Formed in 1969, the band War has been many things to many people.
To some they are a Latin pop group, to others rock ’n’ roll and even calypso and reggae to another segment of music fans.
And that’s fine with lead singer and founding member Lonnie Jordan — as long as you experience their music and come along for the ride.
“We’ve always been traveling troubadours playing concerts all around the world. Audiences come into our church and the messages in our music make them aware of their surroundings. We let them know that the world is a ghetto and we are all just low riders slippin’ into darkness,” Mr. Jordan said, referencing some of the band’s most classic works.
War brings those hits and much more including “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” “Cisco Kid” and “Spill the Wine” to Dover Downs’ Rollins Center Dec. 6 at 9 p.m.
The band has been going strong for 50 years and Mr. Jordan said its broad appeal has been one of the keys.
“We’ve done blues festivals, Latin festivals, smooth jazz shows. We’ve even done a few hip-hop festivals where they have sampled our music,” Mr. Jordan said, referencing the 1992 album “Rap Declares War,” which featured rap stars such as Ice-T, De La Soul, Kid Frost and Beastie Boys performing songs based on samples of War hits.
Mr. Jordan said that diversity in sound is a reflection of the band’s various influences when they wrote their songs.
“We were listening to all genres of music back then. We were listening to classical, calypso music, reggae. We were also listening to a lot of rock and country and western music,” he said.
“I would say much of our music is based on blues, country and gospel. Those genres all have concrete stories to tell and so did we.”
When the band started, with lead singer Eric Burdon, Mr. Jordan said the guys were “young, dumb and full of fun.”
“We were from the streets. We never thought our music would be played on the radio. ‘What, they like this?’ we thought. Back then, it would be correct to say we were pretty thoughtless when it came to our music. If you didn’t push the red button that said ‘record,’ than you lost what you had. We had so many ideas back then. We would just turn the tape on and go.”
War has been nominated for several Grammy Awards but has never won any. Mr. Jordan thinks that may be because of the band’s chameleon-like sound.
“There was no category to place us. That’s why when you went into Tower Records back in the day, we might be over in the jazz section or R and B. There was no real way to identify us,” he said.
He holds no ill will to never having won a Grammy though.
“One year it was ironic that The Jackson Five won over us because they had just done a tribute to us when they did ‘Cisco Kid.’ But it didn’t matter. We were never in competition with anyone,” he said.
So too, War has been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few times but has missed entry.
“Maybe some people take notice of that kind of stuff but as far as I’m concerned we are already in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I call the audience my ‘rock and roll hall of fans’. Every time we come together, more people than ever seem to have a good time,” said Mr. Jordan, who last week celebrated his 71st birthday.
“The shows are something that will stay in people’s minds longer than some trophy.”
The list of artists who have either sampled or covered War songs include Kendrick Lamar, Flo-Rida, Thomas Rhett, Tupac, Smash Mouth, Janet Jackson, Dave Matthews and Korn.
Mr. Jordan said those younger artists paying tribute to his band is a reason why they still keep a very busy tour schedule.
“Today’s music fans listen to these music samples and they want to know what else we’ve done. Then they find some music from the past and they want to come see us play. I call them the Young Googlers. A lot of them come out with their parents and you can seem them Googling with their phones and saying ‘Wow, they did that song too?’” he said.
Mr. Jordan is the only original member remaining in the group. Four longtime members left the band in 1996 when they tried to wrestle control of War from record producer Jerry Goldstein, who helped start the group. Those four then started their own outfit known as the Lowrider Band.
Mr. Jordan said he stuck around because he was having too much fun and, besides, he doesn’t think fans care about the behind the scenes squabbling anyway.
“They couldn’t care less. They just want to be entertained. They don’t want to know about your problems. It’s like sports, I don’t want to hear about the personal problems of the players. I just want to watch the game,” he said.
“Some people love chaos. But I just wanted to nip all that in the bud and continue playing the music that I’ve always loved. I have no animosity toward the other guys. We had a great run. Life is too short to hate. Hate causes diseases. The word shouldn’t even be in the dictionary.”
He said they decided to call the band ‘War’ to get the public’s attention. But it was never meant to be taken maliciously.
“The difference with our War was it is for peace and letting people know that our choice of weapons is instruments and not guns. We shoot out rhythm and harmony,” he said.
Mr. Jordan is also quick to point out that the band is not political in any way.
“We don’t get too deeply into all that. When we sing ‘I’d kind of like to be the president. So I can show you how your money’s spent,’ we aren’t talking about a specific president. We are just talking about what we would do if we were the president. It’s the same with the line ‘The color of your skin don’t matter to me. As long as we can live in harmony.’ We are just looking to rid ourselves of racism and hate,” he said.
Mr. Jordan says he is still having a ball spreading that message.
“I’ve having the best time of my life. I’m having more fun making (fans) smile and having them give it back to me. I’m just having a good time in the moment,” he said.
“If I am ever sick or have any kind of an illness, in that moment, there is no illness, no pain, no sadness, no anger and no hate. All we have is love.”
Tickets for the 9 p.m. show are $35 to $55 and can be purchased by visiting doverdowns.com.