ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Living Colour: Can Black Guys Play Hard Rock?

Updated on August 18, 2020
Kosmo profile image

A rock guitarist since the 1970s, Kelley has been a fan of rock, blues, and jazz since the 1960s.

These four African-Americans invented a unique hard rock style

By the middle 1980s, hard rock or heavy metal bands were comprised of mostly white guys, but the band Living Colour proved that a quartet of black guys could be just a forceful, funky and headbashingly punkish as any other hard rock assemblage. Simply put, these people of “colour” could rock like anybody else! In the book Secrets from the Masters (from the pages of Guitar Player magazine), published in 1992, Joe Gore wrote:

Apart from a few rare exceptions such as Jimi Hendrix and Prince, rock and roll has become white turf. To a large extent, the music business can't accept the idea of a black hard rock band, despite the music's undeniably Afro-American origins. Of course, there's no law prohibiting black musicians from playing rock and roll, but those who do are not likely to be embraced by the industry.

(This statement is an old one, but Gore’s assertion still seems relevant in the rock and roll business.)

English-born guitarist Vernon Reid formed the band Living Colour in 1984. Reid, a jazz and rock guitarist, grew up in New York City, eventually becoming a mainstay in the local jazz scene, initially slinging his axe in Ronald Shannon Jackson’s band, Decoding Society. Over the years, Reid developed a jarring, accelerated playing style of blurred licks, chromatic frills and ranting power chords, punctuated with pedal effects and whammy bar reminiscent of guitar heroes such as Jimi Hendrix. (Living Colour has covered Hendrix classics, namely “Crosstown Traffic,” “Power of Soul,” and “Them Changes.”) Reid’s influences run from jazz saxophonist Eric Dolphy to another jazz great Ornette Coleman to Carlos Santana to blues great Lonnie Johnson and also sonic experimentalist Edgar Varése.

Referring to the aforementioned book, Reid had this to say about blacks in the rock and roll business:

In all seriousness, look at the statistical averages of black rock and roll bands that are killing on the charts and really making it. You’ll see that there’s a definite amount of risk. It’s not something that’s happening in a mass, across-the-board sort of way – not since Hendrix. This is just as challenging as being in the Decoding Society, but it’s challenging on another level because you’re dealing with a whole social milieu, a whole way of thinking about rock and roll that’s been locked in place since the middle ‘70s.

In 1986, led by Reid, a coherent group of musicians morphed into the current Living Colour, which included vocalist Corey Glover, bassist Muzz Skillings and drummer Will Calhoun, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music. The band then developed a passionate hard rock feel, featuring funk, jazz fusion, hip-hop, electronica, grunge, R&B and reggae - all of which could be called funk metal. Other than style, the group highlights matters of personal importance, social issues such as racism, as well as elements of family and, of course – romance - though with a rather edgy interpretation of love’s many faces.

Living Colour produced their first album, Vivid, in 1988, which included their signature hit, “Cult of Personality,” a tune utilizing historical audio segments, e.g., “The only thing to fear is fear itself,” a popular New Wave technique at the time. Later, in early 1989, the band played on Saturday Night Live and then opened for the Rolling Stones on their Steel Wheel/Urban Jungle Tour.

Early Living Colour
Early Living Colour
Current Living Colour
Current Living Colour
Mick Jagger in 2003
Mick Jagger in 2003

In fact, Mick Jagger championed Living Colour from the beginning, helping them record their first demo, and priming the pump for obtaining a recording contract with Epic Records. Moreover, Jagger produced the songs “Glamour Boys” and “Which Way to America” on Vivid.

Their second album, Time’s Up, continued their unique sound of quirky rhythm changes, ballad-like intros by Glover, strung out leads by Reid, the pounding rhythm section of Skillings and Calhoun, and the use of taped segments of political importance, such as on the tune “History Lessons.” The album won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Album in 1990. Perhaps the best of this bunch is “Love Rears Its Ugly Head,” along with “Cult of Personality,” both classics of the group, as well hard rock itself.

In 1992, bassist Skillings was replaced by studio veteran Doug Wimbish. Then in February 1993 the band released their third album, Stain, which didn’t score as well as the first two units, though the impetus and verve of the group was undiminished, especially on the tune “Ignorance Is Bliss,” which expressed the very quintessence of hard rock with Reid’s catchy, idiomatic riff run.

Unfortunately, Living Colour broke up in early 1995, splintering into solo acts, even though the fan base of their sound was as strong as ever. Soon, Vernon Reid released the solo effort Mistaken identity in 1996, and worked as a studio musician as well. And Wimbish launched his own solo effort, Trippy Notes for Bass, in 1999.

Then, late in 2002, Living Colour reunited, eventually producing the album Collide0scope in 2003, their first album that didn’t make the charts in the U.S. This offering is decidedly dark, gothic and contemplative and, appropriately, includes a cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Later, in 2006, Sony released Live from CBGB’s (an NYC venue) and Everything Is Possible: The Very Best of Living Colour. For awhile, Corey Glover left the band to play the part of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. (Glover had also acted in Oliver Stone’s movie, Platoon, back in the 1980s and Loose Women in 1996) And, in May 2007, the band released their first live DVD, On Stage at World Café Live. Their most recent CD is 2009’s Chair in the Doorway.

Along the way, Living Colour was ranked #70 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock, a list compiled in 2005.

As long as Living Colour continues to evolve with their distinctive funk-metal sound, they’ll treat us to some of the best hard rock ever produced. And if they can recapture the magic of their first two albums, they could astonish us well into the future. White, black or whatever, these guys can blaze with the best of them!

Please leave a comment.

Cult of Personality

Love Rears Its Ugly Head


Buy some of Living Colour's music . . .

© 2010 Kelley Marks


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)