War had their beginnings in Long Beach, California way back in the early 1960s. High schoolers Howard E. Scott (guitars) and Harold Brown (drums) formed the Creators, an R&B cover band. Three years later these artists were added to expand the lineup: keyboardist Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan, bassist Morris “B.B.” Dickerson, and saxophonist/flutist Charles Miller, and later Lee Oskar (harmonica) and Papa Dee Allen (percussions).
From the start, the band had already displayed a predilection for a wide variety of music styles and genres — soul, funk, R&B, Latin and jazz. Producer Jerry Goldstein discovered the band and then suggested them to Eric Burdon, who was the former lead singer of the popular 1960s British rock combo The Animals. Burdon eventually took the role of the lead singer, making the band more racially-integrated (apart from the Danish-born member Oskar). It was also Burdon who christened the band with the provocative-sounding name “War”. The initial name of the band was “Eric Burdon and War.”
Going towards the peak of popularity; Eric Burdon leaves
War signed a contract with MGM label and released their debut album Eric Burdon Declares “War” in April 1970. Its single “Spill the Wine” was conceived by the entire group. It was to become their first charting single, peaking at #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 that year. The album itself later became certified gold.
Eric Burdon and War embarked on an extensive tour on the US and Europe, to favorable reception. In 1971, Eric Burdon and War released their second album The Black-Man’s Burdon, their second and last album with the British singer. In the middle of their European tour, Burdon left the band, who then went on to complete the tour without him.
Now as simply War, the band returned to the studio to record their first album under that name. In 1971, they released their self-titled third LP War, their debut album on the United Artists label — it was a commercial flop. But the follow-up All Day Music was a much stronger release, spawning hit such as the title track (#35 pop, #18 R&B) and “Slippin’ into Darkness” (#16 pop, #12 R&B), with the latter single receiving a gold certification.
War used their multicultural harmony into effect with the release of their fifth LP The World Is a Ghetto. It would become their first #1 album on both pop and R&B territory, buoyed by the singles “The World Is a Ghetto” (#7 pop, #3 R&B) and “The Cisco Kid” (#2 pop, #5 R&B). “The Cisco Kid” in particular earned them new fans from the Latino community. War was rising into the mainstream circuit by now and becoming more popular as days went by. The World Is a Ghetto became was awarded a gold disc.
War released another album Deliver the Word in 1973. It was another success, reaching #6 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B album chart. The album spawned two hit singles “Me and Baby Brother” (#15 pop, #18 R&B) and another Top 10 pop smash “Gypsy Man” (#8 pop, #6 R&B).Deliver the Word earned another gold disc.
Riding on their newfound mainstream success, War seemed to make good of it by releasing their first live album War Livein 1974. It went to #13 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the R&B album chart, receiving another gold certification.
In 1975, War reached the peak of success with Why Can’t We Be Friends?, which reached #8 and #1 on the pop and R&B album charts, respectively. Its singles “Low Rider” and the title track soared high on the pop charts at #7 and #6, respectively.
In 1976, the band released their first “best-of” compilation album, simply titledGreatest Hits. It peaked at #6 and #12 on the pop and R&B album charts, respectively, and it earned the band their first platinum disc. A double albumPlatinum Jazz was released the same year, and it was made so because it contained their “greatest hits” compilation on one disc and new material on another. It went to #6 and #7 on the pop and R&B album charts, respectively, this time earning a gold status.
War took advantage of its success by overhauling their previous recordings with Eric Burdon. The result was 1976’s Love Is All Around, which was still billed as performed by “Eric Burdon and War” and alternately credited as “War Featuring Eric Burdon”. War released Galaxy in 1977, featuring the title track which became a Top 40 pop hit.
Commercial decline, tragic death of Charles Miller, and becoming a touring band
Towards the end of the decade, War saw the departure of their original member Dickerson. This led them to consider in changing their name into the Music Band in an attempt to revamp its image and keep up the musical climate of that era, wherein disco was very popular. But at the last minute they decided to stick to being War, and released two albums using the name The Music Band — The Music Band and The Music Band 2. While the first album was a modest success (earning gold), the second one otherwise suffered commercially.
Tragedy struck the band when another original member Charles Miller was murdered in a robbery attempt in 1980. The band added two new members in Luther Rabb (bass), Ronnie Hammon (drums/percussion) and ex-Sly and the Family Stone member Pat Rizzo (saxophone). In 1981, the group recorded and released a one-off single “Cinco De Mayo” for LA Records.
The record flopped (although it was popular amongst the Latino community), and subsequent albums Life (Is So Strange) (1983), Where There’s Smoke (1985) andPeace Sign (1994) were all commercial failures, signs that their chart run was definitely over. By then War had become essentially a touring band.
War in recent years
Papa Dee Allen had already died of brain aneurysm in 1988, while performing on stage. The band had another round of personnel shifting, until they arrive in their current lineup: Jordan (the only remaining original member), Sal Rodriguez, David Urquidi, Marcos Reyes, Stuart Ziff, Francisco “Pancho” Tomaselli and Stanley Behrens.
Burdon joined the band in 2008 for a one-night only concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. There were rumors that he would join the band again for a 2009 summer tour, but it didn’t happen. Around the same time the band were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honors, but didn’t get inducted. As of now, War has remained active as a touring band.