Peace & War

With the mindset that music can heal, WAR set out as a colorful group to jam and bring joy to the people in times of uncertainty. The group got its start 50 years ago, during the Vietnam War, and times of political scandal and racial tensions. They chose not to force any agenda on their listeners, but to unite people of all demographics through song.

They were unlike any band before them. They were a group made up of all denominations that mixed their influences together and created a unique ethnic sound. They weren’t contained to one category — they could play jazz, reggae, rock, R&B, calypso and even country. This unbelievable diverse sound caught the eye of the right producer, and the rest was history.

Producer and songwriter Jerry Goldstein brought his posse to a show one night at a club called the Rag Doll, to check out a fresh band (then called the Night Shift) that was backing NFL defensive end Deacon Jones on stage.

British rocker Eric Burden, lead singer of The Animals, was with Goldstein at the show. Burden was fed up with the music business and ready to head home to England when this ragtag group of young jammers caught his eye.

“Eric came into my office and I go, ‘You know, I may have something that you would like. It’s kind of funky, kind of jazzy, kind of interesting and they’re playing tonight at this club called the Rag Doll backing Deacon Jones,’” Goldstein recounted in a recent YouTube Q&A video “Celebrate 50 Years of WAR Live.” “So we all go and we don’t know what to expect. The next day, I call Eric and say, ‘What do you think of the group?’ He says, ‘We’re rehearsing at 3 o’clock.’”

Burden had found his inspiration with this new group and they hit the road.

“Two weeks later we played our first gig,” Goldstein said. “And our first real gig was Devonshire Downs Pop Festival for 100,000 people. Jimi Hendrix was the headliner and we followed Creedence Clearwater. And we never did an Animals song, Eric refused to do any of the Animals’ hits. He wanted a whole new repertoire so in two weeks we created a whole new repertoire and away we were on the road holding our own and we were like, Eric Burden and WAR, here we are.”

Goldstein knew he had something special with this group and although they did not fit the commercial music mold, he never tried to make them something they weren’t. He wanted to let their authentic creativity flow.

“I just let them go and recorded the good and the bad because I didn’t want to inhibit it because the music was so different from anything I had ever worked with,” Goldstein said. “This was unstructured and I loved being able to do that and see where it goes, and it went to some really nice places. I didn’t try to make it anything else, just tried to develop what it was to it’s utmost.

“Eric came along and put his magic in the middle of it and created this group that just jammed and could play the blues and could play rock and could play anything. And they were writing songs on the stage. It was kind of like jazz, but like street jazz. Eric had the ability to just start singing new lyrics and they had the great ability of just going with him and taking it to see where it went. It amazed me, I hadn’t seen anything like it.”

Founding member Lonnie Jordan explained his musical process in creating music with WAR.

“I am organic with my music, I just sit and let go,” Jordan said. “I don’t think, I just sit down and I play and that’s how I develop my sound. I came out of the church of course, playing in churches back when I was young, and that gave me a lot of insight on playing spiritually from feel. So I just took that when I started playing jazz, rock, country, reggae whatever it is. I just have that feel, that organic feel.”

Goldstein was also a musician and stepped in to help with the songwriting and editing for the group.

“Lyrically, we basically wrote about the time, what was going on in the world that we were seeing and feeling and experiencing to go with the music that we experienced and felt and jammed,” Goldstein said. “The lyrics just came, somehow they came. In a lot of cases, like with ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends,’ there was a circumstance that led to us going, ‘why can’t we be friends?’ We happened to be in Japan and we couldn’t get any attention from anybody, in fact they ran away from us because we looked like a gang rather than a band. And that’s where ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’ came up.”

Goldstein was also the person who came up with the name “WAR.”

“Eric and I basically figured out that if we call the group WAR, at that time with peace and love, that people would never forget the name of the band,” Goldstein said. “And everybody made comments, ‘How could you possibly call this band WAR, it’s in bad taste.’ And Eric and I just laughed to each other because people were talking about it from day one. And nobody ever forgot it.”

WAR worked to promote brotherhood and happiness among their fans, wherever in the world they were.

“As far as our message, we never really had to push any messages on people. We wanted people to feel good and be happy through music,” Jordan said. “One of our main messages is we wage war against wars, and our choice of weapons is our instruments which do not kill or spread blood, but what it does do is make people happy. It goes right into your heart and makes people happy. That’s a message alone. Music is healing — it cures.

“I don’t think music should be a political tool, I really don’t believe that. I think music should be a cure. We’re doctors of music and we’re really here to cure not to politically change people’s mind thinking. Music is to be enjoyed, like food. Gather around the table and smile. That’s what music is about. It’s not about politics. Music brings people together.”

In late 1971, Burdon separated from the band, but WAR continued on with Goldstein by their side.

Altogether, the band released 16 studio albums, two live albums, seven compilation albums and 60 singles, garnering 17 gold, platinum and multi-platinum certifications.

The current band lineup includes Jordan (keyboards, vocals), Stuart Ziff (guitar, vocals), Scott Martin (saxophone, flute), Stanley Behrens (harmonica, vocals), Rene Camacho (bass guitar), Marcos J. Reyes (percussion) and Sal Rodriguez (drums, vocals).

In July WAR released a new vinyl box set “WAR: 1971-1975,” which includes the original first five albums including “WAR,” “All Day Music,” “The World Is A Ghetto,” “Deliver The Word” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends.”

In celebration of the group’s 50th anniversary, they are releasing “Greatest Hits 2.0,” available Oct. 29 as a two-CD or two-LP set and digitally. It is a new, career-spanning collection that expands on the 1976 greatest hits album, featuring all the fan-favorite tracks.

As happening as ever, WAR is touring the country with a stop in Laughlin Saturday, Aug. 28 (7 p.m.) at the Edgewater’s E Center. Get tickets at Edgewater-Casino.com.