Living Colourâ€™s â€˜Vividâ€™ at 30: Band Reflects on the Rough Road to Their Game-Changing Debut
by Ron Hart
L-R Muzz Skillings, Vernon Reid, Corey Glover and Will Calhoun of Living Colour photographed on June 29, 1988. PhotoCredit: Ebet Roberts/Redferns
"And during the few moments that we have left, we want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand."
Those words were spoken by Malcolm X on Nov. 10, 1963, to a crowd in Detroit, during a speech delivered shortly before his departure from the Nation of Islam. Called "Message to the Grass Roots," it was a scathing commentary on the white infiltration of the Civil Rights movement, particularly in the context of President John F. Kennedy, whose first term in office was cut short by an assassin's bullet in Dallas just 12 days later.
Malcolm X's speech may not be as universally revered as Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" sermon on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that August. But in 1988, its opening salvo would become one of the iconic activist's most recognizable quotes thanks to "Cult of Personality," the hit second single off Vivid, the debut LP from the New York City hard rock band Living Colour, which was released 30 years ago today.
The song was the album's opening track, and the first thing you hear is Malcolm's pointed voice before guitarist Vernon Reid's Tyrannosaurus riff kicks off a song that reduced ears to rubble upon its release to radio and MTV in the summer of '88 (and earned them a Grammy for best hard rock performance). Produced by the Ramones' go-to studio maven Ed Stasium with a loving endorsement from Mick Jagger (who employed Reid to play guitar on his second solo LP, 1987's underrated Primitive Cool, which also featured future Living Colour bassist Doug Wimbish), Vivid deployed a fusion of Bad Brains urgency, Zeppelin-esque crunch and top-flight jazz musicality that set itself far apart from both the lipstick-and-hairspray pop-metal set on the L.A. Sunset Strip as well as the classic rock radio heroes deep into their third decade in music.
Living Colour also happened to be a band comprised of four African-American men in singer Corey Gloverâ€”fresh from his tour of duty on the set of Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning film Platoonâ€”as well as Reid on guitars, drummer Will Calhoun and original bassist Muzz Skillings. Their songs touch upon issues that continue to plague us to this day including gentrification ("Open Letter (to a Landlord)"), racial paranoia ("Funny Vibe") and drug addiction ("Desperate People"), delivered with the urgency of their peers in hip-hop like Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy.
"Cult of Personality," which peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, continues to resonate through the generations thanks, in part, to beloved pro wrestler/mixed martial artist/comic book author CM Punk's use of the tune as his ring entrance music throughout his career. But the rest of Vivid remains just as vital as its flagship track. So in honor of its 30th anniversary, Billboard spoke with all four original band members, plus Wimbish, Stasium and renowned producer/engineer Ron St. Germain -- who helped record the Jagger-produced two-track demo that got Living Colour its deal at Epic Records -- to get the most complete story of its creation that could be mustered with the insight they were willing to collectively offer.
As last year's impressive Shade conveys, Living Colour remains a vital force in rock in the present tense. But there's something about the way Vivid hit the pop landscape in 1988 that makes it not only one of the most unforgettable recordings of the last three decades, but also arguably the first crucial crack in the wall that alternative rock would crash through in the years that followed its arrival.
Ron St. Germain: When I first heard Living Colour, I was like, 'Wow, these guys are literally the new Led Zeppelin!' The color of their skin wasn't even a factor to me at any point.
Corey Glover: We were coming from the Reagan/Bush era in 1987/88. And now we think of those times as wonderfully quaint. But it wasn't getting any better for a certain strata of people, and that was what we were talking about on Vivid. That deification of somebody, anybody, politically or socially or marginally in terms of those who were living on the margins that now have become a cottage industry; the deification of John F. Kennedy; the deification, for us, of somebody like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. What they were doing was struggling through something very, very important and very, very life threatening, and now it's a T-shirt.
