Living Colour, ready to man the battle lines: Doug Wimbish, Corey Glover, Vernon Reid, and Will Calhoun. Photo by Travis Shinn/Courtesy of Calabro Music Media
While early reports have pegged Living Colourâs upcoming sixth studio release, Shade, as âa blues-based record,â letâs be clear about something. It is not an effort in the vein of what the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, or Gregg Allman have done with their similar experiments that include covers of genre classics and new material that sounded classic.
Rather, what Living Colour â one of the most underrated and underappreciated rock bands of the past 30 years â has done is taken the blues as a jumping point to the lands of rock, rap, funk, hip-hop, R&B, and even country and western. And bassist Doug Wimbish is bullish on the final results.
âWhat it is that we were trying to engage is to present that kind of sound in our music, and thatâs where the adventure began. How all these different genres relate to the blues,â he says from his home studio in Connecticut. It was one of the places Wimbish and the rest of Living Colour â vocalist Corey Glover, guitarist Vernon Reid, and drummer Will Calhoun â worked on the material over several years.
The genesis of Shade began in 2012, when the group was invited to perform at a concert celebration of what would have been blue pioneer Robert Johnsonâs 100th birthday at the Apollo Theater; the band chose his âPreachinâ Bluesâ to cover. But with scant time to rehearse and discussion of how they wanted to âColourizeâ the tune, they took the material in a completely different direction, their performance stunning the audience and others on the bill.
âIt was kind of likeâŚI had some ideas of how it should sound, but we had no time to prepare and Corey had just come off of a flight,â Wimbish recalls. âSo we put it together quickly during sound check. But when we performed it that nightâŚit was magic. That gave us this light. And it was the spark to prepare us for this record.â
âPreachinâ Bluesâ quickly found its way into the bandâs regular set list, as did late rapper Notorious B.I.G.âs âWho Shot Ya?â, which Glover originally would do as a lark during pre-show warmups right around the time of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Gloverâs screaming vocals were often delivered while his head and face were covered up by a gray hoodie to drive the point home.
But in the ensuing years with one after another black man shot and killed by police making news and leading to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, the song has unexpectedly taken on even more resonance. And Living Colourâs frenetic take (with Wimbish intoning the ominous title through the song) is a highlight of Shade.
âItâs crazy, there have been so many more incidents, and the times have changed even since we started playing it. Itâs so relevant,â Wimbish offers. âChristopher Wallace was a great poet and a victim of gun violence himself, like some of the blues heroes. So we see the connection between âPreachinâ Bluesâ and âWho Shot Ya?ââ The band debuted a compelling and forceful music video some months ago.
Cover courtesy of Calabro Music Media
As usual, the band also takes on a wide variety of political, social, and racial issues on the album, adding to the mix pointed songs about the news and social media (along with some more standard tunes on relationships, and a cover of Marvin Gayeâs âInner City Bluesâ). But even if the lyrics were completely different, the music certainly stands up on its own.
Wimbish credits a lot about how the record turned out to producer Andre Betts, who first worked with the group on their 1993 record Stain and on and off since then. He says that Betts took their project âto the next level,â keeping the band membersâ minds open and not playing favorites when the occasional disagreement arose.
âHe was that outside voice we needed to cut through the oil and water and give us a way to find the right flow,â Wimbish says.
But despite putting out new music and touring incessantly, the average music fan knows Living Colour for one thing and one thing only: their second single off the 1988 debut record Vivid and handily most recognizable tune, âCult of Personality.â And that's a damn shame.
Thereâs even a bit of actual studio chatter included on Shade, in which Houston rapper Scarface â who has worked with both the band and Betts â tries in vain to recall both the name of the song and the group that played it, only getting as far as humming Reidâs iconic guitar riff. When another voice in the studio tells him who it was, Scarface wants to know what happened to âLiving Muthafucking Colourâ and where all the other black rock bands are.
âLots of people donât remember the band and may wonder if weâre still around. Even Scarface didnât know!"
Living Colour bassist Doug Wimbish
Wimbish is aware of this, even as a new generation who have never heard of the group knows the song from its inclusion in video games like Guitar Hero and Grand Theft Auto. It was also widely used as WWE wrestler CM Punkâs ring-entry song.
âLots of people donât remember the band and may wonder if weâre still around. Even Scarface didnât know! Thatâs a hip-hop artist interpretation of trying to remember who we are. Weâve also influenced bands like Rage Against the Machine and Tool,â Wimbish says.
He also notes that the bandâs name is often mistaken for the â90s sketch comedy show âIn Living Color.â âWith the new record, we want to reach people who know us, but also those who go who is Living Colour? Which one of you is Homey the Clown?ââ
Doug Wimbish: The Beast of Bass. Photo courtesy of Calabro Music Media
While Dough Wimbish is not an original member of the group â replacing Muzz Skillings â his connection to Living Colour predates even the bandâs inception. He first met Reid in 1981 while in the band Tackhead, and was previously part of the Sugarhill Studios rhythm section. Those are Wimbishâs bass lines on Grandmaster Flashâs âThe Messageâ and âWhite Lines.â
Both musicians got a call to audition for Mick Jaggerâs solo band in the mid-â80s, with Wimbish getting the gig while Reid formed Living Colour. As the all-black rock band started to make noise on the New York rock scene, Jagger asked Wimbish about them. The bassist sent the Stone and Jeff Beck (who Wimbish also worked with) down to CBGBâs to catch them live.
Jagger liked what he saw, and not only co-produced Vivid with Ed Stasium, but had Living Colour as an opening act on the Rolling Stonesâ âSteel Wheelsâ tour. In 1992, Skillings left and Calhoun called Wimbish about joining. Within a couple of days later, he also fielded calls about joining Bruce Springsteen and Sealâs bands.
âI always take the first gig offered, and thatâs what I did here!â Wimbish laughs. He was also offered a chance to join the Rolling Stones when original bassist Bill Wyman quit, but Wimbish decided to stick with Living Colour. The job went to Darryl Jones, who â despite touring and recording with the group for nearly a quarter-century â has still not been made an âofficialâ member. Then again, Ron Wood had to wait nearly as long.
No matter. Doug Wimbish and the rest of Living Colour are anxiously awaiting the release of Shade and the subsequent tour that will take them around the world. And in this era of the bandâs journey, the bassist says he looks at things as if he we driving a car down the highway.
âI try to keep the front windshield clean to see whatâs ahead, but also check my side mirrors to see whatâs coming up behind me,â he offers. âBecause if youâre always only looking in the rearview mirror, you might crash into something you donât see ahead!â