Quick ! Name the first guitarist that comes to mind who can play jazz, metal, funk, and punk, with equal, and unprecedented skill ?
Well of course, you said Vernon Reid.
Mainstream fans will eternally recall Reid as the fiery guitarist of Living Colour. Yet throughout his career, Reid has worked with every genre of artist, from the Mariah Carey to DJ Spooky. Rolling Stone may have anointed him a curious #66 on their list of the 100 Best Guitarists Of All Time. But, here at the DRB, we have Vernon firmly entrenched at number #7, just a half step behind Adrien Vandenberg. Regardless of rank, Reid is a renaissance musician, a diverse blend of countless musical influences. In the twenty-two years since 'Vivid' was released to great critical acclaim, Reid has composed a film score. Produced records. Released his first solo album back in 1996. Become a husband and father. And, he can now add Podcaster, to the list.
We caught up with Vernon backstage at The Fox Theater as Living Colour prepared to mesmerize the masses on the 'Experience: Hendrix' Detroit tour stop.
If you had the chance to go back and speak with the Vernon Reid of 1989, what would you say ?
What would I say to myself ? Well, if there's anything I would say it's 'Don't be afraid to be even more creative”. Success, the way it came for us, was kind of traumatizing in the sense that, you're struggling, you're struggling, and I think this happened with a lot of band from my 'era' like Soul Asylum, a band like Anthrax, bands that were playing different things, then suddenly you're in the mix and it's like 'whattt ??'. The other thing, if I was going to talk to my younger self is, 'Man you should start to play piano, NOW!!' Because ten years evaporate and then twenty. But, if you start, soon enough, two and three years pass and you're able to at least passably do it. I've been threatening to sit down at the keyboard, but that's what I would tell myself: “Practice more!” Even more than I did
If tonight was the last show you ever played, have you accomplished all you wanted to ?
Everything ? If it all ended tomorrow ? I managed to do a fair amount. There are very few lives that feel complete. Because life is a process, an ongoing process. And one of the things for young people to understand is that you are always you. Its not like the older you is going to be radically different. You're still going to be you. You may leave certain things alone, but your essential personality is the same. I look at my seven year old's (behavior) and I say 'That is a feature!' 'THAT is not a phase!' She's going to be like that when she's twenty-one. There's so many people I would love to have a chance to sit down and talk to, or play with. I feel very fortunate in just the people I've gotten to meet. I've met a lot of my heroes, I've played with a lot of my heroes. From where I came from, my family is not a musician family. I went to a technical high school. I didn't go to a performing arts high school. I was guy who listened to Carlos Santana and then found himself standing next to Carlos Santana. I was a guy listening to the sex pistols, then I met Johnny Lydon. I was a guy listening to the Bad Brains, and I now consider that band to be amongst my really good friends in rock. So, a lot has happened. Still, there's are people I would have liked to have met and played with. I played on Public Enemy's first record. I played on Mariah Carey's first record. I toured with Jack Bruce as his guitar player. I've had a lot of varied experiences.
How has Fatherhood change you as a musician ?
It made everything real in a fundamental way. Like witnessing my daughter being born. I was struck by two things. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen, and this is an every day, every second occurrence. The first month with her I didn't even pick up the guitar. But, when I picked it up again, I felt great. It makes everything better. Some people take it as 'oh it's a pressure thing' the key to it is. Every kind of person has screwed it up as a parent. And every kind of person has made it work. People in the military people or in other dangerous professions have worked out as great parents. People who have little means have done a good job. Then, again, you have people who have done a terrible job of it. They stayed incredibly self centered or selfish. The economics of it are incidental. You have rich people who have done a terrible job. You have poor people who have done a terrible job. And vice versa. Hopefully, I'm doing a good job. I'm very lucky, that my wife is an extraordinary woman. My wife is also an artist. A choreographer and filmmaker, and active in her profession. That's a great thing for a kid to experience. And, I think were good parents.
Is it challenging to find a balance in being a musican, father, and husband ?
I think that's the modern question. Yes, it is from time to time. But the one thing is everyone is in the same mix. In the economy today, the kind of 1950's sitcom scenario is not realistic. You have two income, two career families, almost by necessity. There are people with regular jobs who aren't able to balance it. As I've said before, every kind of person has done well with it, and every kind of person has messed it up, or had a difficult time. Balancing it is key. I think the most important thing is that it's possible to have a great family life while being engaged in whatever profession or career or vocation calls out to you.
What does this tour with it's relation to Hendrix, mean for you personally.
It's funny. I actually became a podcaster with a stand up comedian W. Kamau Bell, we have a podcast called 'The Field Negro's Guide To Art's & Culture'. The fifth episode is me interviewing Ernie Isley. It was a incredible honor to talk to him about Jimi Hendrix, because Ernie Isley of the Isley brothers he was kind of post-Hendrix. He was one of the voices that kept the kind of idea of what Hendrix was doing, alive. Hendrix is a figure that people projected a lot of things on to. Everybody has their own kind of relationship to what he did. I love his music. I love what he did as an improvisor. I love what he did as a songwriter. He created an extraordinary context for what he did on the instrument, and he's very influential. The thing that I'm always at odds with is there are people who are 'Hendrix aficionados', people who are 'Hendrix obsessives', and play everything like him. His life was so extraordinary that he calls out to everyone to live your own extraordinary life, you have to live your own extraordinary life. He died at 27, young and beautiful, and did an incredible amount in a short period of time. And he is a challenge. His music, his existence as a figure, is a challenge in terms of 'how free am I prepared to be?', 'How uncompromising am I prepared to be?', 'What do I really want to say ?', 'What context do I build for the kind of guitar playing that I do?', and to think about that not in a nostalgic way, but in the modern day, in the current day. And having been a person, in a band, playing lead guitar, I'm constantly challenged to rethink what the role is. I think about a cat like Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, and I think 'man this cat is so . . so .'
Such as on 'In Rainbows' ?
Yeah! It's beautiful. What he's doing on the guitar, I go back and I hear bits of Wes Montgomery and bits of old jazz in there. So it's an ongoing dialogue for me, and it's a honor to play Jimi's music with such wonderful musicians. Every night I try to bring my own dialogue with it. I'm not so concerned with playing LIKE him. There's certain things (on the tour) that have been very positive. This year, the first half, I played a lot with Joe Satriani, trading licks with him. Today, I'm playing with Steve Vai and trading licks with him. And its awesome, it's completely awesome to be playing with one of the giants of modern day guitar. Hendrix has been made into so much. I come back to, really, what a great creative force he was. He exists on a kind of superficial level, with the head band and the crazy hair, but he also exists on a very soul deep level. A lot of his music is not happy-go-lucky music, like 'The Wind Cries Mary', 'Spanish Castle Magic', 'Castles Made of Sand' . .”
Hear My Train A-Coming.
Hear My Train A-Coming. He dealt with the same sorts of things that Robert Johnson dealt with in his own way. 'If Six Was Nine', he dealt with mortality in his music. He dealt with existential loneliness. He dealt with really the blues and heartache. But he also was like a pimp. He was a guitar pimp, too. He was influenced by Bob Dylan and the living influence of Bob Dylan affected his music. Robert Fripp talks about how, at one of the earliest King Crimson gigs, this guy runs up to him and says 'Man, that was great!”. Turns out that was Jimi Hendrix. He was not just about what he was doing, he was listening to everything. And the spirit of what that is, that's what I look for in myself in the sense of being open. Challenging myself. But I'm looking for that in terms of what the next generations our doing. For example, Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, is on the tour, and his two young sons, Graham and Harrison are excellent guitar players.
for the DRB
*Edited for clarity and content*