Will Calhoun has toured the world as a member of Living Colour for nearly thirty years. One thing he’s learned is that airlines will take advantage of musicians. So over the years he’s found ways to do them one better.
“I used box cases for snare drums, pedals, and sticks,” Calhoun says. “When the airlines would ask, ‘What are you working on?’ I’d say, ‘I’m shooting a documentary film on German wiener schnitzels.’ They’d always wave [through] all my gear! I have a photographer’s business card, which worked 90 percent of the time. When you say ‘filmmaker,’ it’s like saying ‘Harvard’ or ‘Yale.’ They wouldn’t weigh it; therefore I didn’t have to pay extra. That worked up until 9/11.”
These days Calhoun takes other measures. Currently touring the latest Living Colour album, Shade, he keeps a Mapex Saturn 5 set and Sabian cymbals in a storage space in Bremen, Germany, that doubles as a repair shop, and uses backline gear when needed. He also totes fragile equipment like his Korg Wavedrum in carry-on luggage. “I’ve had a lot of things damaged on airlines,” Will explains, “and I don’t want to buy that gear all over again. Airlines open things. And with my hairstyle they assume I have some weed tucked away in a delay unit.”
If anything does get smashed, though, Calhoun makes sure to get paid. “Delta has reimbursed me for new gear,” he says. “But Air France is the worst. They don’t put things back correctly, and when you open the cases everything falls out. So I take photographs. I call the promoter over. I have him write a letter, I have the rental company write a letter, and I write a letter. Then I send the airline the bill. They pay, every time. Read the fine print on the back of the ticket—nothing over five grand. They’ll even go to eBay or call a music store to verify the cost. But they’ve always paid.”
When out of the airport, Calhoun centers himself in strange lands with personal items that make him feel like he’s at home, even when he’s not. “I carry my daily jewelry,” he says, “a couple spiritual books by Krishnamurti…. The road can make you jaded, but Krishnamurti keeps me grounded. I bring my favorite Gibraltar drum keys, as well as handmade West African garments given to me by the children of master musicians. It’s like your relative has given you something precious. I’m particular about footwear too. I carry handmade Moroccan belhaj [slippers]—they fit like a glove—and a performance shoe. Right now that’s soft custom Converse. And I take an everyday pair of lace-up Cole Haans, and Australian Blundstones—they’re black, they’re waterproof, and I can play in them. If the weather gets dodgy in Europe, I put those on. Boom!”
A jump rope (“500 reps before every gig”), Kashmiri chai tea with dried kelp, an RTOM Moongel Workout Pad, and a Yamaha RX11 drum machine also go into Calhoun’s carry-on, along with his in-ear monitors, which double as stage monitors and personal headphones for his 80G iPod. “I use Audiofly AF1120s,” the drummer says. “They’re simple, they’re smooth, and they’re really light. They sound clean. I use them right out of my mixer. And they remove outside noise as well as noise-canceling headphones do.”
Thirty years of traveling—does Calhoun still enjoy the journey? “I love the road,” he says. “Something happens to you when you perform for people. It’s a spiritual experience. And touring the globe is the best education in the world.”