Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is that the Same Band I Knew and Loved?

The film Straight Outta Compton opens with a screen shot of Galaxy, a vinyl album by the ‘70s funk band War. Thus is the stage set for this story of the new generation of hip hop and gangsta rap artists and the success of N.W.A. as chronicled in this hard-hitting successful film.

Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg were just learning to walk the streets of Compton when the music of War—a band also formed in southern California and popular in Compton, whose members included Howard Scott, BB Dickerson, Harold Brown, Lonnie Jordan, Charles Miller, Papa Dee Allen, and Lee Oskar—saturated popular radio playlists with hits like “Low Rider,” “Slipping Into Darkness,” “Cisco Kid,” “Spill the Wine,” “The World is a Ghetto,” “All Day Music,“ and “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” These classic hits served as an early influence for the seminal rhymers and rappers who would become known as N.W.A.

So where is War today? In 1981, the original band manager, Jerry Goldstein, was issued a trademark registration for War in his production company’s name. Following extensive litigation, an injunction was issued in 1991 that prohibits the original band members from performing as War or using the trademark War in the advertising, performance, or promotion of any entertainment service.

You may, however, still find a group performing as War at state fairs and smaller venues. This band, managed by Jerry Goldstein, is advertised and promoted as War, but includes only one original member of the band (Lonnie Jordan). This so-called War is scheduled to perform at the Dakota in Minneapolis on January 24th and 25th.

The remaining original founding members of War, the ones who wrote and performed the iconic hit songs (Brown, Dickerson, Scott, and Oskar), continue to perform, but not as War. Due to the litigation with their former manager (sound familiar, N.W.A.?), the four artists most responsible for the music made popular by War during the 1970s are now forced to call themselves the “Lowrider Band.” They are even barred from referring to themselves as former members of the band. 

Who ever said the music industry was fair to artists?

But what about the fans? Are you a fan excited to see War perform at the Dakota next week? Perhaps you were one of the 22,060 fans who attended the War and Guess Who concert at the St. Paul Civic Center on August 8, 1974.  1If so, be forewarned. The group performing at the Dakota next week will not be the same ‘70s band you knew and loved. Lee Oskar will not be playing his trademark harmonica solos or saxophone riffs that so typified the War sound. BB and his bass will not be there. Neither will Scott’s guitar skills or Brown’s drum beats be on display.

Is this fair to you? If you purchased tickets to hear the Beatles perform, and instead of John, Paul, George, and Ringo taking the stage you were faced with Bob, Peter, Phil, and Ringo, I assume you would not be very happy. Even if they performed the same great Beatle songs, I bet you would feel ripped off. How could they advertise the performance as a Beatles concert with only one original member taking the stage? You would not expect to hear a bunch of musicians hired by the manager to play Beatles songs. Wouldn’t it be better to be truthful and advertise the show as Ringo and some friends performing Beatles songs?

If you do go, I hope you enjoy the show. But if you want to hear the original War vibe with the iconic classic songs performed by the artists who actually wrote and performed the music before sold-out venues worldwide, you will not find it at the Dakota. You will have to wait to see the Lowrider Band.

1Great trivia question: What was the best attended single concert in the history of the St Paul Civic Center before it was demolished? Most answer the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, or other popular ‘70s bands, but few know that it was the Guess Who and WAR concert in 1974. Remember American Woman?  [Editor’s Note: One of us—you might be able to guess who (no pun intended)—actually was there. Whatever happened to $3 concert tickets?]

1 comment :

  1. I was at that concert on August 8, 1974 and I heard Nixon resign right along with you and thousands of other fans. What a night! I remember the entire crowd screaming, yelling, and applauding for joy. How do I support the Lowrider Band?