Will Calhoun: My first boss was Harry Belafonte. I was still working for him when Living Colour started. And Harry heard about us and asked me what was the band like, what did it sound like. And I was thinking, "Man, I can't give this guy a Living Colour tape, I'll likely get fired." I was 19. But I gave him the tape, and he called me into his dressing room and told me what we were doing was very important. So Harry Belafonte, who wasn't just my boss but a hero of mine, to endorse Living Colour and tell us how important this music that we're doing was, I knew this was it. But that was early on, and for him to come up and say that to meâ€¦I called him almost every year for ten years in a row thanking him for that endorsement. And Harry was very supportive when I told him I wanted to do Living Colour full time. He loved the tape I gave him, which was a board mix from one of our shows at CBGB's, and he told me, 'Man, you have to do this.' Any ambivalence I had about whether or not Living Colour was going to work melted away after what Harry said to me.
Vernon Reid: I was entrenched in the jazz scene back then because I was in playing in a band called Defunkt and also as a member of Ronald Shannon Jackson's group the Decoding Society. I even got to meet Ronald Shannon Jackson because he was playing with James "Blood" Ulmer back when Joe's Pub was called Jazz at the Public. That's where I first saw David Murray and Oliver Lake and Sonny Sharrock. Seeing Blood and Sonny were as crucial to me as Zeppelin and Rush were in regards to how I play along with Hendrix and Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Hazel and Freddie Stone, Ernie Isley and Robin Trower and Frank Marino, but also Carlos Santana as well. When I think of Prince's playing, his phrasing was much more influenced by Carlos' phrasing.
Doug Wimbish: I've known Vernon longer than anybody in the band. I knew him a couple of years before he got together with Corey, Muzz and Will. We met in the studio, and it was eclectic music that brought us together. I was living in New York at the time, recording as the part of the house band for Sugar Hill Records. And it was a session that I had done for Duke Bootee, who was the writer of "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. He was doing a solo record, and I had some songs I'd written for him and wound up going in the studio and producing some of the songs as well. And Ed Fletcher, who was Duke Bootee, was ingrained in the underground scene in the city, and heard Vernon Reid play with the jazz drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. I remember seeing Vernon at Trinity College playing with Ronald Shannon Jackson and Melvin Gibbs on bass. So Ed recruited Vernon to play one of the guitar solos that I wrote and produced for him, and that's how we met.
Will: Vernon fearlessly had his hands in a lot of pots back then, man. One of the things in meeting Vernon that was interesting for me was his take on art. We would just be sitting in my car and we'd start talking about all different kinds of music while driving to rehearsals. He'd ask me why do I like this music or if I had heard a certain record. This was the time of Tower Records, so that was like a library for classical, world, jazz, everything, and we'd always stop in there and pick up stuff. Vernon was a person who was entrenched in the New York scene, whether it was graffiti or hip-hop or jazz or harmolodic music. And I think all of these things were on Vernon's menu and he wanted to implement it into the Living Colour sound.
Ed Stasium: Vernon and I bonded over an old album that I worked on. I was doing a lot of work at Right Track back then, so nearby there was an older homeless guy selling his stuff on the street. And he had records there, and I always look for records. So I'm looking through his vinyl, and I find a record that I had done in New Jersey. It was the first album I worked on in my career by a band called the Skull Snaps, who you would know because the beat to the song "It's A New Day" on that album has been used on close to 500 hip-hop and rap songs. I gave the guy twenty bucks for it; he wanted a dollar. I gave to his cause, ya know? I put it in my pile of records in my living room and one day Vernon came over to have dinner. So I proceed to tell him the story about how I found this record that I did early in my career, and he looked at it and smiled and gave me a big hug. He told me, 'I learned how to play guitar by listening to that record.' I think it bonded us in a cosmic, crazy way.
Will: It was a special time to a degree. It was also an era of cultural renaissance. Hip-hop was really becoming mainstream. Spike Lee was doing his movies. People were actually starting to recognize graffiti as art.
Corey: All that stuff was happening all around us. What was happening with Run-D.M.C. and "Rock Box," it was a breath of fresh air for us.
