War with Eric Burdon (who’s not on this record…)
“Listen – Me and Baby Brother MP3″
Here I sit wishing (for the first time in a long time) that I was actually outside instead of in, due to the bizarrely wonderful weather we happen to be experiencing at the moment.
I work late on Mondays, and when I walked out of the building last night, instead of the usual oven-blast, I was greeted instead by the warm hand of an almost humidity-free, seventy-five degree wonderfulness that was positively intoxicating. I felt as if I could have taken my bedroll (yeah…what am I…Davy Crockett??) out into the back yard and slept under the stars.
Of course this idea was soon exiled from my mind by a stampede of mosquitoes and bad-backery, but I can still dream, can’t I?
To what we owe this unusual mid-August reprieve – methinks this be but the eye of the storm – I know not, but I will do what I can to enjoy it, because days like this come but once or twice a summer.
I hope that everyone is digging the Funky16Corners Radio v.31 – Soul Satisfaction (almost everyone). I have some more cool mixes on the back burner (don’t I always though?), and you can expect a new one to drop next week (though I warn you they can’t all be “high concept”).
When I concluded my Monday post, I promised to return with some funk, and like MacArthur, I have (returned that is…).
A while back, while contemplating some Cheech and Chong movie or another (a reverie brought on while reading Tommy Chong’s prison memoir, ‘The I Chong’) the strains of the song ‘Low Rider’ were winding around my brain. This of course is mandated by the Cheech & Chong/Low Rider law of 1975, in which every mental picture of the duo must be synchronized with said song. As a child of the 70’s, who – despite the abstemious Puritan scourge that has beset this country since the 80’s – still finds Cheech & Chong funny (along with celebrity roast habitué Foster Brooks, a reference that will mean absolutely nothing to anyone born after 1970) this happens quite a lot (marijuanostalgia?).
Why am I telling you this?
Because today’s show is brought to you by the letters W, A and R, which spell WAR, which was a very funky band who were responsible for ‘Low Rider’ and a grip of other groovy sounds, the funkiest of which – in my opinion anyway- is today’s selection ‘Me and Baby Brother’.
Oddly enough (I use that phrase an awful lot don’t I?) my history with War is somewhat convoluted.
If you follow the standard timeline, in which the War story begins with their alliance with lapsed Animal Eric Burdon (the long haired leaping gnome) and passes on into their 1970’s string of hits, then of course things are nice and linear aren’t they?
However, if like me you experienced their mid-70’s successes first, and didn’t hear ‘Spill the Wine’ until you were 17 and sitting in Central Park waiting for an Elton John concert to begin (it’s not that long of a story, really), and then later found out in the midst of funk 45-ing that the dudes from War were the same bunch behind the Senor Soul records, the linear is suddenly non, and instead of some kind of stylistic continuum you get to take the (not so) disparate parts out of order, well then…
Anyway, War were a great band, who were always funky but only quite often funk, who rode the charts quite frequently in the 70’s with a number of wonderful songs including ‘Slipping Into Darkness’, ‘Cisco Kid’, ‘Low Rider’ (of course) and ‘Summer’ among others, combining soul, funk, jazz and Latin influences to create a very solid groove.
They did get their first boost backing Burdon, and managed to persevere when he bugged out on them (the musical balance sheet barely effected with his subtraction*), to the point where (and those of my age group will remember this) three of their number occupied a square frequently on the old Peter Marshall-era ‘Hollywood Squares’ – imagine a Papa Dee Allen in his XXXL dashiki alongside the always freaky Phyllis Diller). I drop that little nugget to help put their long ago fame into perspective, and because once upon a time, before the concept of “funk” had taken up residence in my musical sensibility, I was quite the War fan, up to and including asking for (and receiving) some of their LPs for Christmas sometime in the late 70’s.
Back when I was a teenager, my musical tastes were all over the place, and I was still at an age where instrumental virtuosity was still a big factor in my assessment of musicians, filling my ears with long self-indulgent solos, sidelong epics and suites of all kinds, a band like War, who managed to put a jazzy edge on their music, while always remaining soulful and exciting filled all of my immature musical needs while simultaneously causing them to mature. It just happens to be a fantastic coincidence that almost 30 years hence, long after my attentions (having passed through garage punk, psychedelia and jazz) had turned to funk and soul 45-dom that War should still be hanging around, filling that bill as well.
Anyway… ‘Me and Baby Brother’ is a very heavy, very solid bit of funkiness, with a somewhat opaque lyric (I think somebody either dies or goes to jail, after some funky wine of course), but the words (in this case anyway – aren’t all that important. What is important is that War lays into this song like a lion into a gazelle, and if there’s anyone amongst you that doubts the power of the harmonica in a funky setting, they need only sit back and catch Lee Oskar (so seemingly incongruous, and Danish) blowing heat.
No matter how you slice it, every note in ‘Me and Baby Brother’ is a raised fist, and whether it’s raised politically, ecstatically or both matters not. It’s a great record.
* In saying this I mean no disrespect to Burdon (I’m a big Animals fan), but rather to emphasize his relative lack of importance in the overall sound of War, i.e. War minus Burdon still equals War…
BUMPER STICKER UPDATE
Thanks to a reader suggestion (which made perfect sense) I’ve decided that anyone outside the US who wants a sticker can Paypal $2.00 USD (using the donation link in the sidebar, include a note explaining what you are paying for). I’ll head to the post office and stock up on postage and envelopes this weekend.