Living Colour Brings a New Shade to Houston
The Glamour Boys today -- Living Colour in 2014: Doug Wimbish (bass), Will Calhoun (drums), Corey Glover (vocals), and Vernon Reid (guitar).
Photo by Karsten Staiger
Though one of the best hard-rock bands of the '80s has also held that distinction in the ensuing decades, for a wide swath of people they are unfairly thought of as a one-hit wonder.
Dating from 1988, that hit debut single name-checked the decidedly non-rocker personalities of Josef Stalin, Mahatma Gandhi, John Kennedy and Benito Mussolini. With a video awash in black faces and neon clothes, against a backdrop of History Channel-type footage, it lives on as one of the second Reagan administration's most beloved rock songs.
But the time has come around again for a renaissance for Living Colour, and for the band to get the props they deserve. A highly successful tour last year found the quartet -- Corey Glover (vocals), Vernon Reid (guitar), Will Calhoun (drums) and Doug Wimbish (bass) -- playing debut disc Vivid in its entirety, also recording a live CD.
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Now, the group is continuing heavy touring in the U.S. and Europe on the "Synesthesia" tour (stopping back again in Houston Sunday night), while putting the finishing touches on their sixth studio record, Shade, set to come out early next year.
And while Wimbish was not in the group at that time of Vivid, joining in 1992 in time for their third LP Stain, he recognizes the power of that album and tracks like "Cult of Personality," "Desperate People," "Funny Vibe," "Open Letter (to a Landlord)," and "Glamour Boys," many of which had a socio-political tinge.
"The 25th anniversary tour last year was like a class reunion, and we got the love from the fans that the record happened to touch," he says from a tour stop in Arizona. "And we never played the whole thing live before!
"People who listened to that record and were moved by it were in high school or college then, and now are married and have jobs and kids," adds Wimbish. "That was the record that might have connected the black kids and the white kids in school, and we felt the love and respect on that tour."
The one thing that didn't make a reappearance, Wimbish laughs, is Glover's brightly-hued, tight-fitting Body Glove outfit. But Living Colour in 2014 is no nostalgia act. The band's current set list has the familiar material, but also deeper album cuts from each one of their releases, and three new songs set for Shade: "Freedom of Expression," "Who's That?" and a cover of the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Who Shot Ya?"
The last of the three was planned for the record even before the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., Wimbish notes. However, Living Colour has long spoken out on social and racial issues, and on last year's Houston stop, Glover pointedly took the stage in a Trayvon Martin-style grey hoodie and sang the first three songs hidden under it, while sporting a T-shirt that said "Harmless Black Man."
Shade will have commentary on current events, but also reaches back - way back -- with a cover of Robert Johnson's "Preachin' Blues," also featured as the opener on the last tour. Wimbish says that the entire record will be "blues based."
"Our records are like an autobiography of where we are at the time," he offers. "Just like when I look at Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys, I know where I was at and what was going at the time it came out. And Shade will follow that.
"We have to put ourselves out there and be creative, and that's lining up with the music business and our fans right now," he adds.
Story continues on the next page.
Doug Wimbish teaching a bass seminar in Singapore in 2008.
To that end, the band has a very active presence on all social-media platforms, and recently streamed a concert on Yahoo Live! Wimbish says that's due to the efforts of a very internet-savvy fan they hired to get them out there, Tim Emgushov. But they aren't just letting the youngsters steer the cyber ship.
"We are a 20th-century band using 21st-century technology, and there is a learning curve that is challenging," he says. "So you have to bring in people who can help you. We have a good team for that. And I'm still learning stuff. Even if I have to ask my daughter to help me!"
Also, by tracking each city they visit along the way with album sales, concert attendance, and songs a certain audience likes and responds to, Wimbish says Living Colour can better cater to their crowd on any given night.
"The Internet is a key connector, but there are a million different people doing things on it to compete with," he says. "You have to fill in the gaps between the raindrops and show the fans a little sunshine!"
Outside of Living Colour, Wimbish had (and has) a long history as a solo artist, guest musician, and member of other groups (Tackhead being the best known). He has also toured and/or recorded with Annie Lennox, Mos Def, Lauryn Hill, and Mick Jagger.
In fact, the Stone was a very early and vocal champion of Living Colour, helping them to get a record deal and snagging them to open for the group on the 1989/90 "Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle" Tour.
The relationship was made possible by Wimbish, who was friendly with the members of Living Colour, and first brought Jagger and Jeff Beck to see the band at CBGB's in New York.
Flash forward a few years, when Wimbish -- then recording with the Stones and being considered for the group's vacant bassist spot -- gets three courting calls in short order from other potential employers: Will Calhoun from Living Colour, Seal and a short guy from Jersey named Bruce Springsteen.
It was old friend Calhoun who got the nod, and Wimbish has completed Living Colour's rhythm section since then. Though with a musical voice louder than many others on his instrument. After all, his own Web site proclaims, "I'm not just a bass player, I'm a sound system."
"The vocalist in a band has always been the most dominant, then the guitar player, then the drummer because of the flash," he says. "But bassists have always provided that foundation, and is hopefully the one giving the band the stability it needs. A lot of bass players end up producing. And a lot of them are in the background making things happen!"
After the current leg of the "Synesthesia" tour winds up, Living Colour are off to Europe, then back to the U.S. for dates to support Shade. But at 58, Wimbish is not about to eschew hard work on the road...venue by venue by venue.
"We're trying to keep the name alive and chopping our way through America again!" he laughs. "And the limbs and the bones are still alive!"
Living Colour plays this Sunday, October 12, at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel.
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