Punk, reggae band
When Bad Brains first introduced their frenetic take on rock and roll to audiences in 1978, the music world was experiencing the birth of a stripped-down, speeded-up phenom in the genre known as punk rock. The Ramones, the Clash, and the Buzzcocks, all seminal bands, were screaming their way into the music scene just as Bad Brains began playing small clubs and parties in their hometown of Washington, D.C. Since that time, punk rock in its many faces has found its way to larger and more diverse audiences, as multi-platinum acts such as Green Day, the Offspring, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers can attest. Guitarists such as Vernon Reid of Living Colour and Jane’s Addiction founder and later Chili Pepper Dave Navarro pay tribute to Bad Brains’ guitarist Dr. Know and his textured, blazing style through both word and deed. As one of punk rock’s originators, Bad Brains helped to set the tone for hundreds of bands that followed their raucous, screeching lead.
After flirting with major-label notoriety for 18 years, the band stood poised on the verge of major exposure with the release of their 1995 album, God of Love, on
Formed 1979, in Washington, D.C.; original members include Earl Hudson (born December 17, 1957, in Alabama; left band, 1989; rejoined band, 1995), drums; H.R. (born Paul Hudson, February 11, 1956, in London, England; left band, 1989; rejoined band, 1995), vocals; Darryl Jenifer (born October 22, 1960, in Washington, D.C.), bass; and Dr. Know (born Gary Miller, September 15, 1958, in Washington, D.C.), guitar; later members include Mackie Jayson (born May 27, 1963, in New York City), drums; and Israel Joseph-I (born Dexter Pinto, February 6, 1971, in Trinidad), vocals.
Began as fusion jazz band; changed direction following exposure to first wave of English punk rock and began playing Washington clubs in late Seventies. Relocated to New York City in 1981; independently released single “Pay to Cum” in 1981; recruited by ROIR and released self-titled cassette that has sold over 60,000 copies; released Rock For Light in 1983 on PVC Records and produced by Ric Ocasek, formerly of the Cars; turned down major-label contract offers from Elektra and Island and chose to record on independent labels including SST, PVC, and Caroline; H.R. left band in 1989 to pursue solo career and play in reggae band, Human Rights, replaced by Israel Joseph-I; drummer Earl Hudson left band in 1989, replaced by Mackie Jayson; signed first major-label contract with Epic Records and released Rise in 1993; record sold poorly and band was dropped by Epic; H.R. and Earl rejoined band in to release 1995’s God of Love on Maverick Records.
Addresses: Record company —Maverick Entertainment, 8000 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048.
Madonna’s respected Maverick label. The album was produced by Ric Ocasek, formerly of the Cars, who had also produced the Brains’ 1986 LP I Against I after being duly impressed with a powerful on-stage performance one night. Following a career as noted for its break-ups and reformations almost as much as its music, the four original members rejoined in 1995 to put together an album that would finally actualize the kind of potential that persuaded Bad Brains’ original producer Ron St. Germain to tell the Washington Post, “They were without a doubt the best hard-core/speed metal band in the world.” While the album sold moderately well, the onstage antics of Bad Brains’ lead singer, H.R., a.k.a. Paul Hudson, garnered the bulk of the media attention.
During the 1995 tour in support of the latest release, a violent run-in with fans in mid-performance landed H.R. in jail in Lawrence, Kansas. Maverick management posted bail, but not before some show dates had to be canceled. The tour then moved to Montreal, Quebec, where H.R. attacked Bad Brains’ manager Anthony Countey backstage before the show, breaking his nose then winding up in jail yet again after officials found marijuana in his pocket when H.R. crossed the border back into the States. The band’s relationship with both management and amongst themselves spiraled into chaos, especially after neither his bandmates nor his label posted H.R.’s bail after the second incident. Touring at the time with the Beastie Boys, several more dates were canceled while Bad Brains and its management took time to reflect on what had happened and determine its effect on the band’s future. Certainly an unfortunate turn of events, it was not an unfamiliar scenario for a band that has flirted with success many times throughout its controversial and celebrated career.
Bad Brains first took shape when the four shared a Forrestville, Maryland, house. Comprised of H.R. and his brother, Earl Hudson, joined by Darryl Jenifer and Dr. Know (born Gary Miller), the group originally termed their musical enterprise Mind Power. They found inspiration in early punk records but set themselves apart by an affinity for the steady rhythms of reggae combined with lyrics driven by strong faith in Rastafarianism. The four attended a Bob Marley concert and the 1978 experience helped chart a course that would take the band into unknown musical territory. Hudson told Rolling Stone, in typical Bad Brains parable-speak, that the concert “was like a vision. I guess it was the season for things, the season for knowing.”
