Cult of personality

‘80s rockers Living Colour shake Oddbody’s

Photo: Living Colour (l-r) Doug Wimbish, Corey Glover, Vernon Reid, Will Calhoun

By Gary Spencer

There are some guitar riffs that are so instantly recognizable that the second you hear them you know what song it is, whether that be “Smoke on the Water”, “Iron Man”, or “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Another song with such an iconic guitar riff—as equally iconic as the lyrics—is the 1988 breakthrough hit song, “Cult of Personality” by NYC’s Living Colour, an at-the-time (and still to this day) rare, all African American hard rock/metal band. But even beyond that past mainstream success, Living Colour continues to make waves just by rocking out and making observations about the world around us, and they’ll continue to do so when they come to Dayton for the first time in over 20 years.

Living Colour formed in NYC in 1984. According to long-time vocalist Corey Glover, their origins as the band that music fans know today, was a bit different in the beginning.

“It was a mostly instrumental trio when it began doing a jazz fusion type of thing,” he explains. “I had met (guitarist) Vernon Reid at a birthday party a couple of years before that. They wheeled out a cake and the person whose birthday it was decided they wanted me to sing ‘happy birthday’ to them, so I did. He called me a couple of months later and was interested in having me as the singer in the band.”

With a solid lineup in place, Living Colour soon developed a reputation for a hard rockin’, high energy, live show, regularly playing gigs at the legendary CBGB in NYC. Shortly thereafter, the group was signed by major label, Epic Records, and released their debut album “Vivid” in May 1988. With the album’s first track, “Cult of Personality,” starting things off with a bang, “Vivid” catapulted Living Colour into mainstream stardom, eventually going double platinum and reaching No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts. “Cult of Personality” also scored the band three MTV Video Awards in 1989 plus a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1990. The band’s follow up LP, “Time’s Up,” subsequently followed and also netted a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1991. According to Glover, the band’s explosive success was a mix of elements that all converged at the right time.

“I think we tapped into something that was going on with the music of the time,” he says. “The music had become very visual and there was a great need to see what bands looked like at the time. We presented MTV, at the time, with a unique opportunity since they didn’t really play music by people of color. At the time they were like ‘we mainly play rock’—hip hop was sort of a specialty thing. And we were a rock band that happened to be of color. Besides that, we just wrote some really good songs.”

At the time, Living Colour was (and still is to a certain degree) an anomaly in that they were a hard rock band made up of all African American guys, and often times the music industry and mainstream press presented them as a novelty due to this fact. But it seems the band not only embraced this, but acknowledged that their ethnicity is what made their music unique and wholly theirs.

“Race is primary to what Living Colour is all about,” Glover says. “We talk about things from our perspective of being African American men of a certain age, living in certain areas of the states. Bands like ours, Kings X, Fishbone, 24/7 Spyz, and other bands of color in the ‘80s tried to break down boundaries with music that was androgynous, that didn’t lean into a particular orientation. It started happening across the board and we were part of that.”

Living Colour disbanded in the mid-1990s, citing physical and creative exhaustion. The band reformed for a gig at CBGB in 2000, and since then have released three full length albums, that all contain top-notch music and lyrics, just like the major-label albums the group is famous for. Living Colour is currently on tour in support for “Shade,” their newest full length album released earlier this year. Despite no longer being on MTV, the group is still here doing what they do because they feel an obligation to represent the voices of those rarely heard in the mainstream.

“I don’t think anything’s really changed for us,” Glover says. “(Shade) is the same sort of energy that created ‘Cult of Personality’ like all of our records with our own political view, which is very important. We’ve been given this opportunity to say something meaningful about the world we live in. There’s still things in the world that we need to speak on and bear witness to. As long as there’s a world to talk about, we’re gonna do it.”

Even beyond making emphatic statements about the world we live in, ultimately, Living Colour is still all about their renowned live show that one must experience first-hand to really get the full gist of what has made the band into such an icon.

“There’s an immediacy to a live show that you can’t get on record—it’s like the difference between reading a book and having someone explain it to you,” Glover says. “I promise a very exciting, compelling show and it’s gonna be a good time.”

Living Colour performs this coming Saturday, Oct. 21 at Oddbody’s, 5418 Burkhardt Road in Dayton. The show begins at 8 p.m. and tickets are $25 in advance. For more information please visit www.OddBodys.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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