Classics: War – Slippin’ Into Darkness (United Artists)
Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of War. As I would then most likely be tempted to think you’ve been slippin’ into darkness… As a matter of fact, this band pretty much embodies what the end of the 60’s / 70’s have been about. A period when sky was just the limit creatively speakin’. Meaning that eclectism and versatility were the key words with blends of all the sorts coming to the surface. With thanks to bands such as Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival or Cymande to name a few.
‘Slippin’ Into Darkness’ is just that. With this “that” contributing to its infectiousness as a matter of fact. From its lyrics narrating the story of a characters who falls into insanity or get “slippin’ into darkness” as the people he loves are taken away from him.
“I was slippin’ into darkness when I heard my mother say… You’ve been slippin’ into darkness. Pretty soon you gonna pay…” The “that” mentioned earlier on not only being its lyrics, but also its composition. The whole starting on what feels like a vocal insomnia fueled with accents of Blues. Then sort of takin’ off on a Reggae-ish Jazz/Funk bass driven rhythm pattern.
In a vein somehow reminding of standards like Bob Marley‘s ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ or ‘Get Up Stand Up’. Although it would be more accurate to say the contrary as they saw the light four years after, as a matter of fact.
A quick return to the history of War and one might have the impression there’s a much to read about the process of their formation, which took about 10 years, that their discography.
Officially formed back in 1969, War established themselves as a multi-ethnic band (just like Brooklyn Funk Essentials after them). Thus crossing the reputed boarders while fusing elements of Rock, Funk, Jazz, Latin, Rhythm and Blues, and Reggae. With their music evolving along with time as upon the regular changes in their line-up.
To make it short, let’s say that the embryo of War appeared back in 1959. This when saxophonist Charles Miller overheard Harold Brown playing drums in a garage then went to see if he would fancy being in a group. The pair eventually joined forces with guitarist Howard Scott and his nephew, bassist Morris “B.B.” Dickerson. Then, last but not least with pianist Lonnie Jordan. This being how The Creators saw the light in 1962, soon after joined by Lee Oskar (harmonica) and Papa Dee Allen (percussion). Meanwhile, one could hear their members contributing to other groups such as Love or Señor Soul. The Creators turning their name into Nightshift (named because Brown worked nights at a steel yard) and eventually performing along with famous US football player Deacon Jones.
Invited to a rehearsal, producer Jerry Goldstein instantly felt the sound of the group. And so did Eric Burdon, the former lead singer of British band The Animals). The latter soon after touring with War before getting to record their debut-album, ‘Eric Burdon Declares “War”‘. Its most famous track, ‘Spill The Wine’, becoming a hit and, by that, launching the band’s career.
From then Burdon and War extensively toured across America and Europe. Their show at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London on Sept. 16, 1970 being historically notable. This for having welcomed Jimi Hendrix‘s last public performance. The latter joining them onstage for the last 35 minutes of their second set… A bit more than 36 hours before his sudden passing!
A second Eric Burdon & War album – ‘The Black-Man’s Burdon’ – would hit the streets that same year. Burdon soon after leavin’ the band in the middle of its European tour. A tour which they finished without him before recording their first album as War.
Their 1971 eponymous debut-album only generated a modest following. This despite the presence of the definitely worth the listen ‘Fidel’s Fantasy’. But its follow-up – ‘All Day Music’ – and one of its singles – the Reggaeish ‘Slippin’ Into Darkness’ – would get the group to collect their first gold disc in June 1972. That same year, they released their second album – ‘The World Is A Ghetto’ – which got them higher under the spotlights. Eventually becoming Billboard magazine’s Album of the Year as the best-selling album of 1973. With thanks to singles such as ‘Cisco Kid’ and its title track which would reappear a few years after in a slighly different version.
The story went on during the next following years, with the band adding extra hits to their credit. Beginning with ‘Gypsy Man’ from their 1973 ‘Deliver The World’ album. But also ‘Low Rider’ from ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’, their final album for United Artists. And what about ‘Galaxy’ which opened their account on MCA in 1977, and its title which reputedly took its inspiration from ‘Star Wars’?!?
The end of the 70’s marked a few changes. From the launch of ‘The Music Band’ series of albums. To the departure of bassist B.B. Dickerson, replaced by Luther Rabb. Then the tragic murdering of saxophonist Charles Miller. War released the one-off ‘Cinco De Mayo’ on Jerry Goldstein label LA Records. Then they signed with RCA and soon after released the ‘Outlaw’ album. An effort that featured ‘Cinco De Mayo’ and ‘You Got The Power’. This in addition to its title track and ‘Just Because’. ‘Life (Is So Strange)’ followed back in 1983, from which its title track also saw the light a a single. But the music of the group had lost many of its followers since the end of the 70’s. And, after two albums on RCA, the band disappeared from the radars.
Papa Dee Allen sadly died of a brain aneurysm which struck him onstage on Aug. 30, 1989.
War nevertheless reunited and released a last album – ‘Peace Sign’ – on Avenue Records back in 1994.
Two years later, the group tried to gain independence from Goldstein, but were unable to do so as their name – “War” – is a trademark owned by Goldstein and Far Out Productions. As a response, Brown, Oskar, Scott and a then returning B.B. Dickerson adopted a name – Lowrider Band – related to one of War’s biggest hits. Meanwhile Lonnie Jordan opted to remain with Goldstein and create a new version of War with himself as the only original member. Both the “new” War and the Lowrider Band are currently active as live performance acts.
Luther Rabb sadly died on Jan. 22, 2006, aged 63. He’d spent the last 20 years of his life battling against the effects of a car crash that caused an injury requiring neck surgery. Then, back in 2002, he suffered a stroke and/or seizure that left him without any feeling or motion below his chest.