Let's be honest, when you think of rock music, what's the first band you think of? How about the second? The third? The point is, that no matter what band you think of, they most probably all have one thing in common, and that is that the artist/bands are probably white musicians. African-American musicians are not necessarily known as being in the rock genre, let alone the heavier edge of the spectrum. That stereotype changed forever in the mid 1980's with the foundation of a band that completely changed the landscape of not only black rock music, but the heavy rock genre itself.
Living Coloür was formed by guitarist Vernon Reid in 1984, as an extension of the Black Rock Coalition, which Wikipedia says is "...a non-profit organization founded by (among others) Reid for black musicians interested in playing rock music." Following a revolving door of band members, a lineup of Reid, vocalist Corey Glover, bassist Muzz Skillings and drummer Will Calhoun solidified themselves into a lineup that honed its' craft in front of live audiences such as the legendary CBGB's. It was at CBGB's that Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger "discovered" the band in 1987. Upon signing to Epic Records, Living Coloür went into the studio to record their debut release.
Released in May of 1988, 'Vivid' starts off with a shot across the bow that still resonates today. With the opening quote by Malcom X, ending quotes by John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt and the band's most famous riff, "Cult Of Personality" is still the band's most well known song. A very dark song that examines the double-edged sword with regards to life as a world-famous politician, "Cult Of Personality" was a shot in the arm for the heavy metal industry, still in the midst of hair bands and glam rock. Reaching #9 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts, "Cult Of Personality" is the song that the rest of the band's work has to compare itself to.
'Vivid', however, is not a one-trick pony. The rest of the album not only holds up tremendously well, and the diversity that makes up 'Vivid' is the defining landmark that makes the album as classic as it is. Lyrically, 'Vivid' takes on social and political issues with songs like "(Open Letter) To A Landlord", "Funny Vibe" (featuring a cameo from Public Enemy front men Chuck D. and Flavor Flav) and "Which Way To America?" (the latter produced by Mick Jagger). Musically, 'Vivid' is all over the map, from rock to funk, jazz, pop, metal, and even hip-hop. The minor hit "Glamour Boys", also produced by Jagger, takes an ironic look at young men obsessed with aspects of high society.
The accolades that surrounded such a groundbreaking album were plentiful. 'Vivid' reached #6 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts in 1989, was certified double platinum by the RIAA (meaning it sold over 2 million copies) and is included in the book "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die". The band themselves won three MTV Video Music Awards in 1989 for "Best New Artist", "Best Group Video" and "Best Stage Performance", as well as winning a Grammy in 1990 for Best Hard Rock Performance for "Cult of Personality". In addition, "Glamour Boys" got nominated for a Grammy for "Best Rock Performance by Duo or Group with Vocal" in 1990 and reached #26 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts.
With Living Coloür (now with bassist Doug Wimbish, having replaced Skillings in 1992) currently touring 'Vivid' in its' entirety on the album's twenty-fifth anniversary, the band has given themselves the opportunity to sit back and really understand just how the listening public, they themselves as a band, and the legacy of 'Vivid', have evolved. "It wasn't like the idea of Vivid or Living Coloür was generated by some sort of desire to make it in the white world of rock music," says guitarist Reid. "There was a lot of talk about it. But it's not odd that black people play rock & roll - what's really odd is that people think it's odd. It's a shame more people didn't focus on the music itself, because that's what we wanted."