Lowrider Band Drummer Harold Brown: "Houston Has a Special Soul"
Last summer, the Miller Outdoor Theatre presented a multi-racial '70s band who performed such recognizable FM radio classics as "Spill the Wine," "Why Can't We Be Friends?" "The Cisco Kid," "All Day Music," and -- of course -- "Low Rider."
lowriderband.com The core of the Lowrider Band: Harold Brown, Lee Oskar, B.B. Dickerson, and Howard Scott.
This summer, Miller presents another multi-racial '70s band who will perform all those same hits. But with a different name, though this group has four times as many members who actually played on those records.
Confused? Welcome to the 2014 strange saga of two groups: War and the Lowrider Band.
"You can take away our name, but you can't take away our music!" says Lowrider drummer Harold Brown, who was...also the drummer for War, invoking the title of one of their earliest songs.
In a nutshell, after they split with English singer and ex-Animal Eric Burdon, War went on to a hugely successful career of their own.
The classic seven-member lineup includes Brown, Jordan (keyboards), Howard Scott (guitar), Lee Oskar (harmonica), B.B. Dickerson (bass), Charles Miller (sax) and Papa Dee Allen (percussion). All members contributed vocals.
After Miller and Allen passed away, and much, much legal wrangling and lineup shifts, the rights to use the name "War" became the sole prerogative of the band's former manager/producer, Jerry Goldstein and Far Out Productions. Jordan (under Goldstein's direction) now leads the group War, while the other four surviving members perform as the Lowrider Band, with a few additional players.
At the heart of both bands' shows is a rich catalogue of music that blends rock, jazz, R&B, funk and Latin sounds, probably better than any other group ever. The energetic 68-year-old Brown says that the sonic stew was just the result of what members (except for the Danish Oskar) were exposed to growing up in southern California.
Classic War: Howard Scott, Lee Oskar, B.B. Dickerson, Charles Miller, Harold Brown, Lonnie Jordan, and Papa Dee Allen.
"Our music is a cornucopia of all types of music," he says. "What I feel is when we came along, our music came along at a time period in the world -- not just America -- where we had a message in the music. It was right after the Vietnam War, civil rights, and so forth."
Brown also notes that The band's music was both "spiritual" and from the streets, and for the people who walked on them.
"That's what Bob Marley told me, we were a street band just like his," he continues. "We were saying things that related to the everyday person on the street. Not the politicians. And we were relaying what we felt."
One song whose inspiration came from the streets (literally) has turned out to be their most famous. Inspired by the Latino car culture around Long Beach, California, "Low Rider" actually had an inauspicious beginning.
"What happened is that it was just an [instrumental] jam we were playing," Brown recalls. "And we were doing the dozens, just talking about 'Man, you're old lady is so ugly' stuff. And I was offbeat, playing on the upbeat, doing it wrong. But I just kept going, I was thinking, 'Don't panic, Harold!
"So all of a sudden we hear...all of a sudden Charles got up to the mike and went 'Low...ri...der' And that was it," he adds. "When you hear that song, you're hearing it for the first time. It was a jam!"
Allen later overdubbed the cowbell that formed the song's unmistakable intro, and the group had a hit. As with War's other material, the song has also had an amazing afterlife as a source of sampling for rappers, making frequent appearances on movie and television, including as the theme to The George Lopez Show.
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