
“Galaxy” is one of my favorite War songs of all time. The song begins with a 3-4 minute segment that could be easily extended for play by disco DJ’s,with it’s insistent dance beat. Yet War’s polyrhythmic Latin funk attitude remains as hot and heavy as it always was during the 1970’s. As it appears on the album,it’s one of their most conceptually interesting. Likely inspired by one of the battle scenes from Star Wars, the space funk synthesizer orchestrating the song serve up some seriously jazzy solo by the end of the album version of the song. This makes it all out to be one of War’s funkiest moments.
Lee Oskar had been a major part of the band War (now known as the Lowrider Band) during their entire run. Aside from Stevie Wonder,he was one of a few funk based artists who emphasized melodic harmonica as a key part of that bands diverse musical repertoire. During 1976,Oskar took a break from War to release a self titled solo album. He had a hit from this record called “BLT”,and it was all successful enough to garner him a solo career of his own coinciding with War’s ongoing career in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Today he’s a renowned player in musicians circles. And he has parlayed his musicianship into other creatively minded ventures over the years.
Two things I didn’t know about him until recently represent these ventures. Henrique Hopkins informed me about Oskar’s line of custom harmonica’s for sale. Starting in 1983,Lee Oskar Harmonica (the company name) has been manufacturing harmonica’s suited for different Western and pan ethnic musical genres. In a manner similar to Joni Mitchell,Oskar is a fine painter with a vivid and colorful way with the paint brush from what I’ve seen. His rich,melodic and soulful approach to his craft came to light on a song from his 1981 solo record entitled My Road,Our Road. It was an extended number that was part of the album title itself entitled “Our Road”.
A sweeping string orchestration begins and ends the song-as a hot horn chart blasts into the main groove. This main groove has War member Harold Brown’s slow,deep in the clave drumming-with Lonnie Jordan’s timbales and Abraham Laboriel’s phat slap bass. At first Oskar duets with the synthesizer of Barnaby Finch. On the second refrain,Gary Grant and Pat Rizzo blows out loud (and somewhat discordant) jazz trumpet and sax solos. On the third chorus,hand claps and backup singers all join in for the title chorus. Everything quiets down midway-as the final half of the song focuses on Oskar’s solo upfront-with the ringing,bell like percussion of Airto Moreira and the vocals of his wife Flora Purim.
Produced by The Family Stone’s drummer Greg Errico,featured on percussion on this song as well,something about this song is very otherworldly. With a handful of it’s members aboard,this is still for all intents and purposes a War song. It has the bands signature bluesy Latin funk throughout it all. For the first half,it drives really hard. On the second,it becomes a more ethereal experience-with Airto and Flora’s Afro-Latin percussion and shamanistic vocal chanting providing a meaningful spiritual vibe. With the slap bass,the Brazilian percussive flavor as well as the blending of dreaminess and reality,this is some of the deepest instrumental funk of the early 80’s.
War’s music has always fascinated me from the moment I heard it. Primarily a group of black LA musicians who came out of the Latin rock school,they began their recording career as the backing band for Eric Burden before launching out on their own. Their music became key to the development of what Rickey Vincent calls the “united funk” era-especially with their emphasis on percussive rhythmic bounce. This was helped out by the late percussionist Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen and drummer Harold Brown. It’s Brown’s birthday today. And since I view him as part of what makes War so special to me as a band,wanted to discuss a song of theirs I loved before they became the Lowrider Band.
Even though some of War’s commercial success tapered off in the late 70’s and early 80’s,I find their albums from this period to be some of their most significant creatively. During this era,a lot of the original members began to leave. And the newly regrouped War left their label of their salad days MCA in 1981. A year later the new lineup,including among others former Sly & The Family Stone saxophonist Pat Rizzo,released a new album entitled Outlaw. As a commercial entity War leaped back into life with songs such as “Cinco de Mayo” and “You’ve Got The Power”. It was an 8+ minute album closer that really got my attention,and it was called “The Jungle”.
The song begins with a snaky,multi tracked cinematic synthesizer orchestration at the beginning from Lonnie Jordan. This segues into a more blippy,digitized line. After this the main body of the song literally fades into itself. It finds Brown providing a heavy drum thump with Allen’s percussion accents. Howard Scott plays a rocking low guitar throughout along with wah wah,chimes and the squiggly “video game” synthesizer of Jordan adding to the rhythmic intensity. The spoken word/rapped lyrics are accompanied by the bands harmonizing backup choruses. A bridge of the song is held up by newcomer Luther Rabb’s sliding bass line before the song goes back to itself to fade out.
This extended song,presenting itself in a medley form thematically,is one of the most powerful slices of P-Funk to come from outside George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. It’s more than just an influences. It fully embraces the hard grooving musical ethic and instrumental futurism to make a potent sociopolitical point-one that resonates very strong today. The lead vocal rap presents a theme similar to what Melle Mell was saying on The Furious Five’s “The Message” during the same year-that for poor black people lower class neighborhoods had become violent reservations. This combination of a driving groove and topical lyrics showcased War were still on funk’s forefront in the early 80’s.
Have to totally agree with my blog partner here Rique and fellow WordPress blogger The International Review Of Music that 2014 has been a tremendous all around year for funky music. And funky is Rique and my favorite kind of music from my understanding. And this year we’ve had that become popular on a massive level thanks to starting the year out grooving with Pharrell William’s “Happy”. This was a global phenomenon-with people all across the world doing their dance to the song on YouTube. For the first time in history,a number one funk song connected billions of people in the internet age. And that alone is no small feat. And one Pharrell should be proud of for his entire life.
