When the Latin-funk-rock band War takes the Live Off The Levee stage on Saturday night, listeners no doubt will expect to hear many of the group’s familiar songs from the 1970s. However, the group that will be pumping out renditions of tunes such as “Low Rider,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” and “All Day Music” will feature just one musician who was part of War in their hit-making days.
Keyboard player and singer Lonnie Jordan is the only original member of War still playing with the band, having joined forces with manager Jerry Goldstein to wrest legal control of the group’s name from the other surviving members, bassist B.B. Dickerson, guitarist Howard Scott, drummer Harold Brown and harmonica player Lee Oskar, who now perform together as the Low Rider Band.
War is hardly the only touring act these days performing with just one original member, but how such bands are received depends on a lot of factors, including the creative role and relative prominence of a given band’s standard-bearer.
For example, fans of The Cure seem unbothered by the group’s many lineup changes as long as front man Robert Smith is there.
King Crimson founder and guitarist Robert Fripp has also employed many different musicians over the years without alienating his band’s followers.
On the other hand, in the case of a group such as War, which built its sound on collective songwriting and jam-derived grooves devised by all its members – most of whom are still around and eager to perform - many fans might conclude that the legal rights to the band’s name and its true creative legacy have, to put it politely, diverged.
To be sure, Jordan isn’t the only well-known musician to have taken his former partners to court over the ownership of a band name. One of most famous examples is Mike Love, lead singer of the Beach Boys and now the only original member of that venerable act. To secure the exclusive rights to the still-bankable Beach Boys moniker, Love fought a protracted multi-front legal battle with former bandmates Brian Wilson (the group’s undisputed creative genius) and Alan Jardine as well as the estates of decreased band members Dennis Wilson and Carl Wilson.
Another such famous fight peripherally involved a couple of St. Louis musicians, singer/guitarists Scorr Nienhaus and Terry Rogers, who in the late 1980s and early 1990s played in a version of The Byrds led by that band’s original drummer, Michael Clarke. Clarke battled in court over The Byrds name for years with the group’s other surviving founders, singer/guitarists Roger McGuinn and David Crosby and bassist/singer Chris Hillman, right up until his death in 1993.
Indeed, after legal disagreements, the Grim Reaper would appear to be the other leading cause of veteran musical groups persevering with just one original member. The death of bass singer Melvin Franklin in 1996 left Otis Williams as the sole survivor of the original Temptations.
Marshall Tucker Band lead singer Doug Gray continues to tour with new sidemen after the passing of former collaborators Toy Caldwell, Tommy Caldwell and George McCorkle.
(Marshall Tucker Band)
Bar-Kays’ leader and bassist James Alexander has rebuilt his band several times over the years, most famously when he reformed the Memphis soul and funk group with new musicians after losing several members in the same plane crash that killed Otis Redding.
-- Dean C. Minderman