It's always nostalgic when icons of the past perform together, but when Cheech and Chong and War take the stage, it's a blast. The two groups, who share a similar fan base, will appear at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Saturday.
“War and Cheech and Chong grew up together,” Tommy Chong said.
The comedians, Chong and Cheech Marin, and the genre-blending band are contemporaries and have a mutual appreciation for each other's talents, so much so that Cheech and Chong's manager, Jimmy Root, began introducing their act with War's song “Lowrider.” It fit so well that even today when people hear the tune, Cheech and Chong immediately come to mind, Chong said.
Four years ago the comedians were contacted by War, which wanted to work with them on some material. The result is the song “That L.A. Sunshine,” which is on “Evolutionary” (Universal Music Enterprises), War's first studio album in 20 years. It's also included on the band's remastered platinum effort from 1976, “Greatest Hits,” which will be available digitally for the first time. War planned a summer tour in support of the two recordings and invited Cheech and Chong to join it.
“I'm having a blast working with Cheech and Chong. In a sense, it's a reunion for us because they used our music in their first movie, ‘Up in Smoke.' That was the first time our music was ever used in a movie and it snowballed from there,” said Lonnie Jordan, the lead vocalist and keyboardist of War, and the band's only remaining original member since its formation in 1969.
Cheech and Chong formed in the late '60s as well and lasted until 1985, when they split due to creative differences. In 2008, the men decided to reunite and began touring again.
“We started doing bits we never did onstage before,” Chong said. “On the reunion tour we did some of our famous recordings live. It was a treat to ourselves. We have nine albums and have not done the material live.”
Until recently, popular bits like “Dave's Not Here” and “Sister Mary Elephant” could only be heard on Cheech and Chong's recordings. Fans at the Greek Theatre will hear these favorites and many more at the show.
Chong said many artists tire of doing the same old material, but he recognizes that the classic pieces are what the audience wants and entertainers should be happy to please their fans.
“If you go to see Bob Dylan, you want to hear ‘Blowing in the Wind.' If you go to see the Rolling Stones, you want to hear ‘Satisfaction.' If you see the Beatles, you want to hear ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' ” Chong said. “We've learned to embrace our signature bits.”
Chong's wife, Shelby Chong, is also a comedian and will open the concert, as well as hold a Q&A with Cheech and Chong before they launch into their set.
Chong was involved in the entertainment industry in Canada before he met Marin — he played guitar for the soul group the Shades. The band changed its name several times and was signed to Gordy Records (a subsidiary of Motown Records) as the Vancouvers in 1965. The group's debut single, Chong's co-composition “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” charted at 29 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Vancouvers broke up after a few years, but the band's loss is our gain since it led to Chong hooking up with Marin for a wealth of humor. Many times, material was sparked from a comment Marin would make.
“It has always been that Cheech says something accidentally,” Chong said.
One time, the two comedians were riding in the backseat of Jack Nicholson's car and the A-lister's driving made Marin nervous, Chong said. Throughout the trip, Marin calmed himself by sing-songing the words “basketball jones.” The next day in the studio, Chong recalled the little phrase and they fleshed it out into the song. Chong said he has a terrific memory for anything that could be music or comedy fodder.
Chong is quick to laugh, but gets serious when he talks about why the duo has been so successful.
“Honesty; staying pure to the truth,” Chong said. “We're both musicians and musicians tune up before they play and we've always been in tune.”
Still, Chong cites live performance as the key to staying popular.
“It was magic from the beginning. Cheech is a genius and he was born with the ability to mimic. I love to laugh,” Chong said.
Cheech and Chong is going strong, yet the men find time for other projects. Marin has a traveling exhibit of Chicano art, while Chong has completed filming “It's Gawd,” in which he plays “a nice hippie version of God.”
Chong is also branding a range of cannibis-based products, such as hemp and vitamin-infused water, makeup remover, a skin care line and hemp-based foods. He touts hemp and vegetarianism as helping him fight prostate cancer (he announced he has slow, stage I prostate cancer in 2012) and expounds marijuana for its medicinal uses, as well as being good for the economy.
cheech and chong and war
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.
Information: 323-665-5857, www.greektheatrela.com.
Follow Michelle Mills on Twitter: @mickieszoo