If “Happy” was standing by itself this year? That would have been wonderful. But it did so much more. Kelis and even 90’s quiet storm soul singer Joe released tremendously funky music this year! And massively welcomed comebacks from Prince,Funkadelic,War,D’Angelo and posthumously from the late Michael Jackson were also enormously successful events. In fact D’Angelo’s Black Messiah ended off the year with a major surprise release in the wake of the tragic and highly topical police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. That album may have had to wait until 2015 to see the light if that dark day hadn’t have shinned the light on the need to talk,sing and play about it.
Since funk was the key to providing not only great music but positive and enriching messages this year? I wanted to conduct our first interactive blog here on Andresmusictalk. There have been many wonderful releases this year in the funky spectrum of sound. Hoping all of you have been enjoying them. So presented below is a list of key funk,jazz and soul related albums from 2014. Inviting all of you to select which ones interested you most! Wishing everyone a new dance and new vitality of life for the year to come and enjoy the polling everyone! Thank you!
In recent years its come to my knowledge that during the late 1990’s,War was splintered apart due to the fact that many of the original members wished to separate from their manager. And lead singer/multi instrumentalist Lonnie Jordan wished to remain. In the end it would up in a fashion: Lonnie and his new band maintained the War name while the original members began to tour as the Lowrider Band. So people looked up,and for all intents and purposes there were two War’s out there. And on the road pretty consistently. Sadly many of their admirers became bitterly disappointed at the supposed legal betrayal between Jordan and his former band mates-often citing that,since its instrumentalists who generally make or break singers in funk bands,that this was all an example of greedy committee thinking. Not even to mention Jordan’s own instrumental abilities. All of this of course occurring during what I refer to as an often bitter credibility war within the music industry as a whole.
Its only now that War have re-emerged with a new album that I had no idea was even coming until less than a month ago. It is packaged as a double album with their original Greatest Hits album-a long hoped for compilation for War admirers on CD. Many of the original bands’ supporters could interpret this as insult added to injury. But for me it represents equal time. And I refuse to get in the middle of the Lonnie Jordan/War schism which,I personally feel,was motivated largely by shifty and ear whispering lawyers anyhow. What matters to me is the music. And on that level there is much to take in here.
“That L.A. Sunshine” starts out the album with that Afro/Latin/Reggae type rhythmic pop bump that has the same type of bright beats and melodic flavor of War in their mid 1970’s prime. “Mamacita” is another type of sprightly groove that has a salsa/rock type flavor with a beeping,Clavinet type keyboard and featuring a guitar solo from Joe Walsh along with the brassy participation of the iconic Tower Of Power horns. “It’s Our Right/Funky Tonk” is an exciting early 70’s James Brown type slow grinding funk number (with a contemporary production twist),which by the end features a piano solo from Jordan inspired directly from The Godfather’s Sex Machine.
“Just Like Us” is a sweet,acoustically textured soul mambo type number while “Inspiration” throws down a rocking wah-wah powered psychedelic soul/funk groove where Lonnie personally thanks fans of War (in any configuration) for sticking by them over the years. “Scream Stream” musically and lyrically basically picks up where 1972’s “The Cisco Kid” left off-providing a complete musical continuity with War between what they did 42 years ago all the way up to today. “This Funky Music” is a strong,declarative statement of the vitality inside of the funk era music of which War were a huge participant-fusing together the the idea of needing to “dance off their frustrations” with an instrumental sound that has Prince’s spare late 80’s funk sound very much in mind. Its one of my favorites here. “Outer Space” sounds very much like an orchestral modern hip-hop/soul type number with the lush cinematic harmonies of War taking high presidents.
A retooling of Edwin Star’s huge Motown hit with “War/War After War (A Soldiers Story)” showcases a half sung spoken narrative illustrating themes similar to what Stevie Wonder focused in on with his Front Line-difference being its a more contemporary setting of a disabled veteran returning from the Iraq war to face unemployment and hardship. The presence of the USC Trojan Marching Band really adds instrumental tonality to the concept as well. The industrial soundscape of “Bounce” and the theatrical arena sounds of “Everything” embrace the mid/late 90’s alternative rock style (ironically of the era in which War were absent as a recording entity) which aren’t bad but don’t mesh too well with War’s thematic approach to me. “It’s My Life” takes a more strident approach to contemporary funk/rock with a strangely self focused lyrical message while a bonus track of “That L.A Sunshine”,featuring comical inserts from Cheech And Chong rounds out the album.
Overall this album really embodies the spirit of war-whoever happens to be credited with that name at any given time. A few songs even feature some contemporary touches such as the rapping of LA Flats,whose apparent East LA style meshes well with the bands flavors. Mainly they’ve kept their “afrolatinfunkadelic stew” sound very much intact here. And the couple of songs that embrace the darker side of the alternative rock sound are at least very dramatic and emotional. War’s colorful sound has always represented a unique sort of pan cultural American hybrid. They did for LA what Santana and Sly & The Family Stone did for the bay area. And with this quality album? I am hoping it’ll be well before two decades before the band deliver more new grooves and messages!
Originally Written Today
*Here is a link to my original Amazon.com review. Please like and comment on that review as well. Thank you!