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Bang the drums, brilliantly

The musical education and wide-ranging interests of Living Colour's Will Calhoun mean that no bad-drummer jokes apply here.


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 13, 2001

The musical education and wide-ranging interests of Living Colour's Will Calhoun mean that no bad-drummer jokes apply here.

Will Calhoun, drummer for the newly reunited Living Colour, squashes that nasty rumor permeating the music industry. You know the one: Drummers are stupid. Come on, we've all heard the jokes:

Q: What did the drummer get on his I.Q. test?

A: Drool.


Q; What do you call a drummer with half a brain?

A: Gifted.

Calhoun, 37, is as brainy as he is brawny. Educated at Berklee School of Music, Calhoun's a dynamic, hyperkinetic drummer with jazz influences. Calhoun's also sharp, politically minded, witty and culturally plugged in.

As are the rest of his bandmates in Living Colour, the Grammy award-winning hard-rock quartet that won raves for socially conscious hits such as Cult of Personality and Open Letter to a Landlord. The band split in 1995, but re-formed last December.

In his born-and-bred-in-New-York-City accent, Calhoun discusses the projects he entertained himself with since Living Colour went its separate ways seven years ago: gigging with jazz greats Wayne Shorter and Pharoah Sanders, traveling to foreign countries including a stay with an aborigine family in Australia, spiritual development. Calhoun even filmed a documentary about African drumming.

He says he's a different person now.

"Artistically, musically, spiritually, it all totally changed my life," Calhoun says.

Calhoun is also a reader. Cultural critics Cornel West, bell hooks, Quincy Troupe's autobiography of the late, great Miles Davis line his bookshelves.

Calhoun's also a thinker, engaged in spirited arguments about pop culture, the use and appropriation by Western artists of "world music." The term "black rock."

That's a tough one, says Calhoun. He remembers a fan in a London restaurant telling him it was brilliant for Living Colour to market itself as a black rock band.

"We didn't," says Calhoun. "The press did. We are black and we are rock band, sure, but the media always needs a commercial ingredient. But the term "black rock' separates us from "white rock,' which I don't like."

Calhoun notices more people of color in the nu-metal genre, which often blends hip hop with hard rock. Bands such as Sevendust, whose lead singer is black, and Crazy Town, which has a black drummer, offer hope for black musicians interested in rocking out.

But, Calhoun says, the "black rock" moniker can give band an identity crisis.

When Living Colour's original bassist Muzz Skillings left the band in 1992, he was replaced by seasoned musician Doug Wimbish.

Hypothetical question: Would Living Colour have allowed a white guy -- or, perhaps, a white woman -- into the band?

"It wasn't about that," Calhoun says. "In fact, we auditioned several women.

"But, we roll with certain people, you know? And, we're New Yorkers. There was no discussing it. It was just Doug."

With that Berklee degree, what sort of high-brow music would rock fans be surprised Calhoun is into?

"Bagpipes," Calhoun says. "I just love the sound of them. I just bought a CD called Bagpipes of the World."

Calhoun says he has his own set. He also says he's not very good. "But I may pull them out at a gig."

Interested in music from all over the world, Calhoun is ambivalent about Western artists incorporating exotic sounds into their own music. When Living Colour was at its peak, Paul Simon was winning critical raves -- and jeers -- for Graceland, a groundbreaking album that prominently featured Brazilian and African musicians. Simon decided to address the issue on a tour of black colleges. Calhoun respected Simon for that.

"I dig what he did," Calhoun says, "He handled the backlash well. It's a tough thing. Artistically, culturally, the country is there, the music is there. If you treat it with respect, that's one thing," Calhoun says.

"But, at the end of the day, it's a spiritual thing," he says. "You have to deal with your own energy. How you feel about it."

Okay, some easier questions?

Favorite drummer: "Elvin Jones made me want to play the drums, in a nutshell."

If you could choose anyone from history to eat lunch with tomorrow, who would it be? "Malcolm X."

Ever look up from your kit, get an eyeful of flamboyant lead singer Corey Glover in one of those wacky outfits and think, "Man, what the heck is he wearing?"

"Corey is Corey," Calhoun says laughing. "If you know him, the outfits fit him perfectly."

Best drummer joke you've ever heard: "None."

You've never heard a drummer joke?

"Oh, I've heard thousands of them, but not one of them is good."

Preview: Living Colour performs with Soulsystem at 7 p.m. today, Jannus Landing, Second Street between Central Avenue and First Avenue N, St. Petersburg. $17. (727) 896-2276.

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