Living Colour is an American rock band from New York City, formed in 1984. Stylistically, the band's music is a creative fusion influenced by free jazz, funk, hip hop, hard rock, and heavy metal. Their lyrics range from the personal to the political, in some of the latter cases attacking Eurocentrism and racism in America.
Living Colour rose to fame with their debut album Vivid in 1988. Although the band scored a number of hits, they are best remembered for their signature song "Cult of Personality", which won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1990. They were also named Best New Artist at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. After disbanding in 1995, Living Colour reunited in late 2000.
Early years (1984–1986)
Living Colour were formed in New York in 1984 by English-born guitarist Vernon Reid. They grew out of the Black Rock Coalition, a non-profit organization founded by (among others) Reid for black musicians interested in playing rock music. Reid was well known on the downtown New York jazz scenes because of his tenure in Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society. Reid assembled a number of bands under the name Living Colour from 1984 to 1986.
Early band members included bassists Alex Mosely, Jerome Harris and Carl James, drummers Greg Carter, Pheeroan Aklaff and J.T. Lewis, keyboardist Geri Allen, and vocalists D.K. Dyson and Mark Ledford, with Reid occasionally singing lead vocals himself. The band's sound was vastly different from the songs that showed up later on their major label recordings. Material from this period included instrumental jazz/funk workouts, politically pointed punk rock burners, experimental excursions via Reid's guitar synth, and an early version of the song "Funny Vibe", which was reworked for their debut album Vivid.
Mainstream success (1986–1991)
In 1986 a stable lineup was formed, consisting of vocalist Corey Glover, bassist Muzz Skillings, and drummer Will Calhoun (who had graduated with honors from Berklee College of Music), and the band hired managers Jim Grant and Roger Cramer. Soon after, the band became experienced at touring, including performing regular gigs at the club CBGB's. Vivid, released on May 3, 1988, gathered sales momentum only when later that year, MTV began playing the video for "Cult of Personality". The album reached No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. On April 1, 1989, the band performed on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Four months later, the band gained further exposure as an opening act, along with Guns N' Roses, for The Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour.
In 1990 the band's second full-length album, Time's Up, featured songs in numerous musical contexts; jazz fusion, punk rock, Delta blues, hip hop (cameos by Queen Latifah and Doug E. Fresh), funk, thrash metal, jive, and hints of electronica were all represented. The album reached No. 13 on the Billboard 200, and won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Album. Other guests included Maceo Parker and Little Richard.
In 1991, Living Colour joined the inaugural Lollapalooza tour, and released an EP of outtakes entitled Biscuits.
Second line-up and breakup (1992–1995)
In 1992, Skillings left the band due to creative differences and was replaced by Doug Wimbish. This new line up released their third full-length album, Stain, in February 1993. The album reached No. 26 in the U.S., a further drop since their debut.
Despite retaining their strong fan base, Living Colour disbanded in January 1995, after failing to settle on a common musical goal during sessions for their fourth studio album. Four of these tracks were included on the compilation Pride.
Following the breakup, individual band members released a variety of solo efforts.
Reunion and subsequent events (2000–present)
Living Colour reformed on December 21, 2000, at CBGB's as a gig billed "Head>>Fake w/ special guests." Head>>Fake was the current drum and bass project headed by Calhoun and Wimbish. Glover was on the bill to sing a few songs and Reid came on after three songs. The reunion was followed by the release of the band's fourth studio album, Collideøscope, in 2003, their first album not to chart in the United States, although it was critically praised.
In 2005, Sony Records released Live From CBGB's, a live album recorded on December 19, 1989, as well as another best of compilation, Everything Is Possible: The Very Best of Living Colour, with songs from Vivid to Collideøscope.
In August 2006, Glover took on the role of Judas Iscariot in a national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, touring with JCS veteran Ted Neeley. Doug Pinnick, vocalist and bassist of King's X, filled in for Glover on lead vocals. Glover's tour of the musical ran through June 2008, and he then rejoined the band.