Aside from reggae, the four found themselves drawn to fusion jazz and funk. Bassist Darryl Jenifer explained to the Phoenix Gazette, “We were into Mahavishu, Brand X, Return to Forever, Stevie Wonder, and we took that progressive jazz influence and grafted it onto the aggressiveness and revolutionary sounds of punk rock and reggae.” Such diversity in their influences combined with strong musicianship made Bad Brains a well-respected band among their peers as well as an act not to be missed in the D.C. area. Their first single, “Pay to Cum,” vaulted the foursome from local standouts to touring professionals in 1981.
It turned out to be a very good break, as the band found few Washington clubs willing to book them after a riot nearly erupted during one show. In response, the Brains recorded the tongue-in-cheek “Banned in D.C.” and set their sights on bigger and better gigs. Club dates in New York led to a stint in Europe and set the stage for releases on the California-based, now-defunct alternative label, SST Records, as well as producer Ron St. Germain’s own label, ROIR (Reach Out International Records).
While major labels courted Bad Brains, most notably Elektra in 1988 after the release of cult classic and Ric Ocasek-produced I Against I in 1986, H.R. and the other members rebuffed the corporate overtures, choosing to remain an indie-label band. That all changed in 1989 when H.R. departed to pursue more reggae-based ventures with a band he dubbed Human Rights. Chuck Moseley of Faith No More took over Bad Brains’ vocals and New Yorker Mackie Jayson replaced drummer Earl Hudson, who had also left in 1989. Moseley then departed in 1992, with his spot taken over by Trinidad-born Rastafarian Israel Joseph-I. The original Brains migrated to different parts of the world—Earl Hudson to Cologne, Germany; H.R. to Los Angeles; Dr. Know and Jenifer to Woodstock, New York—but Jenifer, Dr. Know, Jayson and Joseph-I got together in 1992 to sign Bad Brains’ first major-label deal. This new incarnation released Rise on Epic Records and industry watchers assumed the album would catapult Bad Brains to platinum-selling greatness. However, the record flopped and Epic dropped the band.
Were it not for the insistence of Beastie Boys’ guitarist Adam Yauch, Bad Brains might have stopped making records and forever retained their underground status. During a 1994 Beastie Boys performance at the Lollapalooza tour stop in Los Angeles, H.R. visited with Yauch backstage and made several important points about the state of the alternative music industry and Bad Brains’ past impact—and possible future—within it. Yauch’s articulated convictions worked: H.R. agreed to put the original line-up back together, and Joseph-I gracefully stepped aside. Bad Brains’ sophisticated equilibrium takes as its fulcrum the member’s deep spirituality, and they attributed their 1995 comeback to the plan of Jah. “We re-formed to have fun and let people know the god of love is the heavenly father and heavenly mother together as one,“H.R. told Rolling Stone. Although marred by troubles early in 1995, past history suggests that Bad Brains will continue to patch things back up to record and play together, and—depending on H.R.’s ability to avoid trouble—finally reach the level of success so many think they deserve.
Bad Brains (EP), Alternative Tentacles, 1982.
Bad Brains (cassette, contains “Pay to Cum”), ROIR, 1982.
Rock for Light, PVC, 1983.
I Against I, SST, 1986.
Live, SST, 1988.
With the Quickness, Caroline, 1989.
Attitude—The ROIR Sessions, Relativity/ROIR/Important, 1989.
The Youth Are Getting Restless, Caroline, 1990.
Rock For Light (re-issue), Caroline, 1991.
Spirit Electricity, SST, 1991.
Rise, Epic, 1993.
God of Love, Maverick Records/Warner Bros., 1995.
The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, edited by Romanowski, George-Warner, Pareles, Fireside/Rolling Stone Press, 1995.
Boston Globe, May 16, 1995,.
Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1995.
Gazette (Montreal), May 16, 1995; May 17, 1995.
Guitar Player, October 1995.
Kansas City Star, July 22, 1995; July 27, 1995.
New York Times, July 9, 19959.
Phoenix Gazette, June 5, 1995.
RIP, August 1995.
Rolling Stone, June 29, 1995.
Seattle Times, May 26, 1995.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 14, 1995.
Washington Post, July 30, 1995.
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