Slept on Soul/Corey Glover – Hymns (LaFace Records)
By Michael A. Gonzales
It was February, 1987 when I first heard the voice of singer Corey Glover beautifully screeching into a microphone at the famed (and eternally dirty) punk club CBGB. Back then, Glover was the latest vocalist for guitarist Vernon Reid’s rock group Living Colour, a slot previously filled by future Eye & I vocalist D.K. Dyson and jazzbo Mark Ledford. From the stage of the aforementioned CBGB, the Brooklyn native was on the path of proving himself in front of the hyper audience consisting of mostly Black Rock Coalition (B.R.C.) members.
“I had been singing since I was boy growing-up in Brooklyn,” Glover to me in 2009. “My older brother Tommy was singer, so I started doing it because of him. When I was five or six, I sang for my grandmother on Sunday and afterwards joined the church choir and was in a group called Talented Unlimited.”
Reid was also the co-founder (along with writer Greg Tate and a gang of others) of the B.R.C, an organization that catered to artists of color looking for something different. Attracting a left of center crowd, the B.R.C. meetings were the perfect connecter for likeminded arty folks; additionally, part of their mission was helping the musical artists get bookings in downtown clubs.
Much like the Groove Academy/Black Lily of its era, B.R.C. shows served as a training/proving ground for invocative young talent that included J.J. Jumpers, 24/7-Spyz, Faith and many others who wanted to bring the noise. Tall, lanky, humorous and intense, Reid who was already a local celebrity sideman supplying avant-jazz licks to Decoding Society and Defunkt, was on a mission to realize his own aural visions that combined his passion for Hendrix, hip-hop, hardcore and everything in between.
“I wanted to put together all the things that influenced me,” Reid explained to writer S.H. Fernando Jr. in 2014. “So punk was affecting me, the avant-garde was affecting me, pop was affecting me, all these things, and I wanted to find a way to pull it together – pulling all the various weird spaces in my head together.”
Ronald Shannon Jackson Decoding Society Montreux 1983
Living Colour’s music was loud as Lear jet and the band needed a powerful singer whose voice could soar over the furor of the instruments. One night, while attending a birthday party in Brooklyn, Reid heard Corey singing “Happy Birthday” and recruited him that night to join the band. As the third vocalist in three years, Glover proved to be the charm for the group. While a few of their early gigs were a bit rusty, it was only a matter of time before Living Colour became the musical darlings of the Lower East Side.
In the winter of 1987, veteran bassist Jared Michael Nickerson produced the two day Stalking Heads event and the venue, once home for the Ramones, Blondie and the Talking Heads became their stomping grounds. “That first Stalking Heads show was the first time in the history of the club that black bands ruled the stage at CBs,” said Greg Tate, author of the forthcoming essay collection Flyboy 2 (Duke University Press). “We brought the darkness to C.B.G.B.’s.” The second night of Stalking Heads, sitting in front of the stage, I heard Corey Glover singing for the first time and was impressed as he wailed like the best arena rocker without losing his gutbucket blues bottom.
Vocally combining soul salvation with punk angst (as though Otis Redding had eaten Johnny Rotten), critic and early B.R.C. supporter Gene Santoro described him as having a “big, supple voice.” Glover, who was also an actor, quickly transformed from awkward new guy into a charismatic frontman swinging his dyed red dreadlocks, wailing over the electric noise and flinging himself into the audience. From that night on, Living Colour became unstoppable as they spread their wings and began touring outside of the city.
Attracting a rockist audience that obviously came to hear Reid’s wild space man guitar that owned as much to the blues as it did to Glenn Branca, there was no denying the strength of Glover’s singing on their signature songs “Middle Man” and “Funny Vibe.” Said Glover, “Living Colour was on a mission to prove that we were a force to be reckoned with.”
