The Long Beach New Blues Festival featuring The Lowrider Band as part of their main stage musical events takes place this Labor Day weekend. The 5th Annual New Blues Festival, put on by blues lover/producer/musician Bill Grisiola, along with the Long Beach Blues Society, has become a showcase for not only straight-ahead blues but also a wide variety of bands whose blues-tinged music show us the incredible range of this genre.
The Lowrider Band has a storied past, one of the groups that had a major impact in musical history. Coming out of the Los Angles/Long Beach/Compton area in 1962, they first came to prominence when Eric Burdon left the Animals to work together with them under their original name, War.
Eventually going their own way and producing a string of monster hits which are staples of the music scene to this day, the core members of the group went off under the new name Lowrider Band, named of course after one of their most popular hits, a song which was elected into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2014.
This year, the Long Beach New Blues Festival featuring The Lowrider Band—Howard Scott, guitar, Harold Brown, drums, Lee Oskar, harmonica, BB Dickerson, bass—are joined by Lance Ellis (saxophone, flute), Pete Cole (keyboard), and Chuck Barber (percussion) and will be quite the musical event to see. For this show only, Lee Oskar will be replaced by Tex Nakamura on harmonica, himself a 15-year veteran of War.
Harold Brown answered several questions for The Los Angeles Beat about the Lowrider Band‘s history as well as the Long Beach New Blues Festival featuring The Lowrider Band.
Author’s note: I have chosen to use Brown’s comments in their entirety. Sometimes it works to edit them, but the passion, feeling, and stories from Brown work best when you hear it exactly as he says it:
“Hello First off I/we want to thank Bill and All of the folks that have been working so hard to put on this New Blues Festival for the 5th time, And having us the Lowrider Band which consist of four members [Howard Scott, Morris BB Dickerson, Lee Oskar and Brown] that wrote and performed hit Songs; Such as ‘Low Rider’, ‘Cisco Kid’, ‘World is a Ghetto’, ‘Slipping Into Darkness’, ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’, and more, which has made our music world known.”
How does it feel to return to Long Beach to play at the New Blues Festival?
“Returning to Long Beach is full circle for music and creativity. Charles W. Miller and I met here in Long Beach around 1960. Charles lived on Lemon and I Harold Brown lived at 1095 East 21st Street, on the corner of Lemon and 21st street. Charles was walking down the street and heard me beating on my Drums. I was maybe 16/17 and Charles was 7 Years older than me. Charles was always like a big Brother to Me. When you hear ‘Low Rider’ Charles is doing the Lead Vocal. Also the famous horn parts with Lee Oskar Harmonica.
Howard Scott at that time was living in Compton on School Street. Through a strange twist of faith, I got a call for a casual date at the Cozy Lounge located where Orange and Alamitos street come together. When we hooked up with Eric Burdon from the Animals to do his project Eric Burdon and War, we would rehearse on Hill and Lemon Avenue in Long Beach. This is where Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr (AKA Snoop Dogg) would hear us practicing with Eric Burdon, along with Sylvester “Papa Dee” Allen, Howard Scott, Morris D Dickerson AKA “BB”, Lee Oskar, Charles W Miller, Leroy Lonnie Jordan and me … So here we are Howard Scott and me back in a full circle feeling the energy and the spirit of where we came from.”
Your music still seems fresh after all these years. Why do you think your songs stay timeless and current?
“As a friend and buddy, Bob Marley, once said to me while walking down the streets of Atlanta Georgia; ‘Brown, Brown! You’re Band like My Band. You Street Band, I do Song for you! Stand Up Stand Up For Your Rights!’ Our Brother Bob knew what issues we were dealing with in the early 1970’s our song ‘Slipping Into Darkness’, which was mainly inspired by Howard Scott was Bob Marley’s inspiration to pin Stand Up For Your Rights [‘Get Up, Stand Up’]. The songs that we wrote came from our day to day survival and living in the inner cities. When we wrote, we did not write what was being played on the radio stations, we wrote about life as it played out in front of us—’The World Is a Ghetto Inspired’ by Sylvester ‘Papa Dee” Allen. As Papa Dee and me would make our runs from Pomona California to Hollywood, Watts, Compton, and San Pedro back to Pomona California, we would get a firsthand look at what was taking place in our communities.
So our songs have been able to stand the times as the New Generations New Politicians and Promises, but a lot of the same conditions and problems still exist in the inner cities and beyond our communities.”
Here’s one of the Songs with Eric Burdon “Eric Burdon & War – “Gun”
“Low Rider” is such a monster tune that it has become part of our culture. How did that song come about?
“The first Recyclers were Low Riders. I can remember us going to the wrecking yards taking old bang up jalopies and rebuilding them and creating a brand new ride. Our big brother Charles W. Miller was one of those original Low Riders. I can remember us taking all the side streets to get to our destinations. Driving in the slow lanes—back in those days we drove the slow lane, low, slow—listening to oldies, but goodies and takin’ in the view. A lot of the time we would get off the main highways and roll through the cities, knowing all the shortcuts across the city streets, the ‘The low rider knows all the streets, the Low rider knows all the people he meet and greet.’ The Low Rider still practices ‘Old School Values’—do unto others as you would want done unto you … Hello!”
