Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan Talks About Nearly 50 Years of WAR’s Great Music

Bubbling up from the streets of Long Beach in 1969, a group of musicians coalesced into the band WAR. Joined initially, somewhat improbably but successfully by British belter Eric Burdon, WAR leapt out of the radio with their hit “Spill The Wine.” A string of radio-friendly hits followed, tracks that have gently eased into heavy rotation and timelessness: “The World Is a Ghetto,” “The Cisco Kid,” “Low Rider,” “East L.A.,” “Summer” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”

I spoke with Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan, the singer and keyboardist of the band. He called me, and there was the Long Beach area code right on my mobile phone screen.

As the sole remaining original member, Jordan keeps the flame alive. I had a wide ranging chat with him.

Auerbach: How does touring compare to back in the day?

Jordan: Touring today is better because I can see more clearly what is going around me, not due to lighting but due to the perspective of age. It’s not just about fun, I now take my message more serious.

Auerbach: And the recording process has certainly changed since when you first started.

Jordan: It certainly has. Today the recording process has all gone digital, it’s about pushing a button. Every style has its own method of madness.

Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan

Auerbach: Do you consider WAR a funk band?

Jordan: It is hard to put a label on us, it is hard to put a library card on us. Tower Records had us in a lot of departments, jazz, reggae, RnB. Universal Street Music, that is what I call us. We covered many categories, which is probably why we didn’t win many awards, because they did not know where to put us. But our sound did not isolate us from the rest of the world.

Auerbach: How did the song “Lowrider” come about?

Jordan: No one else wrote about that style of car. There was a car club song “The In Crowd” by Dobie Gray, before he did “Drift Away.” So we wrote about it, and we had the cars – metal flaked, dropped, with record players installed. We knew the two rival car clubs, The Imperials and The Dukes, we brought them together. We gave the song to the clubs, they blasted the song out of their cars and bam the song took off. We used the car club film as backdrops, no one beyond Albuquerque knew about low riders until our song came out!

Auerbach: And how about “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” I love the vibe of that track, where did that song come from?

Jordan: Like most of the songs, it came out of long, multi hour jams. We’d then sit back and listen to the jams. The song has the attitude of gospel, it’s about a mother telling us to go in the right direction, don’t go into the dark path. You know what? I heard it on a gospel program in the 70s. “Trippin’ into Darkness” is how some people rephrased it.

Auerbach: And how about “Summer,” how did that somg come about? Growing up in Buffalo with those winters, I have always loved that track.

Jordan: “Summer” was actually inspired by New York City, and a heatwave. We never put a city name in the song, we wanted to keep it universal.

Auerbach: So let me ask you about the idea of a digital tip jar, which my brother came up with. What if folks streaming your music could leave a few dollars that go directly to the artist?

Jordan: A digital tip jar is a very interesting idea. You’d have a lot of red tape to get through, a lot of middlemen want to get a piece of the action. I’d love it. But capital gains and the tax man might get there as well.

Auerbach: Do you still get along with Eric [Burdon, who left the band fairly early]?

Jordan: Definitely, we still get along with Eric, and we are trying to get a reunion again, like we did a few years ago at Royal Albert Hall [in London]. We are looking at maybe a tour. You know, in recording “Spill the Wine” he improvised the song. The chorus [‘spill the wine, take that pearl’], people think it is ‘girl.’ But it is ‘pearl,’ that’s the lady’s nether regions.

Auerbach: You have had decades of gigs, do you have one or two that stand out?

A real special gig was with Eric Burdon in our early days. We played Ronnie Scott’s [in London] for five days, Hendrix sat in with us for what became his last gig. Jimi took us back to where we started, at hole in the wall gigs backing up Little Richard and all the others. We had met Jimi back in the day. When we jammed with him that night, he played with no special effects, it was all simple blues. We jammed on “Mother Earth” by Memphis Slim for one hour. Jimi went back to his flat and passed away, back to Mother Earth. That is something I will never forget.

WAR plays the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles this summer with George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic on Saturday, May 26 at 7:00 PM. They will be joined by special guest Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich + Fussible. Tickets available via AXS.com.



Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.