The Hippo


Aug 24, 2019








Vernon Reid. Courtesy photo.

Living Colour

When: Sunday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry
Tickets: $50 & $55 at 

A chat with Vernon Reid of Living Colour

By Michael Witthaus

In 2013, Living Colour marked the 25th anniversary of its first album, Vivid. Containing the MTV staple “Cult of Personality,” it netted the band a Grammy, a Saturday Night Live appearance and tours opening for the Rolling Stones and Guns N’ Roses. 

“I think of Vivid as a peak level of joy in my life,” guitarist and cofounder Vernon Reid said in a recent phone interview. 
The metaphor is deliberate; it took a decade-long climb for Reid to move from the NYC jazz funk underground to the world’s first million-selling black rock band.
Early on, rejection was everywhere Reid and his mates went. Countless labels passed until CBS signed them. That happened only after Mick Jagger heard the band and became a champion. 
“It literally took the intervention of the most famous rock star,” Reid said. “Mick Jagger is rock and roll. He embodies it. He defined it.”
The experience was “surreal, weird … uncanny” — and completely unexpected. 
“A big guy in the business once said, ‘I like the idea of Living Colour; I just don’t know if I like it,’” Reid recalled. “We weren’t supposed to do the thing that we did, and we did that thing that we weren’t supposed to do.”
Reid, who cites influences as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, XTC, Chic, Peter Gabriel and War, didn’t buy the notion of a racial divide in music. 
“There was never a conflict in my head about black culture and rock and roll,” he said. “The first concert I ever saw was George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at Madison Square Garden … this crazy, psychedelic dark thing that was unruly and black and completely sideways.”
In 1985, Reid founded the Black Rock Coalition with Village Voice writer Greg Tate and producer Konda Mason. According to its website, the artist collective exists “in reaction to the constrictions that the commercial music industry places on Black artists.”
At the time, Reid and Tate discussed launching a record label. 
“But we didn’t want to make it a business; it was a community and a decision. The Black Rock Coalition starts a conversation that evolves,” he said. “It’s an idea … a language and a moment that it is out here, and exists with bands like TV On the Radio and Bloc Party.”
Living Colour was a regular attraction at CBGB in the mid ’80s and played the iconic Bowery club until it closed in 2006. A live album recorded a year before it shuttered is a powerful and passionate musical document. It contains charged songs like “Terrorism” and “Funny Vibe,” a pointed punk/funk number about walking while black that hasn’t lost a bit of relevance in the 30 years since Reid wrote it. 
“Cult of Personality” and “Glamour Boys” are even more energized, and “Open Letter (To a Landlord)” is powerful and prescient. 
“You hear about end of an era, but when you live through something like that — wow. We were part of the story of a legendary music place,” Reid said, recalling the show. “There are places in the world where music is still in the walls, and CBGB is one of those.”
Apart from a five-year break in the mid ’90s, the band has toured steadily; they come to Tupelo Music Hall once or twice a year. 
“We have a good time,” Reid said. “It’s a small room but the crowd is always enthusiastic.” 
One evening stands out in Reid’s memory. 
“Corey [Glover, the band’s vocalist] had laryngitis and couldn’t sing, but the people in the audience knew the songs and one by one they came up and sang,” he said. “It was crazy, one of those spontaneous things that just doesn’t really happen that often … an unscripted moment.” 
As seen in the February 12, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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