B y chance, Corey Glover’s rock ’n’ roll career began at a friend’s birthday party.
“They wheeled the cake out and were ready to sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ ” Glover said. “And (the friend) shut everybody up and said, ‘No — I want Corey to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ And so I did.”
The birthday girl had a friend at the party, who showed up with her brother, who happened to be Vernon Reid, a guitarist for the band Living Colour.
While “Happy Birthday” isn’t exactly an easy song to shine on, Reid was impressed enough to approach Glover about trying out for the band.
“I auditioned and actually didn’t get it,” Glover said. “Somebody else got the gig. But that person subsequently left, and I came along after him.”
With Glover singing
lead, the band would rise to stardom, surprising audiences unaccustomed to African-American hard rock bands.
Living Color will appear at the Smoke Out Festival at the Pozo Saloon on Friday. Other acts on the card include Slightly Stoopid, Cypress Hill and Mickey Avalon.
Glover, who spoke via phone while driving in downtown New York City, has been entertaining his entire life.
“I started singing when I was 6 years old,” he said. “And when I became a teenager, I got into acting.”
As a child, he was a member of a children’s theater ensemble, and he later pursued musical theater in high school, which is when he also began acting in TV commercials. Not long after joining the band, he was given the biggest acting job of his career, having won a part in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam flick “Platoon.” Around that time, a mutual acquaintance (current Living Colour bassist Doug Wimbish) suggested Mick Jagger see the band. Jagger arrived at CBGB’s in New York with Wimbish and guitar legend Jeff Beck, and was so impressed he offered to produce a Living Colour album.
Two years after “Platoon” came out, Living Colour released its debut album, “Vivid.”
Even though the band Living Colour was starting to get a lot of radio airplay for the record, MTV wasn’t showing their videos. So the band’s label, Sony, decided to make a power play.
“If it weren’t for Michael Jackson, we wouldn’t have gotten a chance on MTV,” Glover said. “Because the person who dealt with MTV from Sony Music said to them, ‘You play Living Colour, and we’ll give you the Michael Jackson stuff.’ ”
Michael Jackson being the biggest star in the world, MTV relented. And it wound up paying off for both the band and MTV. For the band, the video for “Cult of Personality” brought wider exposure and new fans. For MTV, it helped offset the suggestion that they ignored nonwhite acts.
While an all-black rock band was a curiosity, the song “Cult of Personality” wound up winning the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. As the video showed, the tune dealt with the rise of world leaders.
“The term comes from Stalin talking about Lenin — that Lenin had a ‘cult of personality,’ ” Glover said. “It occurs everywhere. It occurs with packs of dogs. There’s always a leader that emerges. It’s a psychological and sociological dynamic.”
Furthering their career, Living Colour opened for the Stones on their Steel Wheels tour. Suddenly the band that had played small and medium club gigs was opening to stadium crowds of 50,000.
“It was very strange,” said Glover, whose band released its fifth album, “The Chair in the Doorway,” last year. “We had a hard time adjusting. Because we were like a small club band playing loud. And then we got to a big stage and we weren’t loud enough. So we had to adjust.”
While the Stones — particularly Keith Richards — have a reputation for wild times, Glover said they were fairly laid back.
“There was partying but no hard-core partying,” he said. “At that point they were in their late 40s, so I think they had slowed it down.”
Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.