Will: There was a lot of acceptance of culture that came from our communities but is now internationally known. Even in the world of jazz, you had the Marsalis brothers were viewed as this industry sensation. It was a lot of things exploding at the same time. I think artistically with Basquiat and Keith Haring and with hip-hop and with jazz and with rock n' roll, we had a lot of spaces to cross over. We were a rock band. We were New Yorkers. We grew up into hip-hop. I went to high school with Scott La Rock, so I knew KRS-One and all them. I grew up with Pumpkin (Errol Eduardo Bedward), who I think was the main force in getting hip-hop to become a business. He was selling beats to labels in 1979. I told Vernon this story about how Pumpkin bought a LinnDrum and he programmed the beat for Run DMC's "Sucker MC's" in his house. I was there watching him, and I remember him selling the beat to Profile Records. Pumpkin told me when I was 14 years old how hip-hop was going to change the world. This was back when it was only part of the community. It wasn't on radio or anything yet.
Corey: I got Platoon in '85, and I was already in Living Colour at the time. Then I got Platoon and I was gone for a couple of months to shoot that. Then we spent a good year before Vivid in a van going around the country before things started to take off.
Will: There were different versions of Living Colour. When I first met him, he had a version where he was singing lead, like a Police kind of thing. He then had a lineup with Mark Ledford, who I also went to school with and is an incredible musician. Played every damn thing, and has worked with Pat Metheny, J.Lo, Janet Jackson, Prince, Bobby McFerrin, everybody. When Vernon had him in the band, it was a fusion-y kind of thing. I remember he gave me some of the old tapes of what the band used to sound like, and I was very curious about where he was coming from. So I said, 'Where do you want to go with this?' And he said, 'I'm not sure.' (laughs) But there was a definitive idea to go with a rock vibe. It was never not rock, but I think once we started to work on the songs he had already written and started writing them together, that's when "Cult of Personality" came about and "Middle Man" and these other songs. But it was a process.
Muzz Skillings: I went to Jazzmobile Workshop in the city when I was young, so I had the good chance to study under the likes of Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Owens, Victor Gaskin, Barry Harris and Freddie Waits. I also went through a rigorous jazz program at City College, and met Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Ron Carter and John Lewis from the Modern Jazz Quartet. From my sensibilities, just because I was exposed to that stuff and studied it and knew it really well doesn't mean I was interested in injecting it into every situation. Part of it was being that age and viewing it as part of the past, and wanting to get beyond that and using what I learned to express what I wanted to say personally. And by the time I joined Living Colour, the concept of the group had changed entirely.
Doug: I had been offered to play with Jeff Beck through producer Arthur Baker to play on his Flash album. And through that I wound up auditioning to play on Mick Jagger's next solo album, which was Primitive Cool. I got the gig; meanwhile, Vernon and Living Colour were starting to make some noise and caught the ear of Mick. I'll never forget this; Mick had come over to met to chat between takes and said to me, 'Hey Dougie, man, do you know this band Living Colour?' I said, 'Yeah, man!' He asked me what I thought about them and I told him they were great and as a matter of fact, they're playing at CBGB's the next night and suggested he checked them out. They were doing a residency at the time at CB's, because Hilly [Kristal] loved them. So Mick took Jeff Beck and they went to CBGB's to see them play. And then the next day Mick came up to me at rehearsals and says, 'Dougie, I like the band. What do you think I should do?' I told him, 'You're Mick Jagger, man! Take them in the studio and do something on them.'
Muzz: I just remember our manager, Jim Grant, telling us that Mick Jagger was coming to see us that night. Jeff Beck brought him down. I thought it was really, really cool of them to come out to CBGB. At the time, Living Colour had something that wasn't being heard before, and it was exciting this energy the band had generated around us. Even beyond the song and the song structure, there was something going on between the four of us back then where it's like in art when something is created before the vocabulary is there to describe it. And Living Colour had that in terms of what we were doing in the room, and the energy we were producing. People and critics were describing the music in terms that were familiar to them, but make no mistake there was something there that preceded the vocabulary to describe it. So people like Mick Jagger were curious about it, but it wasn't just him. We had Phil Ramone come down, Cyndi Lauper. There was a point when celebrity people in the music business were coming down to see us play. It was mad cool.
