Lonnie Jordan swears he didn't punch Jim Morrison. Don't listen to what anyone at that party at Eric Burdon's house tells you — the longtime keyboardist for quintessentially L.A. band War vividly remembers the details.
"I put my finger on [Morrison's] chest and he fell backward into the fireplace in slow motion," Jordan says nearly a half-century later, laughing poolside at his Whittier house, which is adorned with War plaques, posters and awards. "He curled up into the fetal position and stayed there."
This was shortly after Burdon and their future manager and producer, Jerry Goldstein, found the band backing football star Deacon Jones at North Hollywood club Rag Doll and plucked them from semi-obscurity. With the former Animals singer as their new frontman, they cut "Spill the Wine," which launched them to stardom.
The Morrison fracas occurred during a party-turned–late night jam session with War and Burdon. According to Jordan, everyone was on acid but him. It all started when Morrison leapt up onto Jordan's piano in a Superman outfit.
"He said, 'I bet you'd like to hit me, huh?' I said, 'Man, you need to get out my face ... or take a nap,'?" Jordan says. "He kept his fists up, and I'm from Compton, so I knew I had to be alert. Next thing I knew, he was in the fireplace."
The story concludes with a woman frantically running into the house, screaming "James, James, has anyone seen James?"
Jordan pointed to the fireplace; she scooped him up and took him home. He later discovered that Morrison idolized Burdon and often wound up passed out on couches or bathrooms at his parties.
The 68-year-old has enough surreal tales for several lifetimes. Jimi Hendrix sat in with War for his final performance. ("He wanted to jam with us ... we ended up doing 'Mother Earth' by Memphis Slim, and he went back to Mother Earth the next day.") There's the War gig in San Francisco, where a campaigning Bill Clinton joined them for a sax riff or two. ("He couldn't play a lick, but he had the attitude of a musician.")
Even if he'd lacked stories about his collaborators, the work War has left behind is canonical enough. The Compton High grad learned drums, piano and bass as a child. His grandmother, who sang gospel and blues, mostly raised him and his three brothers. He joined War as a teen, when they were still called Nightshift.
The L.A. analog to Sly and the Family Stone or Santana, War remains a multi-ethnic ensemble that distilled the city's eclectic chaos into a coherent sound — fusing rock, jazz, R&B, funk, salsa, psychedelia, blues and reggae. Their biggest post-Burdon hits, "Why Can't We Be Friends," "Low Rider" and "The Cisco Kid," will rightfully be played on oldies radio for eternity. Rap brought them a second wave of relevancy, as Ice T, The Beastie Boys, De La Soul, 2Pac and Brand Nubian sampled their music.
A 1996 falling-out with Goldstein led the remaining original members, save for Jordan, to reform as the Lowrider Band. Jordan has carried on the War name, performing internationally and domestically, including an upcoming show at the Greek.
"It was all street communication," Jordan says. "We came from the streets, and our music was rooted in that. I always say that our fans are the ones who wrote the lyrics because we just that took that experience and set it to music."
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War | Greek Theatre | 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz | Sat., May 27, 7 p.m. | $29.50-$125.50 | lagreektheatre.com