Big Fair Flair
Blue Öyster Cult, WAR bring trove of longtime fan favorites to the Monterey County Fair for a couple of free shows.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
The chances are high that everyone knows at least one tune by each of the two classic rock outfits playing free-with-darn-affordable admission shows at this year’s Monterey County Fair.
Blue Öyster Cult (Thursday 8pm) was the inspiration for what may be the most well known Saturday Night Live sketch of recent memory. If someone says: “We gotta have more cowbell,” an immediate image of Will Ferrell’s belly—bulging out of a tight brown shirt as he pounds on a cowbell to BÖC’s megahit, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”—comes to mind.
“We definitely got a lot of recognition from [the SNL sketch],” says one of Blue Öyster Cult’s original members, Eric Bloom, from his Long Island home. “Even these days, I still embrace the cowbell.”
After nearly 40 years, Bloom says he has yet to grow tired of playing “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and vows BÖC will play the epic ballad at every show it performs, along with its earliest hit “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” and the heavy guitar riffage of “Godzilla.”
“I’ve always believed in the theory that if there’s a song people want to hear, we’re going to play it,” he says. “Sometimes bands will play all new material at shows and leave out the stuff everyone knows and likes and that always pissed me off.”
But looking back, Bloom never imagined the BÖC would still be kicking in 2011, let alone be cementing its status as an iconic relic of pop culture.
“You never know when you’re starting [a band] in your 20s,” he says. “You just hope for the best. People like a lot of our album cuts and our live performances are well-known for being good shows, so that’s helped give us some staying power.”
WAR, also playing the fair (Friday 8pm), is another band that has stood the test of time with a cache of hits that includes “Low Rider,” “Spill the Wine” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends.”
But it’s stuff like “The World is a Ghetto” and “War is Coming” that put WAR on the map as an urban force with a powerful voice, way before bands that followed like The Ohio Players and Earth, Wind and Fire.
“I think we were just ahead of our time, at the time,” says Lonnie Jordan, the last remaining original member of WAR. “Rappers today are more connected to the streets so that’s what they sing about and that’s basically what we were doing in melody form.”
The timeless “The World is a Ghetto” still echoes the struggles of living in an unforgiving concrete jungle: “Walkin’ down the street, smoggy-eyed, looking at the sky, starry-eyed/ Searchin’ for the place, weary-eyed, crying in the night, teary-eyed.”
In the beginning, WAR didn’t set out to make political statements through their music.
“We never intended to sing [about politics],” Jordan says. “We were all about the music but somewhere along there it became grooves with messages.”
Before meeting Eric Burdon (of The Animals) and becoming WAR, Jordan spent years with his original bandmembers playing R&B and blues covers at dive bars around South Los Angeles.
“When Eric hooked up with us and wanted to play the blues—which we could play with our eyes closed—he fell in love with us and we went from there,” Jordan says. “That’s when I was introduced to the world of concerts: seeing women take off their tops, watching people do acid and snorting coke. I came from a world of just drinking cheap wine, some whisky and smoking weed.”
In 2008, Jordan reunited with Burdon for a special, one-night concert at the renowned Royal Albert Hall in London.
“The people loved it,” Jordan says. “I just wish we could have continued a tour. But politics seem to get in the way of the entertainment business more than the political world.”
Though the one gig together was Jordan and Burdon’s first in more than 35 years, the two have remained close, and Jordan still credits the British rock legend with launching his music career and birthing WAR.
“If it wasn’t for Eric, I wouldn’t be here in the entertainment business,” Jordan says. “He taught me a lot. I was very young when I got into the rock and roll world.”
Jordan says the newer members have gleaned from him how to bring the outfit’s classic sound to life.
“They’re learning how to improvise and vibe off the people that are watching,” he says. “After learning the songs, it’s important not to think about them, just play.”
And it’s improvisation that helps keep WAR’s live sets perpetually entertaining.
Currently, WAR is in the studio recording a full-length album of completely new tunes. Jordan hopes a single will be out sometime in January 2012 and the album will follow in the spring. In the meantime, fairgoers and fans alike have plenty of legendary songs to keep them satiated.
Blue Öyster Cult performs 8pm Thursday, Sept. 1, and WAR performs 8pm Friday, Sept. 2, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairgrounds Road, Monterey. Free with fair admission ($8; $4 children). 372-5863.