Corey: Mick was really, really trying to figure out a new sound at that point for himself. He had Doug Wimbish, who later on became a part of our band and has been one of our friends for a very long time. He had Jeff Beck in the band, who had just come off working with Nile Rodgers on Flash. He was trying to branch out into something else, and he had his ear to the ground. If it wasn't for Doug saying to him, "My friends have a really good band. You should check them out. And if you need a guitarist for any extra solos or anything, talk to my friend Vernon. His band is amazing." So Vernon went to audition with him, and he brought me along. And Jagger came out and talked to us. He was saying, "Yeah, I hear a lot of good stuff about your band. Dougie keeps telling me all about you." So I told him, "Well, we're playing CBGB's this weekend, do you want to come down?" He said, "Maybe I will." And he did, and brought Jeff Beck with him. A week later after seeing us play he said, "Anything I can do for this band, let me know." And he came up with this brilliant idea, because he was working on mixing and recording his album Primitive Cool in New York, and he was going to be there for a couple of days. So he thought why doesn't the band come down to the studio for a couple of days and cut some demos. We did these demos, which were "America" and "Glamour Boys," with Jagger just to help us get a deal. We'd come in at night to work on our songs. We only did two songs because Mick thought two songs would be enough to get people interested, and obviously he was right. He also wound up playing harmonica on "Broken Hearts" later on down the line.
Muzz: But then, that was it for a while. Mick came back to mix Primitive Cool and was then doing promo and press. And it was a VJ at MTV and a writer from Rolling Stone who were interviewing him, and he asked both of them about Living Colour and what was happening with them. So it was the VJ and the writer both suggested that maybe the band could use a rock legend's hand up. It was they who also suggested to Mick that Living Colour was the young new thing, which I also think helped inspire him to produce the two-track demo for us.
Doug: What took place was, Mick had asked his engineer at the time, Ron St. Germain, 'Hey Saint, could you come in over the weekend, I want to cut a couple of demos on Living Colour.' We were in the mixing phase for Primitive Cool, but the studio was still set up for any overdubs and we weren't really using it, so on the weekend it was just empty.
Saint: I got the tap to do the demos, because Jagger was supposedly producing it. We were in Studio B at Right Track. I was doing a lot of work there at the time, and Ed Stasium and Jagger were mixing Primitive Cool in the bigger room, Studio A. But in Studio B, we worked on the demos for "Which Way to America" and "Glamour Boys." Jagger came when we were finished and sat in the corner and listened, and he literally waved his hand the way he does to approve it. The Stones are the Stones, though. They are the essence of rock n' roll, so that hand wave was incredibly significant.
Vernon: It really took a lot for Vivid to exist. Everything had to go right, and then Mick Jagger had to take an interest. There's something to the fact that the most recognizable rock star in the world at the time had to take an interest in us for our record to even be heard is crazy. It took an extraordinary set of circumstances. And I'm very thankful for those circumstances, but the fact is we shouldn't have to have the No. 1 rock star in the world to take an interest in us for us to even be signed. With time, we take things as givens, but this was never a given. We had sent the demo to Elektra Records, and they passed on it. That rejection was a drag. So all along the way, we fought and fought like a salmon swimming upstream to get signed. But then once we got signed, we got sent to the backend of a whole other queue. Now we're on the backend of the queue of all the other bands who got signed. So now what? Now you're in a situation where you're jockeying for position.
Doug: Now Mick has his stamp on it, he was trying to get Living Colour a record deal. Now you gotta remember, at this time there was tension between Mick and Keith Richards in the Stones camp. There was almost like this competition between the two of them back then. So before Vivid was released, there was a period where Mick was shopping the demo. And he couldn't get anybody to bite it for a while, and he was pissed. This went on for months, maybe like a half-a-year. Then suddenly he finally tells me, 'Dougie, I got the band signed.' He wound up helping them get signed to Epic, which is where he was signed. So I guess it went full circle. He was trying to find other candidates and not bring it directly to Epic. But as time went on and Living Colour started to elevate, then bam, Mick was able to get them in the door. He made it happen for them.
