Sample Chapter: Living Colour
Memories Can’t Wait
Vivid, Living Colour
Boston Phoenix, January 13, 1989
MUZZ SKILLINGS, THE AMIABLE bassist for Living Colour, well remembers the band’s first club date in Boston. “We opened for Big Audio Dynamite. The audience didn’t know who we were, we weren’t getting paid for the gig, and they didn’t give us a sound check. We were so pissed that we played a real kick-ass show to make sure everybody remembered who we were. For the first couple of tunes, the audience looked at us like ‘Huh? Who are you guys? Are you a funk band, are you a rap band? You guys don’t have a right to play hard rock!’ We just drank it up. But the way we all put out, it’s the kind of thing where if you have half a heart and half a brain, you have to at least respect us.”
Although last year’s debut, Living Colour, doesn’t do justice to their crackling live act, the single, “Cult of Personality,” garnered radio the way a lead track should. Pivoting off brief bursts of guitar and bass that wreak havoc with the beat, guitarist Vernon Reid’s lead steps in and out of the number’s prevailing meter so deftly it almost sounds phoned in from a jazz-fusion record. In fact, Living Colour are one of those rare bands that surpass their combined credentials. Reid used to play with harmolodicist Ronald Shannon Jackson, drummer Will Calhoun attended Berklee, and frontman Corey Glover played Francis in Platoon. Now, with a headline date at the Orpheum Theatre next Saturday night, the band is deservedly poised for bigger and louder things.
Pivoting off brief bursts of guitar and bass that wreak havoc with the beat, guitarist Vernon Reid’s lead steps in and out of the number’s prevailing meter so deftly it almost sounds phoned in from a jazz-fusion record.
Living Colour are the breakthrough outfit from New York’s Black Rock Coalition (BRC), which Reid formed with critic Greg Tate in 1985. Reid says the BRC still confronts a lot of unreal expectations—like “Okay, when are you guys gonna turn this industry around?”—but he insists the idea is more practical than that. “The BRC was formed for two reasons: first, we’re trying to help people survive the rigors of doing what they want to do in the music business. Are you gonna be beaten down or are you going to survive? That’s a struggle that’s not going to end with a record deal. And second, we wanted to get all these people together and get them talking about what’s happening in the world of black musicians.”
Ironically, it wasn’t until Mick Jagger caught one of Living Colour’s sets and oversaw a demo that the band got its first opportunity. Reid played on Jagger’s Primitive Cool, and Jagger produced “Which Way to America” and plays harmonica on “Glamour Boys.” (Reid has also played on the Ambitious Lovers’ Greed and Public Enemy’s Yo Bum Rush the Show.) To be sure, some voices within the BRC resented Jagger as the band’s shoehorn into success. Tate has called Jagger a mere “appropriator” of black creativity. But Skillings is wary of taking a hard line. “The winning is in being yourself, it has to start in your own mind. The first opinion and the one that matters most is the one you have of yourself. Some people—well-meaning but misinformed—still think we’re trying to deny our blackness. And we can’t let those things affect us, we have to keep it in perspective.”