In this exclusive interview, B&S talks to War, the Music Band, about their approach to their next ten years
I CONFESS that I was tempted to call this exclusive feature on War simply "War Games" because the interview was conducted under somewhat unusual circumstances. Every member of the group and their two managers/producers were on hand and, at times, everybody was talking. And so, rather than try to cite each individual during the conversation, it was the group's wish to merely quote "War". A great deal of the natural warmth and humour simply doesn't across on paper but I would like to go on record in saying that they are one of the most humourous, helpful, uninhibited and unpretentious groups that we have ever interviewed.
JA: Would you like to explain about the new image for War and why it was felt necessary?
War: We put some new faces with the old faces because we wanted some new blood. it was necessary to inject some for our second decade. We wanted to take ourselves into realms that we hadn't travelled in before. It hasn't been easy, though, because of the meshing of the new personalities with the old ones and the definite change that has taken place.
The musical structure, concept and energy has put us into a new thing altogether. Some days, we seem to grow in leaps and bounds and then on other days, we are totally drained. It is sometimes disgusting to us but we always manage to bounce back.
We have to change our musical approach for the next ten years to keep our energy level high. But we are still War — War, the Music Band. Like a grown-up War!
JA: Is it something you planned or did it just happen this way?
WAR: Just happened! Like a metamorphosis. Some of us had grown into new directions. For example, we now have 2½ drummers in the band! Dee Allen is a percussionist really — one in a million because he can play timbales, congas, timpanis, vibes, percussion, harp and even bass. Ronnie Hammond is a drummer but more than that, he is a technician and Harold Brown lays down the groove. People who are familiar with our show will know how high energy we are and to maintain this — because we're not getting any younger — Ronnie has come in to maintain that level.
Then we have added Luther Rabb on bass; he's a very down-to-earth, basic human being — that's why he plays bass, because he's basic! We first played with Luther back in the late 60's at a concert in Bakersfield when it was Eric Burdon & War and Luther was playing with a group called Ball-N-Jack and they were the opening act.
Then we came up with a guy called Pat Rizzo and this is what makes us an all-American Music Band. He's our Italian side and it's a short jump from Italy to Kenya! If you check it out, the hair on his chin is as nappy as the hair on Howard's chin! Did I say that right? Anyway, then we have added this beautiful young lady, Tweed Smith. She gives us the dynamic sweetness that we need. Around all of these hard guys, we really needed it.
Our energy level is the thing that is so important to us right now. We just did a Dick Clark TV show and he came up after the show to compliment us on it and that meant a lot to us.
JA: Did you feel that the alterations within the group were necessary for the changes to take place?
WAR: It just happened that way, really, whether we were ready or not. And out of it came nothing but good. We're still going through the heat treatment but hopefully, after the fire, there'll be a fine piece of product.
JA: Is the album a fair example of the new direction?
WAR: Fair example!!! That's understating it — it's the best example! We feel really good about it.
JA: How do you feel it differs from "Galaxy" (the previous album), for example?
WAR: New people, for example. It's like a new horizon because our energy is more up. It's more evolutionary than revolutionary, though. Maybe the people would like to write in to us and tell us what they think is different about it. The comments from the street say that this is the hottest thing on the street right now.
JA: Is it a more versatile example of War?
WAR: Not only more versatile but it gets more to the roots. Everyone is concerned about getting into the disco syndrome to make a few bucks that we have been able to slip in the back door and give them exactly what they really needed. Our album has a whole lot of dance music in it. And we've been making dance records for the last ten years and we haven't missed once so all we are doing is living up to the reputation that we have created. Playing fine music! That's what people expect and that's what we give them.
JA: How do you feel about including a straight ballad in your album — "I'm The One Who Understands"? Is this a first, too?
WAR: Well, "All Day Music" was a ballad so it's not so very different, really. Then there was "That's What Love Will Do" and "Sweet Fighting Lady". But the big hits have been uptempo and people tend to forget about the ballads. "Summer" was a ballad and that went Gold.