Corey: Our first single was "Middle Man." We wanted "Cult of Personality" to come out first, but Epic seemed kinda hesitant about "Cult" at first. But we did a video for "Cult," and we just came back from Europe and shot the video at what's now the Blender Theater at Gramercy. At the time we were filming, the Moonies owned that theatre and only used it for events within their own organization. But they let us rent it out, and we took two days to shoot it: a day of pre-production, the next day shooting it and then the following day we left and got back in the van and went on the road again. The next day we were in Minneapolis after shooting that video. When we went to Minneapolis after filming the "Cult" video, we played First Avenue. And we get this message at the club that Prince has summoned us to Paisley Park. He sent somebody out to bring us to his house. So that was the first time we met Prince. It was weird, because he invited a bunch of other people, too. Stanley Clarke was there, and other local musicians from the Minneapolis area. He wanted to have a jam session, so he brought all of these folks to his house and had us all wait for an hour before he actually showed up (laughs). Then we played for about two hours and sent us all home. It was cool, but it was weird.
Vernon: Prince actually came and saw us the last time Living Colour played Minneapolis before he passed. Somebody told us that Prince was there, and I was like, 'He was here??' I was so mad I didn't get to see him. He was sitting in the back. And one of his bodyguards came backstage and walked up to me to say, 'The boss wanted me to tell you that he thought the gig was great.' That's a pretty lovely memory to have.
Muzz: The thing that I feel that Vivid was able to convey was how we gave people access to the power that was inside of them. That's more powerful than everything which was going on around us. We wrote about stuff, right, but the music, the presentation, the energy that the four of us generated onstage, and how we carried on as individuals combined into a situation that made people feel powerful. A lot of people, when I talk to them, they listen to "Cult of Personality" it just makes them feel activated to take action, still to this day.
Corey: "Cult" on radio got a lot of phones. Even radio was kinda leery about the song, however. But they liked the song, so the programmer was like, 'Just put it on at night and see what happens.' So they put us on after 11 p.m., and the radio stations would get all these calls about us like 'What is this band? Who are these people?' It started to buzz that way for a little while, and then the video came out. MTV, at the time, was having a hard time. Believe it or not, they were struggling because all they had were your classic rock artists like the Stones and the Who in performance. They weren't playing a lot of new rock at the time. But we had a real angel on our shoulder in Harvey Leeds at Epic, who told MTV to play our video or they weren't giving the station any more Michael Jackson videos. That was the threat (laughs). For MTV, it was something they needed to do. They were getting a lot of grief because they weren't playing any black artists except for Prince, Michael Jackson and maybe Whitney Houston. Plus, they claimed they were a rock music video station, so here's a rock band who happen to be black. Play this or you don't get any Michael Jackson. It was fortunate for us. Plus, it was approved by Michael Jackson himself. He had to sign off on that. He knew about us, and was very cognizant of what we were doing, Michael.
Muzz: Getting AOR radio to play a Malcolm X sample was a revolution. If you could think of the atmosphere back then, sociologically speaking and video-wise, for them to put a Malcolm X sample and broadcast it was simply amazing.
Ed: The original choice for the beginning phrase of "Cult of Personality" was Martin Luther King's "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last." But Coretta Scott King would not allow us to use it, so we ended up using the Malcolm X quote, which actually made more sense in the context of the song in a lot of ways. But originally it was supposed to be MLK.
Corey: Bad Brains were huge for us back then. That's why we used to incorporate that cover of "Sailin' On" at our early shows. There was this one show: Bad Brains, the Circle Jerks and Leeway were playing at L'Amour. I was there to see Bad Brains, obviously, and they were the headliner. And I remember having to literally run back to the train station from the club, because I was nervous to be in that neighborhood.