Most of the core genres you combine into your music have the blues at their heart. Do you think the New Blues Festival will be an exciting venue for your music? How did you come about combining so many different genres into your music?
“When we became a band back in 1962, some of us as the creators were doing gigs all around Southern California—Long Beach, San Pedro, Compton, South Los Angeles, Watts, Holly Wood and all points in between. We met artists such as Big Mama Thornton, Sam Cooke, Sims Twins, and Lowell Fulson—whom Howard and I met across the Street from his home on School Street. Back in those days, we found ourselves playing in Country and Western clubs, hearing Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Mongo Santa Maria, Harry Belafonte.
Doing those days in the 1950’s we heard a lot so types of music, because in Southern California we had Latino, Cubano, African, Blues, Jazz, Classical and a lot of Gospel music coming out from everywhere. It was not unusual for us walking or driving down the streets of Compton, Long Beach, San Pedro and Los Angeles hearing music coming from somewhere. Garages, bars, churches and hearing all types of music coming from everywhere. Country & Western hearing the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Mongo Santa Maria, Harry Belafonte. You might say Our Music is a Gumbo of our Society. Like most great music, it’s simple, keeping to the basics … ‘It Don’t Mean a Thang If It Ain’t Got That Swang’ Tony Bennett!”
Is there a favorite story from your musical history that you have?
“Yes! It was September 16, 1970, and Jimi Hendrix and I were in SOHO in London late afternoon/early evening and Jimi was walking in front of me and I asked Jimi, ‘Where we going?’ And said to me, ‘Come on Brown, I am going to show you how to eat when you come to Europe.’ We went to an Indian Restaurant, which was downstairs in a basement-like. When it came to order we ordered Tandoori Chicken. Wow, it was good and the food reminded me of American Soul Food. We ate and made our way on back towards Ronnie Scotts, which was located at 47 Firth St, SoHo, and London W1D 4HT, UK. Well, that night we—Eric Burdon, along with [the Lowrider Band] and me—played a show and there in the audience was Jimi Hendrix and a few more artists checking us out.
Well after the show we all went our ways back to our hotels. The next night we all made our way back to Ronnie Scott’s for our last show for the weekend before we headed back to the United States. It seemed like a normal last night for our final show … meeting greeting our new fans, and among the fans was Jimi Hendrix. And we all were having a good time, a few drinks here and there, and then we got to a point in the show where Eric Burdon invited Jimi Hendrix to come on stage for a jam. Little did we know that this would be his last Jam. Jimi was standing over my left shoulder and we were doing a double shuffle “4/4 Bopa Bopa, Bopa Bopa” about 90 beats per second and to this day I can still hear his voice talking into my left hear saying, “Yes Brown, right there” and seeing his right hand to my right over my Floor Tom.
It seems like it was a couple of years ago even though it happened the night of September 17, 1970 …. We all made on back to our hotels and that morning of September 18, 1970, around 4:00 a.m. We got that call from Eric Burdon that Jimi had “transitioned.” When we got back to USA, I went to my record collection—side by side was a The Jimi Hendrix Experience album and Eric Burdon Declares ‘War’ album. That time, and experience, is etched into our Souls.”
Are you pleased that “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” has become somewhat of an anthem for generations and even played by NASA in space?
“We wrote Why Can’t We Friends? when we were traveling a lot to foreign countries. We felt if you took two guys from different nationalities, but they speak the same language, eat some of the same foods and somewhat the same culture, and dropped them off in a foreign land, swamp, desert or jungle, they would very soon become friends. This is why it’s very important that everyday people need to get off their couches, get off their cell phones, and talk with each other—looking each other in the face and being honest and real to each other. The more we communicate with each other the more we will find that we are more alike inside than on the outside. You say you want respect. To get respect You/we must give respect to each other. God created all of us. We must look out for each other … The only folks that gain from wars are profiteers … They have no God, but gain. So let’s all be friends!”
“Teach Peace and Art Not Hate and War” … Hello! – Original Lowrider Band
Thanks, Harold. See you at the Long Beach New Blues Festival featuring The Lowrider Band!
This year, the weekend features the Six String Showdown finals, a competition that in their regional events for the last few months has been finding the best of the best in new and local blues guitarist talent. On the main stages, national talent such as Janiva Magness, Bernie Pearl and Barbara Morrison, James Harman, Blind Lemon Peel, New Blues Revolution, Boxcar 7, Stoney B. Blues and Southside Slim, are just a few.
Long Beach New Blues Festival featuring The Lowrider Band
The New Blues Festival V returns to El Dorado Regional Park in Long Beach for its fifth year, featuring two full days of the best in Blues, R&B and Soul music from some of today’s biggest acts, at 7550 E. Spring St., in Long Beach.
Gates open at 9 a.m. and music starts at 10 a.m., both days. Tickets: $45. (General Admission/Single Day Pass); $75. (Weekend Pass (Saturday/Sunday); Gold Ticket/Single Day Pass, $75; Gold Ticket, Weekend Pass (Saturday/Sunday), $150.; VIP Single Day Pass, $140. VIP/Weekend Pass (Saturday/Sunday), $250. Children 12 and under free with paid adult. Info: (707) 572-5837 or http://www.newbluesfestival.com. Direct link for purchasing tickets: http://www.newbluesfestival.com/tickets/.
Also, visit the Lowrider Band website for more information.