The Profile, Songs and History of the L.A. Chicano Funk Band

War's Original Lineup, 1976, Source: Lee Oskar and Harold Brown
Wardrums/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The members of War were (and are) the kings of the Los Angeles Latino community, specifically for the "lowrider" car enthusiasts who were blasting their Afro-Cuban funk groove long before the song "Low Rider" gave the love back. War was a totally unique pancultural jam band first and foremost, despite their uncanny ability to get on pop radio

War's Best Known Songs

  • "Low Rider"
  • "Why Can't We Be Friends?"
  • "Spill the Wine" with Eric Burdon
  • "Cisco Kid"
  • "Slippin' Into Darkness"
  • "All Day Music"
  • "Summer"
  • "The World is a Ghetto"
  • "Me and Baby Brother"
  • "Galaxy"

Where You Might Have Heard Them

Their half-dozen or so biggest hits are real crowd-pleasers that not only stand the test of time but appeal to vastly different audiences, so you might come across "Why Can't We Be Friends" during the infamous freshman hazing in Dazed and Confused, "Spill the Wine" as Dirk Diggler enters the pool party in Boogie Nights, or "Low Rider" any time George Lopez does, well, anything  

  • Formed in 1969 (Long Beach, CA)
  • Styles '70s R&B, Funk, Latin, Soul, Pop-Soul

The Members of the Classic War Lineup

  • Howard E. Scott (b. March 15, 1946, San Pedro, CA): guitar, vocals
  • Harold Brown (b. March 17, 1946, Long Beach, CA): drums, vocals, percussion
  • Lee Oskar (b. March 24, 1948, Copenhagen, Denmark): harmonica, vocals​
  • B. B. Dickerson (b. Morris Dickerson, August 3, 1949, Torrance, CA): bass, vocals
  • Lonnie Jordan (b. November 21, 1948, San Diego, CA): keyboards, vocals
  • Charles Miller (b. June 2, 1939, Olathe, KS; d. June 13, 1980, Hollywood, CA): saxophone, flute, clarinet, vocals
  • "Papa" Dee Allen (b. Thomas Sylvester Allen, July 18, 1931, Wilmington, DE; d. August 30, 1988, Long Beach, CA): percussion, vocals

Claims to Fame

  • Their 1975 hit "Lowrider" has become an anthem of sorts for the Latino custom car community
  • One of the era's finest funk bands
  • Merged funk with Latin music to create a potent cultural hybrid
  • A leading voice of musical protest in the early Seventies
  • Harmonica player Lee Oskar is considered one of the instrument's great innovators

The History of War

War began with founding members Harold Brown and Harold E. Scott's creation of a high-school R&B cover/jam band called, ironically enough, the Creators. By 1968, with most of the original members off to Vietnam, the Creators became Nightshift and got a job backing L.A. Rams tackle Deacon Jones at a local club.

It was here where they met veteran record producer Jerry Goldstein, who renamed them War (for shock purposes) and got them a gig backing ex-Animals singer Eric Burdon on his next solo project. With him, Burdon had brought Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar, later to become an integral part of the septet's sound.

The Success of the Band

The result was 1970's "Spill The Wine," a major hit that spotlighted the group's Afro-Cuban groove. After another Burdon album that failed due to poor distribution, War regrouped as a standalone act, and their second album (released in 1972) yielded two hits, "All Day Music" and the harrowing tale of insanity "Slippin' Into Darkness."

The outfit's next album, The World Is A Ghetto, cemented their rep as sociopolitical funk players with the flavor of their native Los Angeles slums. Disco, however, soon appeared to pave the way for a more streamlined form of dance music, which gradually ate away at the band's popularity.

Later years

 The band soldiered on in the R&B market, however, despite the loss of Papa Dee Allen to an onstage brain aneurysm and the murder of Charles Miller in 1980. Their dwindling success led to several members decamping by the mid-80s.

As their legend grew, the band reunited for the somewhat successful 1994 album Peace Sign. Today, manager Goldstein retains the right's to the group's name, with only keyboardist Jordan remaining; the remaining four members formed the Lowrider Band. Both groups continue to tour and occasionally record today.

More About War

  • War was offered a spot as Otis Redding's backup group in the mid-60s but declined because their keyboard player was still a minor
  • "Spill The Wine" came about in part because a member of the band had spilled wine on a recording console, forcing a move to a different room in the studio
  • Bob Marley reportedly based his song "Get Up, Stand Up" on "Slippin' Into Darkness"
  • Papa Dee Allen collapsed onstage while playing "Gypsy Man"; the group has since refused to play the song live
  • Harp player Lee Oskar sings the "I may not speak right" verse on "Why Can't We Be Friends" because he was Danish and still learning English

Hit War Songs and Albums

#1 Hits

  •  "Low Rider" (1975)

Top 10 hits:

  • Pop "Spill the Wine" with Eric Burdon (1970), "The World Is a Ghetto" (1973), "The Cisco Kid" (1973), "Gypsy Man" (1973), "Low Rider" (1975), "Why Can't We Be Friends?" (1975), "Summer" (1976)
  • R&B: "The World Is a Ghetto" (1973), "The Cisco Kid" (1973), "Gypsy Man" (1973), "Low Rider" (1975), "Why Can't We Be Friends?" (1975), "Summer" (1976), "L.A. Sunshine" (1977), "Galaxy" (1978)

#1 albums

  • Pop: The World Is a Ghetto (1973)
  • R&B The World Is a Ghetto (1973), Deliver the Word (1973), War Live! (1974), Why Can't We Be Friends? (1975)

Top 10 albums

  • Pop Deliver the Word (1973), Why Can't We Be Friends? (1975), Greatest Hits (1976)
  • R&B All Day Music (1972), Platinum Jazz (1977), Galaxy (1978)
  • Jazz Platinum Jazz (1977)

Notable Covers

Kitsch rockers Smash Mouth followed up their first big hit "Walking on the Sun" with a ska-like cover "Why Can't We Be Friends?' that was a minor hit; the Beastie Boys replicated (did not sample) the harmonica riff from "Low Rider" for the Licensed to Ill track "Slow Ride"; Poor Righteous Teachers' 1990 smash "Rock Dis Funky Joint" heavily samples "Slippin' Into Darkness"; Los Lonely Boys have been known to cover "The Cisco Kid" in concert.

Movies and TV

War scored not one but two "Black" films in the '70s: 1976's The River Niger, a drama about an aspiring ghetto poet, and 1978's Youngblood, a more conventional gang drama. They can also be found in the video for 1986's "Farm Aid" benefit concert and in the credits of the classic Cheech & Chong stoner comedy Up in Smoke (thanking them for the first use of "Low Rider" outside the radio).