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NIGHT LIFE

War's Enduring Message of Peace : The veteran band, with a long record of hits, is bringing its upbeat songs to Santa Paula for a benefit performance.

October 13, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This War has lasted longer than most others except perhaps the Punic War, the Hundred Years War and the Cold War.

The nine-man squad that is the band War will be bringing its eclectic jam-oriented rock, R&B, soul and salsa songs of brotherhood to the Santa Paula High School football field Sunday evening for a benefit for Santa Paula Youth in Action, a community nonprofit group working to eradicate gang violence.

The group also plays Saturday at Underground in Santa Barbara.

War, which just released its 18th album, "Peace Sign," is a band that formed in the 1960s in the mean streets of L.A., where war was and is hell.

In those days they were called Night Shift and played R&B music and backed artists such as Marvin Gaye and Little Willie John. Later, they hooked up with ex-Animal front-man Eric Burdon and had a hit with "Spill the Wine." After Burdon departed, the band had hits with "The Cisco Kid," "Low Rider," "The World Is A Ghetto" and "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

By the early '80s, War had sold more than 20 million albums, but disco and techno began to steal their firepower. It was rap music in the '90s that was instrumental in bringing them back. Original member and keyboard player Lonnie Jordan recently told some War stories.

How's the new one doing?

"Peace Sign" is doing real well, but whether there's a record out or not, we just play. We've never really left the road--we've been at this for 30 years. We've learned to eat the right food, get enough sleep and stay away from alcohol and drugs and communicate with each other. "Peace Sign" is just an extension of "The World's A Ghetto" and "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

How did you guys hook up with Eric Burdon?

We were playing at the FM Station in the Valley. We were Deacon Jones' back-up band--he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Rosie Grier. Anyway, some friends of our bass player, Peter Rosen, brought some friends of friends, one of whom was Eric Burdon. He sat in with us and we became his back-up band. He stayed with us for three albums and three or four years.

You guys played at the last Hendrix gig?

Yes, it was at a place in London. Jimi was a good friend of Eric's, but we were from Compton, and as Night Shift, we used to play nightclubs and do jukebox songs by people like James Brown, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding and Bobby (Blue) Bland. We started touring a lot with Eric and playing with a lot of bands, but most of them I didn't know. There was this British Invasion, but all I knew was the Beatles and the Stones. Eric schooled us, enlightened us and we realized we were already a part of it.

War is a negative name, but the music always has a positive message.

War was just a gimmick to get people to come and check us out and find out about this War against war on the streets and about war in the rest of the world. While we were still Night Shift, one night our manager looked at us and said, "You guys look like you just came from a battlefield, from a war." That was it, right there. At that time in 1969, there was a war in Vietnam and a war in the streets.

People used to fight, now they drive by and shoot everyone and slash your tires.

Yeah, it's crazy out there, man. When we play, those gangbangers are there throwing all those hand signs. But we just throw them a peace sign--it came before they did. We try to get people to get together and be one and forget what they do in the streets.

You guys had an unusual way of dealing with the rap samplers.

A few years ago, before the sampling really got popular, some other artists wanted to take these rappers to court to get some money. But we thought if we went to court, all the kids would end up hating us and would never buy our records. So instead of fighting, we reversed the situation, and put out a War album from the samplers, "Rap Declares War." That way, we connected the rappers to our generation, and sometimes, they came out and played with us. That way we all became friends, and introduced more people to our music. Some of the profits go back into the neighborhoods where the rappers now are, and where we used to be, instead of just making money like it was some sort of drug deal. Without rap, most of the kids today wouldn't know who we were and the group would still be dead.

Details

* WHAT: War

* WHERE: Santa Paula High School, 404 N. Sixth St.

* WHEN: Sunday, 5 p.m.

* HOW MUCH: $15 advance, $20 at the gate

* CALL: 525-1250.

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