Pioneering can be a difficult cross to bear, especially in the music business. Being the first to try something new within a genre is a daunting task. Especially when it comes to hard rock, a genre dominated by larger-than-life personalities,
Living Colour bucked the trend of hard rock in the 1980s by infusing funk and avant-garde guitar work into the nearly all-white genre, picking up devoted fans and two Grammy Awards, going on tour with Guns N' Roses and the Rolling Stones, and creating an environment and message to other minority musicians that music is for everyone, no matter the genre.
Formed in 1984 by English-born guitarist Vernon Reid with the help of the New York-based music organization the Black Rock Coalition (which Reid also helped formed), Living Colour went through a few iterations before finally settling on the quartet of Reid, Muzz Skillings on bass (who has since left the group and was replaced by Doug Wimbish), Will Calhoun on drums, and lead singer Corey Glover.
Glover remembers those early days of Living Colour in New York, circa 1984.
"What you heard on the radio oftentimes did not reflect what was going on in the streets and in the clubs," he says. "Trying to get a record deal was also
Around his time, Glover was also shooting the Oliver Stone Vietnam War film Platoon. "I had just gotten into Living Colour, so one of the things I had to do the day I got Platoon
Upon Glover's return, Living Colour prepped to release its debut album, Vivid, which includes the lead single "Cult of Personality." On the strength of the song's lyrics, frenetic guitar solos, and memorable riff, "Cult" became a radio hit. But even with a hit single, things didn't come easily.
"We dealt with a lot of overt and subliminal racism when it came to a band like ours," Glover says. "Beyond the skin color, it was the way we dressed, and people thought, 'What are you, a reggae band?' We were a band without a country. We weren't metal enough to be a metal band, not punk enough to be a punk band, and not R&B enough to be an R&B group."
Nearly 30 years after the release of Vivid, Living Colour is set to release its first album in seven years, Shade, what has been called a "deconstruction of the blues."
Glover explains: "There is a musical construction of the blues; it's a 4/4-time signature. We'll take that timing and put different ideas in musically. Thematically, the blues goes from elation to sorrow, but there are so many places left and right of elation and sorrow, on top of a major social component, and we want to explore that with this album."
As election season ramps into full gear, revealing some presidential hopefuls' and their followers' less flattering sides, the band's signature song seems more topical than ever.
"It's not just [Donald] Trump. There is a cult of [Barack] Obama; there is a cult of Bernie Sanders," Glover says. "People like Trump have been constructed by us to fit what we want to hear and what we want. The same thing with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders."
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Even with their continuing influence (a new generation has been introduced to the band in
"There are plenty of bands redefining the stereotype," Glover says. "The place where we're trying to get to is where it doesn't matter, and I think we're halfway there. Unfortunately, we haven't gotten to that place where it isn't strange to have different members of a band with different ethnic backgrounds. We're still working it out, but we'll get there."
With Kaleido. 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $22.50 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.