Saturday, January 29, 2011

Make Low(rider), Not War

This blog entry may have a little more piss and vinegar than what you're used to getting from us. In this week's edition of The Stranger, Seattle's more popular weekly feature and arts-oriented paper, ran a preview for the concerts being played by the band War at Jazz Alley this week.

Important: we love Jazz Alley, its owners and staff. It's one of our favorite music venues in America. We attend shows there frequently, we hang with their staff and think Bob ranks among the best and most important music venue owners in the land. Their food, service, and total dinner & show experience absolutely f**king rocks. In no way does anything in this blog entry reflect on Jazz Alley. We love 'em and we're not just sayin' that. Jazz Alley

And now, back to the aforementioned piss and vinegar.

Here's the listing from The Stranger:
Thursday 1/27
(Jazz Alley)
A brutally efficient hit-making machine in the 1970s, War laid down hot, heaping plates of saucy Latino funk and streetwise jazz rock while also penning a few sentimental summer jams perfect for family reunion picnics. They often summoned magic with a harmonica and a cowbell. Their greatest hits = party platinum. But the group ultimately split acrimoniously into two warring/touring factions: One goes by the Lowrider Band; the other, led by keyboardist Lonnie Jordan, got to keep the famous bellicose handle. It's usually dicey when a popular unit tries to soldier on years after its peak with one original member and hired hands, but War's best material is so strong and feel-goodly, this show should be worth the inevitable corny reminiscences from the stage and frustration over the rest of the creative core being absent. Through January 30. DAVE SEGAL

And here's the letter our music director wrote to the Stranger's editor and posted on their website's comments section:
Though understandably limited in space, it's too bad Dave Segal's preview of the War concerts at Jazz Alley couldn't more explicitly offer that "War" comprises Lonnie Jordan with some hired hands, while the Lowrider Band comprises War's four other surviving members, including those who "often summoned magic with a harmonica [Lee Oskar, who lives in the Seattle area and performs regularly at Highway 99 Blues Club] and a cowbell [percussionist Harold Brown, who lived around here for a couple years after being displaced by Katrina]." In an early 90s' coup with the band's manager, Jordan trademarked the name "War" and replaced the rest of the band with musicians for hire. Together, the four Lowriders represent the estates of their two fallen bandmates, Charles Miller and Papa Dee Allen. Since the split, the original members, who all received equal songwriting credit on all material released throughout the band's creative period from 1967-1992, have been denied publishing and licensing royalties by "War." They've been in litigation all these years, and the original Lowriders will surely get their due. In the meantime I think it's most responsible to distinguish between these two artists, noting that "War" is little more than a medium-rent cover band while The Lowrider Band is the closest thing to the real War, by a long shot.

It can all be found here

Creative artists being screwed out of the rights and associated income of their output is reprehensible
(a word which may be used again here - sorry). When you see an artist who had a hand in composing iconic music which generated millions, living modestly, one of the primary reasons is that artist was shanghaied by someone, somewhere along the line. Sure, some artists blow their riches via bad habits, that's well documented. But in the category of When Bad Things Happen To Good People, talk to people like Sam Moore, Ronnie Spector, or many of the early blues artists who created the soundtrack of our lives but somehow found themselves out in the cold when the party was over. Volumes have been written on this topic, so we won't go off on too long a rant here.

Why is this story so particularly unconscionable in the case of War?
When they formed in the late 60s, this was a BAND in its truest sense. Multiple vocalists, no singular frontman, racially integrated at a time when that was quite uncommon, every member of the band shared in the spotlight, they wrote and composed music in a communal fashion as represented by the fact that everyone received equal songwriting credit on every song. In War, it was All For One, One For All. On tour, they stood together at racially segregated restaurants and if you know anyone in the band personally, you may know how scary some of those incidents became. Musicians take care of one another. If you know a few of them, chances are you know people who, more than those in other vocations, rise to the occasion to help a brother or sister out: moving, going through a rough patch, relationship gone bad, a child gets sick, in between places, car broke down, someone gets into an accident with no insurance... people who make music are the world's largest co-ed fraternity. Yet courtesy of the band's scumbag manager, Jerry Goldstein, who trademarked the name and enlisted the participation of keyboard player Lonnie Jordan, most of the people who created some of the most widely-known music of the last 40 years have been left high and dry. The tragically ironic disparity between the spirit in which this band formed and thrived for 25 years, and the reprehensibly disgusting manner in which it was dismantled, begs the question: how do Jerry and Lonnie sleep at night?

Since the 1994 split, War's music has been issued on at least 140 compilations and soundtracks that we can find. That doesn't speak to television commercials, the most recent of which may be Pepsi's use of "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Nor does it speak to how many of War's 50 Million albums sold have occurred during that time, and how many of the 100+ soundtracks and compilations their music appeared on before the split have been sold since. Since 1994, Lee Oskar, Harold Brown, Howard Scott, B.B. Dickerson, and the estates of Charles Miller and Papa Dee Allen have not been paid a red cent for any of the music they created.

Seven Top Ten Albums
Eleven Top Ten Singles

Our Friends:
Lee Oskar and Harold Brown
have been immediate members of the Highway 99 family since early in the club's history.
Lee has lived in the area for a while and during the last five years has been playing a monthly residency, Lee Oskar & Friends, a series which features a core band for whom we'll stand on file as the finest in all the Northwest, with a rotating cast of special guests. He champions unknown locals on our stage even more than he brings in his rock star friends (but he's done plenty of that as well). Lee Oskar Harmonicas are the second-best selling in the world. Few artists of his accomplishment are as accessible and down to earth.
Harold is so embedded here, he refers to Ed and Eric Maloney as his nephews and when he calls or emails it's always from Uncle Harold. It was Harold, with Howard Scott, who first formed the band which became War. The next two members were Lee and some guy named Eric Burdon. He moved to New Orleans in '86 where he became a historian, a secretary and tour guide for the New Orleans Historical Society. While living in Seattle for a couple post-Katrina years, on the many nights he played here we've never had the pleasure of hosting a more friendly, humble, and self-contained musician than the man we know as Uncle Harold.

What can we say about Lee and Harold? We are blessed with their presence in our lives, personally and professionally.

How do we feel about:
War - in general, we're against violence
"War" - cover band

Harold Brown, original Low Rider '07 (photo by Shoji Onozawa)

Low Rider Band '07 (photo by Shoji Onozawa)

Lee w/ Bobby Rush, July '08 (photo by Jef Jaisun)

No comments: