Sounds Visual Radio
Sounds Visual Radio
Episode 162: Harold Ray Brown

Harold Ray Brown is a founding member of the band War. During his tenure with the group, Brown had a number of roles over the years, acting as drummer, percussionist, vocalist, and bandleader.

Brown is the oldest of six children, and the only one in his family to pursue music. Beginning with the congas, Brown progressed to violin while in elementary school, and took up drums in junior high. He turned down a full scholarship to Valparaiso University in 1964 in order to pursue music. He was rooted in the very beginnings of War. In 1962, he met Howard E. Scott at the Cozy Lounge in Long Beach, California. They were fifteen years old at the time and were hired to play in a band for a casual gig.

He started a band called the Creators in 1963 in Long Beach while going to Long Beach Polytechnic High School, to play for high school sock hops and car shows. Then in 1967, toward the end of the Vietnam war, he and Howard Scott restarted the band with a new name, Night Shift. In February 1969 while playing a show at the Rag Doll Night Club in North Hollywood, Eric Burdon and Lee Oskar jammed with the Night Shift; the band changed its name to War.

War’s unique fusion of rock, funk, jazz, and Latin rhythms made them pioneers of a genre that came to be known as “West Coast funk.” As the backbone of the band’s rhythmic section, Harold Brown’s drumming style played a crucial role in shaping War’s signature sound.

Brown’s drumming seamlessly blended various genres, incorporating elements of jazz improvisation, Latin percussion, and solid rock grooves. His ability to switch effortlessly between different rhythmic patterns and adapt to the ever-changing dynamics of the music was instrumental in creating War’s diverse soundscapes. Brown’s powerful yet nuanced playing added depth and intensity to the band’s recordings and live performances.

War’s music carried powerful messages of unity, peace, and social consciousness, addressing important issues of the time, such as racial inequality and war. Brown’s dedication to spreading these messages through his music played a crucial role in War’s impact and enduring legacy.

Brown left the band to attend college in 1983, majoring in computer science, with a minor in music. He then moved to New Orleans in 1986. In 2001, Brown went back to school to pursue his lifelong hobby; he is now a historian and professional tour guide in New Orleans, and has recently formed a new band called the Lowrider Band with three of the other original members of War: Howard E. Scott, Morris “BB” Dickerson, and Lee Oskar. Brown also works with inner-city youth during the summer, to promote good citizenship through the art of fine drumming.

Harold Brown’s contributions to music have been recognized with numerous awards and accolades, including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as a member of War. His distinctive drumming style and commitment to using music as a force for positive change have made him an influential figure in the world of percussion.

Brown is also a founding member of The Music for Every School Foundation.

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