Saint: I'm surprised that, in all of my travels around the world, how many people come up to me about my work with Bad Brains and how it's changed their lives. My work on Quickness has generated more work for me than anything else I've ever worked on in my career. I've gone to the jungles of Trinidad and people come up to me about that album. It doesn't matter where I go. I was in the Japanese Alps sleeping on a tatami mat and one of the kids came in to visit me with a copy of the album in his hand.
Muzz: We played with Bad Brains at the New Music Seminar around '87-ish. It was at The Roxy, and it was the Bad Brains, Circle Jerks and Living Colour. It was a powerful show. Then we did another show with them at The Ritz, which was the first time I saw the true power of music. Seeing people dive off the balcony at The Ritz was insane, and something I'll never forget. It was crazy. But when the Bad Brains hit at The Roxy, which was the wildest mosh pit I had ever seen.
Vernon: At the time we were recording Vivid, I was listening to a lot of Zeppelin and also a lot of Rush. When you listen to "Desperate People," the rhythm of the bridge is a tribute to Rush, actually. If you go back and listen to "Tom Sawyer," that's where we got the vibe for that bridge. We came up at a time when bands aimed for songs that were iconic, and that's what we were gunning for with both "Cult" and "Desperate People." And I feel that helped us reach a wider audience, especially once we hit MTV.
Corey: That was the thing about MTV; it was a chance to discover our music and people to find their own bands. Us, Fishbone, the Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction: we were the beginning of the alternative rock thing. There were a bunch of bands who came out of that milieu between metal and hard rock and what turned into grunge and turned into nu-metal. It was an interesting time. We got to become friends with the guys in Soundgarden. Kim and Vernon got along famously. And Chris was just a phenom. The first time we played with Soundgarden was in this place called the QE2 in Albany, NY. And we were blown away by them. Chris was amazing.
Vernon: "Open Letter" was really about my local park, but I couldn't write a song about a park (laughs). I thought about my park in Crown Heights. I used to play basketball there, handball there. I saw Curly Neal from the Harlem Globetrotters in that park. He used to come by and play with the local kids. Some of the first DJ sets in Brooklyn went down in that park. The first time I heard Trans-Europe Express was a DJ playing it in my local park to the open air where everyone could hear it. And I thought about what if this park wasn't there, which was the beginning of my thinking about writing "Open Letter (To A Landlord)."
Corey: That stuff never changed. It's stayed the same. Unbeknownst to most people, this is what was going on in New York at the time. My grandma lived in a part of Harlem that was taken over by Columbia University. And the school basically threw her out of her home, because they wanted to profit off the apartment buildings. Now the apartment where my grandmother lived no longer exists. That was happening then, and it's happening now. It's constantly happening. It's a testament to what hasn't changed, and unfortunately those are the issues that seem to persist now for 30 years.
Will: We shot that video for "Open Letter" in places that were about to be changed. It was happening then, but now it's at its worst in New York. There were places where we used to play basketball or whatever, and then I'd meet with other drummers in the park up in Harlem. But when the new residents came in, we'd get noise complaints. It seems like every area that was hit, whether its Harlem or the Lower East Side, the people with the money come in and first they hang out. They hang with the hipsters and party with them, and then they buy the hipsters out.
Ed: For "Open Letter (To A Landlord)," one of the kids who worked in the studio went down to the subway to make a field recording of that for the end of the song.
Muzz: Part of the main game for us is not let any of this stuff get in our head. I know so many people, African-American friends who I'll see in stores or on the street, and they're talking about another police shooting and other things that really upset them. Especially the women I know, they feel the men are being taken from them. And their child might be right there trying to get their attention, but they are so scrunched up with stress they can't even pay attention. That's the greatest disruptive force. Allowing this stuff get to you and allow it to deplete you of your energy. It makes you smaller; it takes away from the love you have to give to your child or a friend in need. Or just what it does to you stress-wise, and what it does to your heart and your blood pressure. So my advice is always not to let it get to your head. Pay enough attention to protect yourself, but only take note of it. Don't dwell on it. Get back to those things that are important to you. Put on your headphones, turn up "Cult" and rock out, feel mighty, and then go out there and take action. That's always been the thing we wanted to convey with the music on Vivid.
