Friday, August 17, 2012
Formed in New York City in 1984 by guitarist extraordinaire Vernon Reid, Living Colour is known above all else, as the highest profile rock band to have all black members. This does an injustice to the band in my opinion, something of a back-handed compliment if you will, for two main reasons. Firstly, if you consider the beginnings of rock and roll as we know it today, certain names come into sharp focus. Names like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Fats Domino for a start. Look a bit further back and you will see Louis Jordan, Chuck Berry's main influence. Look a bit further ahead and you'll see a gentleman named Jimi Hendrix. Rock pioneers all. Black men every one. Therefore logically speaking, a black rock band should raise no eyebrows or give anyone a bit of pause. Secondly, while these guys rock quite hard, their music was and is a fusion of hard rock, jazz, funk and even hip-hop. They are considerably more than a "rock" band, black or otherwise. Lyrically, they go personal, political and everything in between.
Coming from the The Black Rock Coalition, a non-profit organization founded by Reid and others for musicians of color interested in rock and alternative music, Reid formed several incarnations of Living Colour with varying members and musical styles. It was the final stable line-up of Reid, bassist Muzz Skillings, drummer Will Calhoun and vocalist Corey Glover that would release the album Vivid in 1988. With the help of MTV exposure and consistently impressive live appearances the album went to #6 on the Billboard chart, followed by a tour with The Rolling Stones and an appearance on Saturday Night Live performing what would become their signature song, the massive rocker "Cult Of Personality"
1990 brought the band's second full-length LP, Time's Up, a diverse collection showcasing their many musical influences. Delta blues, funk, heavy metal and hip-hop were all represented with cameos by Little Richard, Maceo Parker, Queen Latifah and Doug E. Fresh. This album earned them a Grammy Award that year for Best Hard Rock Album. In 1991 the band joined the first Lollapalooza Tour and released a collection of out-takes called Biscuits which featured a metal-ized cover of James Brown's classic "Talkin' Loud And Sayin' Nothin'".
Bassist Skillings left the band in 1992 due to musical differences and was replaced by Doug Wimbish. This new line-up released the band's subsequent album, Stain which was not as successful as previous efforts, reaching #26, representing a steady decline in sales from their debut. The band's fan base remained strong but it wasn't enough to prevent the band's break-up in 1995, being unable to reach a concensus on the musical direction of their next album.
Which brings me to another point. I believe Living Colour was in a strange way a victim of their own musical diversity. Unfortunately, the music business needs labels. Whether or not you agree with this (and I do not) it is imperative from a commercial standpoint to be able to market your product to a particular demographic. Record companies need to know if they are selling a rock band to rock fans, a funk band to funk fans, and so on. Living Colour, along with groups like 24-7 Spyz and Bad Brains effortlessly swing from genre to genre, usually on a single album, or for that matter, a single song. While this is a testament to the band's sheer brilliance, it also makes them a difficult sell to the average listener. Focus is what makes most successful rock bands achieve the all-important magic word: accessability. Thus, beyond the hit "Cult Of Personality", Living Colour find themselves with a stong and loyal following, but never the super-stardom they so richly deserve.
The group reformed on December 21 ,2000 at CBGB's This was followed by their fourth studio album, Collideoscope in 2003, their first album to not chart at all, though it was critically acclaimed. In 2006 vocalist Cory Glover took on the role of Judas Escariot in a national tour of Jesus Christ, Superstar. King's X bassist/vocalist Dug Pinnick took over for him in Living Colour until the musical's tour ended in 2008 when Glover rejoined the band.
Chair In The Doorway, the band's latest LP, was released on Megaforce Records in 2009 and sold approximately 2,800 copies its first week and landed at #159 on Billboard's Top 200. The band embarked on a world tour in support of the album. Still active, the band plans to release another album.