Guitarist Vernon Reid is best known as the founder of the groundbreaking African-American rock group Living Colour. But to recognize Reid solely for his Grammy Award-winning work as a rock musician would be to miss a rich and varied body of work that has extended into virtually every musical genre. Reid has played with artists ranging in style from Mariah Carey to Public Enemy, and from Mick Jagger to jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. He has undertaken a wide range of musical journeys, including the production of James Blood Ulmer's blues album at the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, reuniting with Living Colour for a series of shows, and touring with former Cream front man Jack Bruce.
Reid's eclectic musical vision was fostered at a young age. Born in 1958 in London, England, Reid's family moved to Brooklyn, New York, when he was two. He grew up listening to rock and roll, soul, and even calypso music, an influence from his West Indian parents. As a young man, Reid's tastes gravitated toward the guitar heroes of the day—Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and especially Carlos Santana, who incorporated his own Latin heritage into conventional rock music. At the age of 15, Reid took up the guitar and soon gravitated toward jazz music under the tutelage of free form guitarists Ten Dunbar and Rodney Jones.
Reid's first band of note was drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson's experimental jazz-rock group Decoding Society. Throughout the 1980s Reid recorded four albums with Decoding Society and built a reputation for himself as a lightning-fast yet versatile guitarist. This notoriety in the New York music world led to his appearances on the albums of Defunkt, Bill Frisell, Jim Zorn, Mick Jagger, and Public Enemy, during the period from 1985 to 1987. But it was one of Reid's side projects that would make him a real star in the music world.
In 1983 Reid formed his own band, called Living Colour. The group started out as a hard rock power trio but changed and evolved through the years. By the time of Reid's collaboration with The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger three years later, Living Colour had become a four-man unit and was regularly gigging at the New York rock club CBGBs. Though the group enjoyed some success in New York City, Living Colour had yet to record any original material. Jagger heard the group at the club and agreed to produce a demo for the band to send out to the big record companies. Jagger produced "Glamour Boys" and "Which Way to America," and sent the songs, along with the rest of what would become the group's first album, Vivid, to Epic Records.