The song was written by group members Thomas Allen, B.B. Dickerson, Harold Brown, and Charles Miller. The song is on their 1972 album The World is a Ghetto. In 1973, the single then went to #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the R&B Chart. It went all the way to #1 on the Canadian singles chart. It remains their highest-charting song. The album sold more than one million copies and was awarded an RIAA gold record.
Cisco and Poncho mentioned in the song are the two cowboys from the 1950s TV Western program The Cisco Kid. Some dialogue from the TV show is included in the background of the song at one point.
War was originally called Eric Burdon and War. Burdon was the ex-lead of the British group The Animals. He and record producer Jerry Goldstein worked with Howard Scott and Harold Brown, who had a group called The Creators, in Long Beach, California, to form a band whose members loved playing all kinds of music. They fused rock, funk, jazz, Latin, rhythm and blues, and reggae into a fun mixture. Personnel at the time of “The Cisco Kid” included Howard Scott (guitar, percussion vocals), B.B. Dickerson (bass, percussion, vocals), Lonnie Jordan (organ, piano, timbolies, percussion, vocals), Harold Brown (drums, percussions, vocals), Papa Dee Allen (conga, bongos, percussion, vocals), Charles Miller (clarinet, alto, tenor and baritone saxes, percussion, vocals), Lee Oskar (harmonica, percussion, vocals). Burden left the group in 1971. There were many other changes, but the group continues to tour and perform.