WASHINGTON — He’s the vibrant frontman for funk-metal icons Living Colour.
“Come on down,” Glover said. “It’s a really intimate setting, the band is really compelling, the music is really good. Come check it out. We’ll hang out before or after — and we’ll talk about it if you like.”
Glover will provide vocals for supergroup The New Stew, including Roosevelt Collier (Lee Boys) on lap/pedal steel, Yonrico Scott (Derek Trucks Band) on percussion, Dave Yoke (Susan Tedeschi Band) on guitar, Jared Stone (Stone’s Stew) on drums and Matt Slocum (Oteil & The Peacemakers) on piano.
“It’s just an amazing band of people who have a love of this particular record,” Glover said.
They’ll perform Withers’ legendary “Live at Carnegie Hall” album from start to finish. Recorded on a rainy Friday night on Oct. 6, 1972, the album was voted one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 30 Live Albums of All Time and includes such massive hits as “Lean on Me,” “Use Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
“It’s really a seminal record,” Glover said. “The music that came out of it — ‘Grandmas’s Hands,’ ‘Lean on Me,’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ — all of these songs are still being played somewhere in the world. … As a singer-songwriter to play at Carnegie Hall so early in his career is amazing. For it to be so amazingly beautiful, to hear some of these songs, it takes you back to a certain time, but it makes you feel good.”
Born in 1938, Withers grew up in the tiny coal-mining town of Beckley, West Virginia and was just 13 years old when his father died. As soon as he turned 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served for nine years before returning in 1965 and moving to Los Angeles to pursue a music career in 1967.
“For somebody as prolific as Withers, to know that he didn’t start his career until he was 30, that he had a severe stutter, that he had to overcome a severe stage fright [is impressive],” Glover said. “He had the presence of mind to say that this stuff is fleeting, so I’m gonna go on the road, I’m gonna put out these albums, and I’m gonna go back to my factory job and keep working on my off-time.”
That’s right, Withers worked at an airplane parts factory in between music gigs.
“He’d go on the road and then go back to his job and he kept doing that for over 10 years,” Glover said. “He had a factory job working on fighter planes. He was working on jets. He worked on the factory line for a long time and he didn’t stop doing it while he was working, while he was still a superstar!”
As for Glover, he listened to a ton of Bill Withers growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and 1970s.
“My parents would take me and my brothers and sisters on road trips, and playing in the car was that record,” Glover said. “That was one of the three records we played as we drove … You’d listen to Bill Withers ‘Live at Carnegie Hall,’ Carlos Santana’s ‘Abraxas’ and ‘B*tches Brew’ by Miles Davis. Those three records are the reason why I do what I do. It’s the reason I’m a singer, it’s the reason I’m in a band, it’s the reason I love music so much, because of three records on long drives with my parents.”
Ironically, Glover initially didn’t think about pursuing a career in music. He initially wanted to be an actor, landing a role in Oliver Stone’s Best Picture winning Vietnam War picture “Platoon” (1986).
“It was fun,” Glover said. “It was some of the hardest work I’ve had to do to date, but think about the people that came out of that movie! Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Keith David. All these people were young, hungry actors at the time and now look at them. They are the quintessential actors of our time. The fact that Stone had the forethought to see that these people had enough talent, more than enough talent to pull of his vision, what can you say?”
Then, one random night at a friend’s birthday party, Glover got his big break in the music biz.
“This girl I was dating at the time — or I think we had stopped dating at that point — she invited me to her birthday party,” Glover said. “They wheeled out this beautiful cake and everyone was ready to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and she said, ‘No! I want him to sing happy birthday to me.’ I said, ‘Me? OK.’ So I sang ‘Happy Birthday,’ [guitarist Vernon Reid] and I struck up a conversation, and the rest is history.”
Indeed, Glover and Reid made history by forming the band Living Colour in 1984, quickly becoming one of the most exciting acts of the 1980s by fusing heavy metal, funk, jazz, hip-hop and alt-rock. This was a full two years before Run DMC crossed hip-hop and rock with Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”
“That’s what Living Colour is: a rock band that plays with soul, has a conscious and sometimes very jazzlike situations, but it’s all cerebral,” Glover said. “It was natural to us … That was our frame of reference. We would take all the things we listened to and appreciated about music and turned it into our own experience and that’s what it sounded like. It sounded kind of funky, it was kind of hard, it was the kind of stuff you bopped your head to, it was the kind of stuff you thought about. When you listened to the lyrics, you’d scratch your head and go, ‘Hmm. That’s a really interesting thought.”
The band’s debut album “Vivid” (1988) launched the title track “Cult of Personality,” which won the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance, alongside another nod for “Glamour Boys” (1990). The band won another Grammy for “Time’s Up” (1991) and fourth nomination for “Leave it Alone” (1994).
Yet it’s “Cult” that has captured an entire new generation, as former WWE wrestler C.M. Punk used it as an entrance theme and invited Living Colour to perform the song live at WrestleMania in 2013.
“As of about three years ago, [‘Cult of Personality’] was still played as a Top 100 single,” Glover said. “Basically, a cult of personality is a term coined by Josef Stalin, the idea that you can influence. … The world we live in says that all you need to have is a mythos about you and you become whatever. There’s a mythos about John F. Kennedy, there’s a mythos about Hitler, there’s a mythos about even somebody as obscure as, I don’t know, Paris Hilton. She has a ‘cult of personality’ around her.”
This theme remains as timely as ever, applying to both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
“Any time we do this song, it talks about the world we live in,” Glover said. “We live in very interesting times. That’s what the proverb says, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ You can’t say that we don’t.”
And so, Living Colour continues to mark those times, performing with Public Enemy and The Roots at the grand opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
“To play with the caliber of people like Public Enemy and The Roots, it was amazing,” Glover said.
He also said the band donated items to the Smithsonian collection.
“There’s a bunch of stuff there, lyrics and gear,” Glover said. “We were very honored to be a part of the museum in some way. … I have yet to go to the museum itself to see the exhibit, but I plan on taking my sons to see it, just to say Dad’s in a museum. Yes, your dad is a fossil and he is in a museum.”
Could the next induction be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland? Living Colour’s prospects look more promising after this year’s induction of D.C. punk band Bad Brains. Still, there’s no rush. The timing of your inclusion isn’t indicative of your skill or impact. Withers was just inducted in 2015.
Listen to our full conversation with Living Colour’s Corey Glover below:
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