SOUTH SHORE—The Great South Bay Music Festival in Patchogue, along with the region’s record-breaking heat wave, is now over. Taking Back Sunday and everyone else who kicked off the first day of the festival on Thursday, July 18 were greeted with some clouds, while the long-renowned group America had to cut their Sunday night set short due to a lightning storm. But, for everyone else, it was clear blue skies and heat. Lots and lots of heat.
We spoke with one of the festival’s performers, Lonnie Jordan, from the band War, shortly before his set on Sunday evening. Coming off the four-day festival, the latest heat wave, which reached temperatures at or near 100 degrees across the Northeast and Midwest, invoked one of War’s most famous songs, “Summer,” which was released in 1976. The track, Jordan said, was inspired by a heat wave that hit New York City decades ago. The third verse describes “young boys playin’ stickball in the street” and using fire hydrants to help “beat the heat.”
Jordan, a California native, said the song’s imagery centers heavily around New York, which served as one of the band’s earliest “cities of travel.” “I loved New York back then. I love New York now. It’s such a big place. A big, small place,” he laughed.
Jordan cites James Brown, Ray Charles, The Everly Brothers, and Elvis Presley as some of his biggest musical influences. “The list goes on,” he said, noting the impact genres like blues, jazz, gospel and Latin music had on his work. “It’s a mixture of everything. That’s why our music had so many different genres.”
In their heyday, War was at least partly known for its multi-ethnic lineup, a trend that has continued to this day. When asked if the diversity was intentional, Jordan said, “It was just an experience from the streets. To this very day, I call our music ‘universal street music.’ If the tape was running, we’d improvise.”
Jordan, the only original member in the current lineup, credits former band mate Eric Burdon, from The Animals, with facilitating this approach. Jordan looked back on his time with Burdon fondly, while also trying to recall the approximate year of the Eric Burdon & War reunion at the Royal Albert Hall in London, which occurred on April 21, 2008.
“Never expect a 71-year-old person like me to remember anything to do with numbers,” he remarked with a laugh.
Jordan doesn’t have a favorite place to perform. “Everywhere is beautifully the same. Just as long as everyone’s happy,” he said, adding that he could lie and say New York or Long Island is his favorite, but that’s “been done before.”
On the subject of touring, Jordan said he sees “clearer” now than he did years ago. “Back then, there was a lot of fog in my head. I was younger, a little bit wild, and I really don’t remember too much. But thank God I can now.”
Jordan also credits his vegan lifestyle with giving him more energy.
In regards to the recording process, Jordan said, “You don’t have to go into a big studio anymore and go through all that slicing of tapes. You can fix things easier now, but I prefer the old-school way,” he laughed.
War’s music has appeared in numerous films. “Low Rider” has appeared in over a dozen alone, but perhaps the most iconic use is in the opening credits of Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke.”
“Spill the Wine” can also be heard in “Boogie Nights” and “Remember the Titans,” while “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” plays during the closing credits of “Lethal Weapon 4.”
“I can’t remember all of them,” Jordan laughed. “They’re all good, though, because they made noise, and [it] helped people who didn’t know the music hear it for the first time, and if they liked what they heard, they would check out some more.”
When asked if music still means the same thing to him as it did when his career started, Jordan said, “Everyone has a different message. Everyone has a different form of art for expression.
“Every day, music is different. Every day, music changes, just like lyrics. A new song. A new technology. I’m always open for change. Whatever we did back in the ’70s is, of course, different today, but I’m not mad at it. As long as [the message] gets to the public.”