On September 22, 2006, Skillings joined the band for the first time in fourteen years when they played at a private party which drummer Jack DeJohnette threw for his wife Lydia. Wimbish was unable to come back from his base in London to play for the event, so Skillings agreed to take over as temporary bassist. Daniel Moorehead was added as saxophonist for the tour.
The band performed a week-long European Tour starting on December 12, 2006. In May 2007, the band released their first live DVD - On Stage At World Cafe Live. On July 11, 2008, the band performed at the 1980s hard rock-themed Rocklahoma festival at Pryor, Oklahoma. Once again, Skillings performed with them in August 2008 for a Black Rock Coalition Band of Gypsys tribute in Harlem. They performed "Them Changes" and "Power of Soul".
On October 25, 2008, MVD Audio and CBGB's records released CBGB OMFUG MASTERS: August 19, 2005 The Bowery Collection, a soundboard collection of songs from the Save CBGB's benefit show. On November 25, 2008, Inakustik and MVD released The Paris Concert, a DVD recorded at New Morning, in Paris, France, during their 2007 European Tour.
The band released their fifth studio album, The Chair in the Doorway, on September 15, 2009 on Megaforce Records. The album sold approximately 2,800 copies in its first week and landed at No. 159 on the Billboard 200. This was the band's first album to chart since Stain in 1993. The band is currently touring the world in support of the record.
According to an interview on breakdownroom.net, Glover hopes to release another album with the band next year. "We're going to do something different [for us] and make a real record, right now, right after we've done this one," Glover said with a laugh.
Currently, Living Colour's 'Cult of Personality' has been receiving fresh exposure over the couple of years as it is being used at the theme music to WWE Wrestler CM Punk's entrance each week on WWE Raw, WWE SmackDown and subsequent PPVs. In 2013, Living Colour performed the song live at WWE's biggest event of the year, WrestleMania 29.
Acclaim and legacy
Living Colour was ranked No. 70 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.
"Cult of Personality" was part of the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas repertoire of radio songs in Radio X. It was also the first song to be confirmed for the tracklist of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. The version featured in Guitar Hero III is a new master recording of the song that features an updated solo, as the original masters could not be used.
In October 2006, "Love Rears Its Ugly Head" was ranked and voted 303 out of 2006 songs featured in the Triple M Essential 2006 Countdown.
Rolling Stone have called the band, "funk-metal pioneers."
In early 2009, WWE used "Cult of Personality" in the video promoting the induction of Stone Cold Steve Austin into its Hall of Fame. Current WWE performer CM Punk used the song as his entrance theme in Ring of Honor for a period of time. CM Punk used other licensed music while working with WWE, but, after feigning a departure from the company in July 2011, he returned with "Cult of Personality" as his entrance theme.
- Vivid (1988)
- Time's Up (1990)
- Stain (1993)
- Collideøscope (2003)
- The Chair in the Doorway (2009)
- Cult Of Personality (1988)
- Middle Man (1988)
- Open Letter (To A Landlord) (1988)
- Funny Vibe (1988)
- Glamour Boys (1988)
- Time's Up (1990)
- Love Rears It's Ugly Head (1990)
- Elvis Is Dead (1990)
- Type (1990)
- Solace Of You (1990)
- Leave It Alone (1993)
- Bi (1993)
- Auslander (1993)
- Nothingness (1993)
- Sunshine Of Your Love (1994)
- Song Without Sin (2003)
- Behind The Sun (2009)
MTV Video Music Awards
- 1989 - Best New Artist ("Cult of Personality")
- 1989 - Best Group Video ("Cult of Personality")
- 1989 - Best Stage Performance ("Cult of Personality")
- 1990 - Best Hard Rock Performance (won) ("Cult of Personality")
- 1990 - Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (nominated) ("Glamour Boys")
- 1991 - Best Hard Rock Performance (won) (Time's Up)
- 1994 - Best Hard Rock Performance (nominated) ("Leave It Alone")
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Image from Discogs