COUPLING A FUNK FEEL WITH LATIN and reggae infl uences, War bassist Morris “B.B.” Dickerson created smokin' grooves that continue to burn like a Southland heatwave. Dickerson co-wrote and played on all of War’s seminal hits—“Spill the Wine,” “The Cisco Kid,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends?,” and the iconic “Low Rider”—supporting and interacting with the songs’ vocal narratives with meaty hooks that sit heavy in the mix. Dickerson currently plays in the Low Rider Band with four of the five surviving members of War.
“Spill the Wine” is a free-flowing song that rises and falls with the story, sung by Eric Burdon. How did that magic happen?
It was all about feeling it from Eric’s point of view. He wanted to do something about being on a date with girl, and to get into the characters. That was before I switched to playing fingerstyle; I plucked the bass with my thumb. The session was at [the Mamas & the Papas founder] John Phillips’s house. We recorded that first album—from beginning to end—in one night. The next morning, we heard on the news that the Charles Manson Family had committed murders at the LaBianca house, right around the corner from where we recorded. We felt lucky to be alive.
How did you bring “The Cisco Kid” to life?
Our guitar player, Howard Scott, brought that character to the table. He told us he wanted to sing about the Cisco Kid, because he was the only cowboy he knew about who could keep his hat on throughout a fight. We tried to create something that conveyed the concept of this Mexican cowboy, and I aimed to provide such a solid foundation that the voices and melodic instruments could do this or that without ever losing the hat.
“Why Can’t We Be Friends?” is a fun groove. How did that song come about?
It was 1975, and our producer Jerry Goldstein wanted us to do something that would exemplify an upcoming meeting of Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts through a portal on a spaceship [the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project]. We wrote “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” collectively in the studio. Once everybody was satisfied with the chord changes, I tried to find a bass line that wove them all together and reflected the significance of the song. It must have worked, because NASA wound up using the song for the broadcast.
It has a reggae feel. Was Aston “Family Man” Barrett of the Wailers an influence for you?
Family Man was a key figure in the development of my bass playing. If you really listen, he says the same things through his bass that Bob Marley says with his lyrics and melodies. That’s because Family Man was really listening to what Marley was saying and meaning. That’s what I try to do too—tap into a song’s message.
HEAR HIM ON
War, Best of War [Far Out, 2010]
Bass Fender Jazz Bass
Rig Ampeg SVT head, Ampeg 2x15 cabinet
Strings Ernie Ball 2808 Group IV fl atwounds (.040–.095)