Living Colour – “Middle Man”
Living Colour – “Funny Vibe”
After a couple of years together, Living Colour finally broke through the race barriers that usually prevented major labels from signing Black rock groups and inked a deal with Epic Records. Released on May 3, 1988, the band’s debut Vivid was well-reviewed by Spin and Rolling Stone, their videos for “Cult of Personality” and “Middle Man” were in constant rotation on MTV and, by the year’s end, Living Colour was one of the biggest groups in the country. As an alternative to the regular New York City soundtracks (in 1988) of hip-hop, new jack swing, Vivid became a double-platinum achievement and the following year Living Colour won Best Hard Rock Performance for “Cult” at the 1989 Grammy Awards, Best New Artists at the MTV Awards and opened a string of stadium shows for the Rolling Stones.
“I was still living at my mother’s house when Vivid came out,” Cory said. “Living Colour went on tour went on tour with the Rolling Stones, and when we returned my mom handed me a brush and paint and told me to paint the stoop. After the Grammy’s, I just jumped on the D train and came home; people were doing double takes on the train.”
Onstage and in the studio, Living Colour continued to grow; after the wondrous follow-up Time’s Up, featuring the searing singles “Elvis is Dead” and “Love Rears Its Ugly Head,” came out in 1990 and went gold, Living Colour continued to tour and reap awards. However, further down the line, with the release of their dark cloud third album Stain (1993), the group began splintering under the strain of frustrations and egos. When they met at a studio in England two years later to record demos for their fourth disc, things finally fell apart and the broken band returned to America. While Reid retreated to studio to begin working with producers Teo Macero and Prince Paul on his bugged soul joint Mistaken Identity, brother Corey returned to his Brooklyn bedroom where and a stash of music he’d recorded with a few friends.
“At that point they were just grooves,” Glover told me in the winter of 1998. “I had an eight-track and a set of drums at home, and friends would just come over and jam on stuff. I wasn’t singing on any of it, but in the end we had about twenty grooves. We kept saying, ‘We should do something with this,’ but I was really hoping Living Colour would continue. Once I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I was like, cool, I’m going to do this.”
Listening through the soulful grains of songs in his stash, Glover decided he wanted to make music that rocked in the opposite direction than most of his fans expected and signed a deal with leading 1990s R&B label LaFace Records under the group guise of Reverend Daddy Love. Atlanta-based LaFace Records, owned by producers LA Reid and Babyface, was the home of TLC, Toni Braxton and Outkast, but seemingly the last place one would’ve expected Glover to sign with. Still, Glover wasn’t trying to bring his complete rocker persona to the project. “I really wanted to be an R&B love man,” Glover laughed, “and wear silk suits and slick my hair back. I wanted to make music that had the kind of warmth that you heard coming from Sly Stone or the JBs.”
Raised in Crown Heights during the seventies, where his WABC/WLIR/WBLS soundtracks were supplied by Barry White, Teddy Pendergrass, Stevie Wonder and other ‘ohh baby baby’ vocalists, he fantasized about playing that role. For Glover, the cool name Reverend Daddy Love had a double meaning that paid homage to storefront preacher grandfather as well as Sammy Davis Jr.’s flamboyant hippie preacher Big Daddy in Bob Fosse musical Sweet Charity.
“Originally I was going to call myself G. Love, but when G. Love and Special Sauce came out, I couldn’t do that,” Glover explained. “With the name Reverend Daddy Love, I wanted the material to be like a revival, like people were going to church. Guys like Al Green and Marvin Gaye, I’m tipping my hat off to those guys, because they had what it takes.” During that same period, as Corey contemplated his next move, the music scene was filled with fresh-faced kids named D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Dionne Farris and Maxwell whose own brand of music was marketed and branded as neo-soul by record companies and critics.
With that influx of new old school sounding music, the time seemed perfect for Corey to launch his own dusty soul and explore his big poppa velvet dream. Beginning in February of 1997, Corey began writing lyrics to his grooves that had quickly developed into songs. After gathering a team that included producers Peter Lord and V. Jeffery Smith, who were also members of the Family Stand (“Ghetto Heaven”) as well as the funky force behind Paula Abdul’s sophomore album Spellbound, they rehearsed the band for two weeks before going into Sorcerer Sound in Greenwich Village to record.