Corey: "Glamour Boys" was written by all four of us. We were seriously in the era of the velvet rope. There was a time when certain clothing stores had one of those ropesâ€”Fiaricci in Soho being one of them. And it catered to that club kid set, which was somewhat very exclusive. But at the same time, it was all a faÃ§ade. I think all of Vivid was trying to tear down the faÃ§ade of status and class, especially with a song like "Glamour Boys." Yeah, you may wear the finest clothes in the world, but you're still living in your room with your parents. You're in every hot spot in town, but you still take the subway home.
Muzz: I love the remix that Daddy-O and Prince Paul did on "Funny Vibe," which was already made great thanks to Chuck D and Flavor Flav. We were thinking about who could grasp who we were and remix this song, and them being in Stetsasonic at the time, we knew they could grasp our concept in a way that we really felt good about. They went into their lab and made their choices and fleshed out what they felt best served the song, and they did an amazing job. It was wonderful.
Corey: We'd known a bunch of folks that Public Enemy had worked with. Vernon, in fact, worked on their first record Yo! Bum Rush the Show. We had a relationship with them that way, which is how they wound up making their cameo on "Funny Vibe."
Vernon: I first became aware of Talking Heads when More Songs About Buildings and Food had come out. The producer for Vivid, Ed, he mixed one of the songs on that album, I think "Found A Job" was it. But Fear of Music, Remain in Light and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by David Byrne and Brian Eno had a tremendous impact on me, and I wanted to pay homage to their influence with our cover of "Memories Can't Wait." I dug where they were going, and how fascinating David Byrne was as an individual artist. But as a band, they were just incredible. One of my old buddies who I went to high school with, the late Raymond Jones, played with Talking Heads. He also played in Chic and is featured on "Good Times," and he wrote some songs for Whitney Houston and Jeffrey Osborne. He was a really interesting guy. He played in the Tom Tom Club, and he also played a brief stint in Talking Heads in '82 when Bernie Worrell was off doing a P-Funk thing. When I saw Talking Heads in 1980, it was at Radio City Music Hall and Bernie was there and also Nona Hendryx. This was a big deal at the time to see a band who started out at CBGB's wind up at Radio City. It was really something. It was cool to also hear Blondie, who came out of CBGB's, with hit songs on the radio. It gave us hope. And with "Memories Can't Wait," I was thinking there was a way we could play this tune and make it work. So I brought the tune, and they got into and interestingly enough a couple of the guys had never heard the original. I remember having a conversation with Muzz, and he was someplace and heard the Talking Heads version of "Memories Can't Wait" and he was like, 'Wait, isn't that our song?' (laughs) He never heard the original, because I brought in lyrics and music sheets and directed the band how to play it but never brought in the record for them to hear the original version. I came in with my own idea of how I wanted to do it.
Corey: "Broken Hearts" was sort of our attempt to mix traditional country blues and hip-hop. It was our attempt at a love song, which was not something we were known for at the time. We wanted to get melancholy, and the country music surfing with the slide guitar helped us achieve that.
Will: That Vividrecord is on some Mahavishnu Orchestra shit at times. The diversity of that record broke the cookie cutter formula of how a rock band should make an album. There were a lot of other bands who were doing stuff as well back then, but it was that combination of aggression and diversity, and the way they would shift between rhythms, that made them so unique to the times.
Doug: Vivid was the news with a beat. It was social commentary going on in real time expressed through song. The crack epidemic was going on. Reagan was still in power. Giuliani was doing his thing trying to clean the city up as the U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of New York. The city was raw back then. And it was four African-American musicians playing rock. A lot of folks when they first heard "Cult" they thought it was a white band until they saw the video on MTV.