But they tend to think of War and automatically think of pounding rhythms. But there is a pretty side to us. The soundtrack to "River Niger" had a lot of ballads; and "Platinum Jazz" had slow numbers on it. But you're right, we don't get the coverage on that side of War. Maybe the time is right for a ballad now from us.
One thing that is important, though, is that after ten years, this is the first album out with a real record company. The first two were with MGM and they're out of business. The next batch was with U.A. and there is no more U.A., really. There were times at U.A. when we were providing 35% of their business and they would turn round and pour the money into their latest Great White Hope. Every year it was a new one! But now we have an organisation behind us.
When we joined MCA, they were going through a transitional period but right now, the company is together, the band is together and the music is together. If there is a musical difference on this album, it's not necessarily just the music. What you do have for the first time is the entire range of War laid out on one album. We have never been better presented on one album before. The first cut is very, very strong from every direction. The second cut is beautiful black music and the third cut is simply a beautiful ballad.
On side two, "Good Good Lovin'" is a disco smash record. Then you go to "Millionaire", which is the epitome of War's music — danceable jazz that encourages audience participation. Then there is a song that only War could get away with — "All Around The World". The band turns around and laughs at itself and takes away all of that pretence bullshit in just the same way that "Why Can't We Be Friends" did. It's real humanity and once you get rid of that pretence bullshit, you're left with the fact that our only job is to make people feel good and that's all we can do.
This album covers every facet of War in one go and we have a record company capable of getting it to the people this time.
JA: You also have a new visual approach, right?
WAR: We have become a very visual group. The reasons for the uniforms is because it is a more 'now' approach. A few years ago, you could get on stage in jeans and it was hip to be a street group. We are and always were a street group but it was cool then to dress that way. But today, people expect to see "a show" — something that will blow them out. So, if they expect to see a show, let's make it fabulous, a real spectacular.
The uniforms are just part of that spectacular. And since we designed them and they are our own concept, they are still another expression of War. The stage set is our concept, too. The entire production is from within the group. The stage set is incredible, believe me! And we have a lot more visual concepts that the public would be ready for.
So this second decade will be a complete audio and visual experience because that's the way we are going. We are theatrical but more spontaneous than just that. It's completely in contrast to our last gig on our last tour — in Detroit — when we had no fancy frills. Yet we still tore the place up.
JA: When is the tour?
WAR: It starts on May 2 and goes on through June. The by-line for the tour is "War — Like You've Never Seen Before". And we are gonna take this tour all over the world.
We used to go to Europe and lighten the load and rent sets locally. This time, though, it will be the whole set and we'll show War for real for the first time over there. We can do things like that now that we have a real record company behind us. It's as easy as that.
JA: Do you look upon the last ten years as a natural evolutionary build-up to where you are today?
WAR: Yes, it has been and we're glad it was that way. But we didn't have any choice either! It happened like it happened and we're glad we dealt with it because we stayed unpretentious this way. But we could have saved a lot of pain if we had had a proper record company and if we had had some help it would have been nice. But we learned and grew from it.
JA: Are you still going to be doing individual solo albums?
WAR: Sure — those who want to, will. But we may all be so drained from doing War albums that there won't be time! But those who feel they have something different will go out and do it.
JA: As a group, War is renowned for including humour in music.
WAR: Right! True! Blues music has humour in it. And if you listen more closely to our music, you'll hear the humour but, more importantly, there is a message. Though this album is more commercial, it, too, has humour and messages…and a red cover wrapper because everybody loves red sports cars red shirts and red socks and we thought they may like a red album!
JA: Judgin the last forty minutes, humour seems to enter into everything you do.
WAR: We have to laugh to keep from crying! A sense of humour has been a necessity otherwise we may have ended up as our own opening act!
JA: Do you then use your music as an outlet for your frustrations?
WAR: Sometimes, yes. Then other times, we sit down and just talk. Then, after talking, we find we can play better. We are able to communicate both verbally and through our music.
JA: How close are you as friends, socially?
WAR: We hang tight — all night long sometimes. You can safely say that this group is well hung! Say, does anybody want half of this hamburger…!