Family Stand – “Ghetto Heaven”
Paula Abdul – “The Promise of a New Day”
Rounding out the crew was engineer Jay Mark, a veteran of Sigma Sounds/Philly International sessions. “I originally wanted to make the album in my house, but the record company was leery of the idea,” Corey said. “I liked the vibe at Sorcerer. The guy who owned it was kind of eccentric and he had this whole animal kingdom vibe going on in this basement studio. We got all the basics done, but we were banging them out; some songs were down in one take. In a ten hour day, we were knocking out two or three songs. It was amazing.”
Trying to be as analog as possible, Corey and the producers strived for sonic warmth that could only be found through certain instruments, microphone and tapes, not digital, recordings. “I know that all sounds very Lenny Kravitz, but there is just something about that sound. Digital records takes away all of the warmth and just sounds too pristine.” The first song completed was the Al Green sounding “Little Girl,” which Corey explained, “It is the kind of song I thought Al would’ve made if he hadn’t gone the religious route.”
Corey Glover – “Little Girl”
Hymns opens with the voice of a southern Black woman reciting a poem over the Delta blues guitar and the sound of a train rolling down a dusty railroad track. However, just when you think that Cory is about take us back to the country roads, he detours into the bugged out nihilistic first single “Do You First Then Do Myself,” a disturbing track that was a little crazy and featured the psychopath narrator screaming/singing his love struck fascinations an perversities over Michael Ciro’s raging guitar, sounding as they he should’ve been in a Nine Inch Nails or Tricky song.
Corey Glover – “Do You First Then Do Myself”
While Corey, ever the actor even on the mic, sounds convincing in the role, the song doesn’t exactly fit with the Stax/Hi-Records vibe of the rest of the disc. The video for “Do You First…” was just as extreme as the song, shot in a creepy David Fincher style that has come to signify cinematic madness. Written by producer Peter Lord, Perhaps if “Do You First Then Do Myself” had been the last song on the album it might’ve fit better, but as the opener it set the wrong tone.
Luckily, the splendid song that should’ve opened “April Rain, an exquisite break-up-to-make-up that is part power-soul-ballad with elements of Afro psychedelic melodies and stunning orchestration, comes next and was also the second single. Although some music critics insisted on comparing the track to Prince‘s “Purple Rain,” which it sounds nothing like, the song should’ve been an angst ridden smash on the level of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” or “Apologize” by One Republic but, of course it wasn’t. On this track, as well as on the lovely track “One,” the orchestration credited to Joe Mardin was reminiscent of the neo-classical=soul arrangements Gene Page did with Barry White.
Corey Glover – “April Rain”
Corey Glover – “One”
Hymns was filled with marvelous music from 80s slow-mo Peabo Bryson vibe of “Only Time Will Tell” to the holy peacock strut of “Sidewalk Angel,” but when it came out in 1998, many music critics weren’t overly enthusiastic, seemingly upset that it was different from Living Colour; nor was there, according to Glover, much support coming from the label. “They didn’t know what to do with me,” Glover told Jon Caramanica. Considering that LaFace, which was one of my favorite labels of that era, hadn’t been able to work their platinum miracles on similar projects they released on Highland Place Mobsters or Society of Soul, it should not have been surprising that Glover’s project would suffer a similar fate.
Going back with his bros two years later, in 2000 Living Colour reformed. In 2009 they released the powerful Chair in the Doorway album and are currently on the road and in the studio completing their upcoming sixth album Shade, whose first single will be a cover of the Notorious B.I.G.’s classic “Who Shot Ya.” Check them out at this year’s Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn, NY on August 28, 2016.
Michael A. Gonzales has been writing about music since the 1980s. A few of his subjects include Barry White (Vibe), D’Angelo (Wax Poetics) and Lauryn Hill (The Source). In addition to soulhead, he contributes to Complex, Pitchfork Review, XXL, Baltimore City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly and The Weeklings. His essay on the DeBarge family appears in Best African-American Essays 2009. Gonzales blogs at Blackadelicpop.blogspot.com. Check out some of his work for soulhead.