Will: The only problems I had during that time was with press and radio stations. There were a lot of radio stations who had the record and we did interviews with them, but they weren't playing the record on the air. We weren't added to their rotations. And then there was the "black rock" situation. I understood why it was called that because of the Black Rock Coalition and so on; I get it. But my only comment was that if you weren't going to call Van Halen and Led Zeppelin "white rock" then I didn't really think we should be called "black rock." African-Americans invented rock n' roll, and we were disenfranchised in the acceptance of our creation in the industry. When I met Vernon, I went with him to the first Black Rock Coalition meeting. I dug it, but the title of the organization was a challenge for me, because anyone who did want to give us shit, it gave them another way of separating us from the mainstream rock n' roll.
Muzz: The Steel Wheels Tour was an interesting dynamic. I felt like we needed to be there because we had something we had to give, which we did to stadiums full of people. We did a few dates on the West Coast with Guns N' Roses on that tour as well. Something like four or six. It was Living Colour then Guns N' Roses and then the Stones. It's amazing to think that we were on that bill today.
Will: We would hang out with the Stones often on the road. Charlie Watts and I became good friends. There was a lot of drum talk. We talked antique drums, and we were both into jazz and we'd talk about a lot of old school bebop and stuff. He was able to see a lot of amazing music in the U.K., when jazz guys were first coming over there to play, and he would tell me all these stories.
The Stones had this big television in one of the foyers of their dressing room area, where you can just go in and hang and meet people. And they used to play these video tapes of old blues performances on the TV. I remember I used to watch it all the time during the Steel Wheels tour, because it had a lot of black blues musicians I never saw perform. I heard the music, but never saw them playing it. And then you realize the Stones are like this living encyclopedia of the blues. So I used to go in and watch that every day, and one of the techs said to me, 'Hey man, at the end of the tour I'll take care of you.' And when we got off the road, the guy made an edited two-hour compilation of those tapes for me. He gave it to me on the way out, I'll never forget that.
The Stones were a great, great organization, I have to say. It was incredible. They treated us like kings, and we all enjoyed that whole tour and everybody in that organization.
Muzz: I think we actually have the distinction to be the only band to ever do an entire tour opening for the Rolling Stones during the Steel Wheels tour.
Corey: When CM Punk was growing up in suburban Chicago, on his little league team, they would play "Cult of Personality" to get the kids on the field. That's where it came from. He reached into his childhood and pulled this song out and admitted, "Yeah, this is the one that got me pumped when I was playing centerfield."
Muzz: To be quite honest, when I watched CM Punk come out to it I thought it made him look so mighty. It leaves you kind of in awe of what could happen in life. It seemed so out of the blue to me. And it had such an amazing impact on the song for an entirely new generation, for which I am incredibly grateful. But its like what I said earlier, that song inspires you to access the power within yourself and the power that you have inside you to do whatever it is you want to do.
Will: CM Punk using "Cult" as his entrance music was a beautiful shock, man. And then to play Smackdown!, it was just incredible. And they tried to get him to stop using the song, the WWE, and he said no. They wanted him to use their inside composer, but he didn't do it. He was a softball coach, and he used that song to get his team on the field and it was always something he listened to getting in a headspace, so it was a good luck thing for him and he didn't want to stop doing it when he got to the WWE.
Muzz: I recently joined the band again to play a party thrown by [legendary jazz drummer] Jack DeJohnette for his wife. It was insane. We did it with no rehearsal, and I think it's been about 15 years since I had played with them last. It was so powerful that you saw people losing their minds. I saw Jack DeJohnette himself losing his mind. I'll never forget seeing all these elegant, culturally refined women with evening gowns and pearls around their necks and guys in suits all sweating and jumping up and down for joy like kids, losing it. It was wild. For me, personally it reaffirmed the unique power that particular combo had. The feeling that was generated was off the chain. I was like, 'I get it now.' There was something about that chemistry that really can't be matched. I don't want to ever disrespect the current lineup, what they're doing, what their intentions are, and all that. But personally, I had to acknowledge the unstoppable chemistry that lineup was, and I saw the difference.