Will Calhoun & Living Colour

Will Calhoun in his Sitting room?As mentioned in my earlier post about Paul Geary, 1992 was a desolate time for me musically but thanks to Extreme and their cheesy Funk-o-Metal, I started to open my ears again in search of the new. Although I’d listened to Living Colour’s debut album ‘Vivid’ back in 1989, the album was littered with musical statements that my limited outlook couldn’t connect with. Move on three years and things were different. All of a sudden, not only was I digging the bands music, it also provided a much needed catalyst for blowing my mind and challenging my limited musical scope. Within this melting pot of diversity, lay the outstanding grooves of one, Mr William Calhoun. Not only could this guy seemingly cover every style asked of him – whether it be Funk, Thrash-Metal, Jazz, Latin or whatever – he was also a songwriter. At that point in my life, this unique band became a flag on the map of unknown territory and I was hooked.

Having completely soaked myself in the music of ‘Vivid’, ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘Biscuits’, my thirst for new material would be quenched by the hard-hitting 1993 release, ‘Stain’. This was a new departure for the band; their first with new Bassist Doug Wimbish and a move toward a less commercial product, much to the disappointment of Sony Records. However, the lack of a repeat hit single like ‘Love Rears Its Ugly Head’ could not dismay die-hard fans. If anything, the loyalty for the band increased as they took us into new musical territory.

Living Colour, the Stain tour, 1993When the band toured ‘Stain’ throughout Europe in the spring of ’93, I finally got to experience Living Colour in the flesh. Although I’d only ever seen impressive live footage of the band on video tape, the real deal took my appreciation to another level. This was like nothing I’d ever witnessed and I’ve yet to see a band come close to cooking like these guys did back in the day. My only frustration was knowing that despite my best efforts, there was no realistic prospect of putting a band together with a similar musical viewpoint on Merseyside. Having said that, it didn’t stop me from trying and for about 12 months, I struggled on with a project missing that final jigsaw piece, AKA ‘a singer’. In the meantime, there was always the next Living Colour album to look forward to – or not…

Come 1995, a press release from Sony announced that the band had ceased and my hopes were dashed for the next Living Colour instalment. It was only after speaking to Doug Wimbish at a Bass clinic some years later, he revealed relations within the band during the ‘Stain’ period were “like World War III”. Despite Wimbish’s dark revelation, I somehow never let go of a gut instinct telling me the band had unfinished business to take care of and by 2000, there was welcome news on the internet regarding a reunion.

Me With Living Colour, 28-10-04, L-R: Will Calhoun, Me, Martin Byrne, Vernon ReidIn 2004 the band toured Europe in support of the hatchet-burying ‘Collideøscope’ album and I managed to catch them live for a second time at the jaw-dropping, unlikely location of Birkenhead, Wirral. Better still, with the aid of a former rhythm section colleague, I managed to get backstage post-gig to meet the band. This was a truly surreal experience; to meet musicians whom I held in such high esteem, literally, on my doorstep. It was like the old cliché of pinching yourself to make sure it wasn’t a dream and my only regret is the possibility that I may have come across as a little star-struck. Having said that, I’ll forgive myself over this one as this was a band I had and still have, immense respect for.

Will CalhounWhilst the juvenile habits of replicating kit set-ups and licks never materialised within my appreciation of Will Calhoun, there were many points of influence I took away for more mature usage. His nasty phat grooves were there for the borrowing, along with some economical and tasteful double-bass drum licks. However, I was to abuse the latter application within the music I was playing for many years; not realising that Living Colour songs could easily absorb Will’s Bass drum ideas in contrast to my own gratuitously out of place efforts.

Although I’ve moved on musically since the days of the early 1990’s, there is a part of me that still hankers for making music not dissimilar from the ethos Living colour adopted when they staked their claim on the map of musical history. Whether or not this will ever materialise probably lies on the side of unlikely, but I haven’t entirely given up hope. Either way, Living Colour have earned a permanent place on my iPod playlist and I’ll be forever grateful to them for awakening my senses and bringing me a new lease of musical life.

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