The question that every B&S reader has been asking of late has been: Where is War? Correct me if I'm wrong, but the last War single I remember is "Ballero" from their disappointing "Live!" album and it certainly wasn't the runaway success that every previous War single has been.
However, we can put your minds at rest because the news from the War-front is good. A new single has just been released in the States — and an album is right ready to roll. Both single and album bear the title of "Why Can't We Be Friends" and the album's theme is just that. Despite carrying the name of War, the group does its best to represent just the opposite — peace! "The album will be our first new recording released in over a year and a half," a happy Lonnie Jordan pointed out. "I think you'll be surprised with how much we have progressed in that time. We have always changed our style frequently but yet we have always tried to maintain a definite direction that can be associated with the group. The time in between has been frustrating for us."
'The time in between' was caused by an internal problem between the group, their production company — Far Out Productions — and United Artists Records. "But it's all over now and we're happy again — happy just to make our music and I don't really want to have to think about all of those problems again, man."
Every War album carries an outward message and this new set is no exception. "We try to show the world our way of living," Lonnie philosophizes. "We've delivered our word, you might say, that the whole world really is a ghetto. But we're not involving ourselves with politics — we're only involved with people and that's why we are now asking 'why can't we be friends?' We're not even laying down that our way is better because it's impossible to say. If we did that then we would have to involve ourselves in politics. But let's be honest — the whole damn world is in a turmoil just now. Nobody knows what to do, do they? So we make a commentary on the world the way we see it — and we try to provide a little bit of happiness for everyone. But our question is to the whole world — why can't we be friends? To Black, to White, to Arab, to Jew — why can't we all be friends? We try to communicate to everybody with our musical messages."
The content of the new War album sounds particularly interesting. "Sure, we've got the funky ones to set people dancing," Lonnie quickly stressed — obviously anticipating my next question because, so far, War is better known as a dance-and-funk band in Britain, where "Cisco Kid" is still danced to at every disco. Yet, how many people do you know who actually know about the content of that vibrant performance? "There's one cut called "Mazatland" — it's got a Latin feel to it and it's all about a little town in Mexico that we know about…and it's so beautiful. There's another cut called "Don't Let No-one Put You Down" and another slow and pretty one just called "So". "Lotus Blossom" is another pretty one but the two funky, uptempo cuts are "Heartbeat" and "Low Rider". Actually, we haven't completely decided which cuts will make up the album yet — but I'm fairly certain that all of those mentioned and the title track will appear."
In common with the past three War albums, the sleeve has its own character and concept. "The sleeve is filled with a big face with gold teeth," laughs Lonnie. "And all around this face there are people just making friends with each other. And they're just smiling and being happy. It's a double sleeve and on the inside there is a picture of us mixing with some ordinary people. That's the way we see ourselves and we try to project the concept of making friends."
War is something of a unique outfit. They seem to possess an inner kind of strength that is quite rare in this day and that business. "Nothing can come between us," Lonnie firmly points out. "Every year that we have been together has been a happy one. Yes, there is a kind of inner warmth that circulates around us when we're together."
All of which must have made last year's recording situation particularly frustrating for the seven War-riors. "Yes, it was," Lonnie admits, "but what can you do! All record companies behave the same way I expect. I'm just glad that it didn't kill us because if we hadn't been tight and together, it could have finished us. But music is too important to us to let something so small as a record company or money affect us! Personally, I consider music to be of the same importance to my well-being as food. I play music to get food — and I eat food to enable me to make my music. It's that simple for me. Food and music go together just like a man and a woman and that's beautiful."
The very next project for War is a semi-documentary film about themselves. "It's something that Howard (Scott, drummer) and I have always wanted to do and now the group is going to make the film and produce it ourselves. The same basic concept will be used as on the new album and again we'll be using that theme of 'why can't we be friends?'. In fact, we'll try to show people how peaceful you can be."
With all of this peace and tranquillity around, I hesitatingly asked Lonnie if he felt that the group was perhaps misleadingly named — after all, war and peace are not renowned bed companions. "The answer to that is simple," he profoundly replied. "War can be peaceful if the war is in the mind. And that's what we'll try and get over in the film. We'll show it visually. Until now, we have refused to appear or score any other movie because we wanted to feel sure that we were in agreement with what the film displayed. Jimmy Witherspoon and Bloodstone took those jobs on. But how could we preach peace and friendship if in the next breath you see us appearing in a violent film — or even just writing the music, that would be bad enough. All the guys in War are family men and none of us wants our kids coming up and saying they want to be just like their daddy if he's best known for being a gangster out of a movie. As it is now, we'd all be proud to see our kids follow our example because we can all be proud of what we have achieved and the way we have achieved it But if you listen to our music — to get back to your last question at last! — you'll understand that there is an element of both war and peace in what we create. People realise that some kind of war is necessary to attain peace of mind and that is the most important peace of them all. Again, that's what we hope to illustrate in the movie. We don't really care if it makes money — it would be satisfying just to break even but to achieve something we could all be proud of. We just want to get across to the people — who knows, maybe there can be a way for the people to see it for free. That would be the ideal way for us."
During the enforced lay-off, Lonnie has been industrious in other directions. He is in the midst of producing an album for Far Out Productions by a black-white girl duo, Pratt & Buckner, who used to be the Golddiggers on the Dean Martin TV series. "I've started work on the tracks and I play piano, drums and bass myself. It's quite an interesting concept really and the music is a real variety in the true sense of the word. We should be finished in the next six to eight weeks and then there will only be the vocals to add. We haven't yet set a company for the album because I wanted to concentrate on finishing it in my own time first. But it's all been exhilarating for me and I've really enjoyed it."
Meanwhile, the group is working on the possibility of being back in Europe this autumn. "We all enjoyed ourselves so much last time that we're really aching to get back," Lonnie sincerely explains. The feeling is mutual because this is just about the only form of War that I want to be declared on Britain in the next few years.