- Melina Paris
It’s About the Music
By Melina Paris, Music Columnist
To see Harold Brown walking through downtown Long Beach, talking to people in his neighborhood and picking up trash, you wouldn’t assume he is one of the men — the drummer — behind the hit’s Cisco Kid, Low Rider, Why Can’t We Be Friends and The World is a Ghetto.
He has come full circle, living in Long Beach, where he grew up.
“I’ve been sincerely blessed to stay in the arts district in downtown Long Beach,” Brown said. “I get out and walk the streets and talk to the young people and to the homeless…. God put me back here so that I could make a difference, not with just my music, but with strength and tenacity to fight the powers that be … and to stand up.”
Harold Brown, Howard Scott, Lee Oskar and Morris “B.B.” Dickerson make up the core of The Lowrider Band, which is more than a band, it’s a brotherhood, he said.
On Sept. 1, the group will bring its original music and some new material to the New Blues Festival in Long Beach. The festival performance will feature Brown and Scott along with a few guest artists who they have played with in the past, including, Tex Nakamura, Chazz Green, Charles Barber, Pete Cole and Calvin Mosely.
Scott and Brown met in 1962 as high school students in Long Beach. It was then when Brown told Scott he wanted to put a band together. They went on to make some of the biggest hits of the 1970s, [under another name that they cannot mention due to a trademark dispute].
“It’s not about the name; it’s about the music,” Brown said. “It’s about bringing people together.”
Back then, they were called The Creators. They played in the local clubs, including the Sahara on Vermont Avenue, south of Century Boulevard and Big Mama Thornton’s club called The Web, on Western Avenue, south of Manchester. Eventually the band made its way to performing The Whiskey A-Go-Go in 1964.
These men grew up in a world full of music, even before all that happened.
“Back in the 60s and 70s the arts were still in the schools,” Brown said. “Kids were being taught violin, trumpet, all the string instruments. Also, part of it [was that] they [offered] machine shop and wood shop. I remember building me a checker board and then I started building my own bongos in school.”
It was a fascinating time to Brown. Schools were teaching orchestra and jazz. And then, people started to play more rhythm and blues and Latin music. Brown and his peers felt that music all blended together, especially in the melting pot of Los Angeles.
“[Suddenly], people started getting out of their neighborhoods,” Brown said. “We started getting out of Compton. It was because of transportation. More young people had cars. And, at that time the kids were building lowriders. We were going from one neighborhood to another — from Pomona to Malibu — and that’s where we got the idea for that song, The World is a Ghetto. We saw flat tires on cars, water was backed up and flood water was not going down the gutters.”
Brown said living in Long Beach was a beautiful experience. He and his friends would walk down to the beach. They walked along Anaheim and heard music coming out of the bars the churches and schools. This was live music, not boomboxes or car radios. They would hear somebody in their garage, beating on drums, or hear them in their house practicing a horn.
“That’s how Charles Miller, the writer behind Low Rider, discovered me,” Brown said. “He met me when he was walking down Lemon Avenue and he heard me playing drums in my garage.”
Another time, Brown was driving and saw Papa Dee Allen playing a conga and his bongos in a gas station while he was waiting to get an oil change.
“I’ve never seen anyone play congas and the bongos at the same time. I said, ‘Hey, you wanna be in a band?’” And that’s how Papa Dee joined the band.
In Brown’s early years with The Creators, they played whatever was on the jukebox to keep people dancing, songs by James Brown, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Bobby Blue Bland and B.B. King.
“We played anything we felt,” Brown said. “Like James Brown used to do when he was dancing, [the guys] would get out and do these moves. Little did we know that was going to be a blessing and a gift to us. That enabled us to create music from various grooves, whether it was blues, a boog-a-loo song, funk or Latin. We grew up between Long Beach, Compton and San Pedro and there was a lot of Latin music. There was a gumbo of nationalities.”
Culture of Now
Brown said education fostered music in the past. He believes the internet helps foster musical experimentation now. But children also need guidance. This is where organizations like the New Blues Society have stepped up with their Blues in the School program. Brown sees that spark of inspiration when he works in the program on Saturdays, tutoring students at the school. Professional blues artists work, hands on, with musically inclined students at Poly High. The musicians speak to students about the art of music, and creating and performing it.
“I love that they reach out to veterans,” he said. “I like the idea that they work within the school system. I like that they are working with the homeless, doing concerts to raise money for homeless charities. I like that they have been going into senior citizen homes performing and working with them.”
Brown has noticed young people playing analog with digital music. For instance, they’ll play an acoustic guitar and record that alongside a digital beat blending it together and then post it online.
“Actually the world has evolved, just like when we came up,” Brown said. “[There was] tape, and after 15 or 20 years it went digital. And now, even digital I’m watching it evolve to where people can actually record and make their own videos, post them and make them go viral.”
Because the Lowrider Band hasn’t been seen in Long Beach for “a minute” they will play all the hits people know them for.
“You’ll know it’s us because we never play our music the same way twice,” Brown said. “The more people communicate, the more we find we’re alike. I want to send out our love to Lonnie Jordan and all those guys who are touring and keeping our music alive.”
New Blues Festival
Time: 6 p.m. Sept. 1
Cost: $45 to $250
Venue: El Dorado Regional Park, 7550 E. Spring St., Long Beach