Living Color Still Vivid After 25 Years

Vernon Reid and Michael Williams.jpg

Submitted by Michael Williams

Photo Credits:  Petra Richterova

PHOTO: Vernon Reid and Michael Williams

Twenty five years ago Living Color released “Vivid”. Their debut album, fostered Mick Jagger, took the world by surprise. They were opening for Robert Palmer at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto. Being a big Robert Palmer fan since Vinegar Joe, I was at the show.  His 1985 release of “Addicted to Love” and its high fashion video dictated the way the crowd was dressed that night – men in suits and women in long gowns. This was not a Living Color crowd! While I loved their performance, the audience barely clapped.

After the show I went backstage. It was quiet. I pushed open Living Color’s dressing room door and saw the long faces of disappointment. I stuck my head in and said to them, “You were great! Come see me at Much Music”. Corey Glover, the lead singer, did and that was the beginning my wonderful relationship with Living Color.

Twenty-five years and several Grammys later, including one for “Vivid”, Corey Glover and I sat down and talked before a recent  Living Color show at the Opera House in Toronto.

MW:  Twenty-five years ago it all started to happen. How does it feel now in retrospect?
CG: Old, very old. I never thought I could last 25 years in anything so I am good with this!

MW: What’s up with the new record?
CG: We are trying to write some music while we are here, putting bits and pieces together, and at some point this summer we are going to spend a concerted amount of time to make something happen.
Vernon (Reid) has talked about this before; we are going to try a modern blues record. Like how Led Zeppelin re-interpreted  the blues for their generation, we are trying to do that for now!

Backstage with Corey Glover at Opera House TorontoBackstage with Corey Glover at Opera House TorontoMW: How many tracks you into it so far?
CG: We have two or three that we have worked on so far and I am taking submissions from anybody and everybody. If you know somebody with some tunes we can listen to - great!

MW: I was trying to reach Lisa Dal Bello for you.
GG: I know. I am a big, big fan.

MW: I heard “Tango” the other day and lost my mind. It is just as good today if not better.
CG: She is a singing fool!

MW: How did you become a Dal Bello fan?
CG: You! (He shouts across the tour bus table)

MW: Me?
CG: You! The first time we came here with Robert Palmer, and I came to see you at MuchMusic, you said she was the best thing coming out of Canada at the time and we needed to check her out right now! I loved her stuff.

MW: Since then you have wanted to work with her?
CG:  Hell ya! Let’s write some songs together!

Drummer Will Calhoun (Tj Whitelaw in background) and Michael WilliamsDrummer Will Calhoun (Tj Whitelaw in background) and Michael WilliamsMW: I have been working on it; we can send her the tape…and see what she says.
CG: Yes! I love you (Lisa Dal Bello) come and sing with me.
(At this point we call Lisa Dal Bello and Corey Glover leaves a message with his number)

MW: C.M. Punk the wrestler uses “Cult of Personality” as his theme music.  You guys got together on WWE Friday night Smackdown. How and why did it happen?
CG: That was dope. When he came to the WWE he wanted to use it as entrance music, his theme song. For us it is departure from the type of places we normally hear our song in. We don’t hear it in that kinda place. It’s usually to do with politics or some sort of political arena. He used it because when he was a kid his coach played it whenever they won Little League games. That’s how far back it goes – twenty-five years! He heard. “Cult of Personality” when he was ten years old!

MW: When you did “Cult of Personality” most people thought it was politically motivated because of the Malcolm X clip in the beginning of the video. Now it’s a way of life.
CG: Exactly. It’s like being famous for being famous, all the things that are required for that are always there. What made Elizabeth Taylor famous? It wasn’t because she was a really good actress; she was famous for being famous. The choices she made, the people she married. There is cult of personality around Elizabeth Taylor. There is a cult of personality around whomever! 

Michael Williams on stage with Doug WimbushMichael Williams on stage with Doug WimbushMW: For a while we all thought the band was broken up and now you are out celebrating this 25th Anniversary. How does it feel to be together again?
CG: It feels good that we are making some noise again because we haven’t played a band in some time. We played as Living Color playing the songs of Jimi Hendrix on the Hendrix tour. We were backing up other people. Doug (Wimbish) played with Lauryn Hill, Will (Calhoun) played with Wayne Shorter, I toured with Galactic, and Vernon (Reid) has his own thing. We were all representing Living Color but not being Living Color! This the first time in a long time that we are all here doing Living Color stuff. And it feels good!! We needed the hiatus from that. This now feels really good and fresh again.

MW: Any new stuff live?
CG: No. We do a cover of  Robert Johnson’s “Preachin Blues”. We want to put this one on the new record. We want to get it out by the fall. We want to get it out sooner than later!
Fast forward a few hours.  I am waiting for the show on a rainy cold rainy day at the Opera House , hanging out with the band and a hot new local guitarist TJ Whitelaw. The crowd was packed in. 

When the show started, I was in the orchestra pit – good thing! Three songs into the show, Corey Glover who was standing in front of me wailing perfectly, drops the microphone. Both of us were surprised by it. I picked it up and, laughing, handed it back to him.

They perform all of “Vivid”. I look at the crowd singing every word. I understand the universality of it all and so do the fans.  Four Brothers from New York who took the world by storm with a pocket full of songs now on a quest to make lightning strike twice. If anybody can refine the blues for the current and next generation, Living Color can!

As they finish the show, everybody is wringing wet with sweat. The mark of a good time, a celebration of twenty-five years.  The music is just a great as it was yesterday, if not better.

As the crowd begged for more, Doug Wimbish steps up to the mic and says “ever since we have been coming to Canada there is one person that has helped us and he is the best ever, please give Michael Williams a round of applause”. Shocked, and touched, I took my bow.

Revision:

Petra was there She was there 25 years ago.

I was so caught up in my moment, events of the day and night. I forgot to thank the person, who captured the moment in pictures. Petra Richterova(http://www.petrarichterovaphoto.com ),shot incredible photographs , that I will remember for a life time. 

Michael Williams