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Bad Brains

Bad Brains is an American hardcore punk band formed in Washington, D.C. in 1977. They are widely regarded as among the pioneers of the genre,(1)(2)(3) though the band's members objected to the term 'hardcore' to describe their music.(4)

Originally formed as a jazz fusion ensemble under the name Mind Power, Bad Brains developed a very fast and intense punk rock sound known as hardcore punk and was often played faster and more emphatically than the music of many of their peers. The unique factor of the band's music was the fact ... Read More

Bad Brains is an American hardcore punk band formed in Washington, D.C. in 1977. They are widely regarded as among the pioneers of the genre,(1)(2)(3) though the band's members objected to the term 'hardcore' to describe their music.(4)

Originally formed as a jazz fusion ensemble under the name Mind Power, Bad Brains developed a very fast and intense punk rock sound known as hardcore punk and was often played faster and more emphatically than the music of many of their peers. The unique factor of the band's music was the fact that they played more complex rhythms than that of other hardcore punk bands, also adapting non-punk style riffs/solos into their songs.

They were also an adept reggae band, in a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde arrangement, while later recordings featured elements of other genres. Bad Brains are also notable as religious followers of the Rastafari movement.

Bad Brains broke up and reformed several times over the years, sometimes with different singers and/or drummers. The band's classic and current lineup is singer H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson, H.R.'s younger brother.


From fusion to hardcore (1977–1985)

The band was first founded as a jazz-fusion ensemble called Mind Power (1975), with singer Sid McCray, in the mold of bands such as Chick Corea's Return to Forever and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. In 1977, McCray introduced the rest of the band, who were already interested in bands such as Black Sabbath, to punk rock, including the Dickies, the Dead Boys, and the Sex Pistols. Mind Power became obsessed with punk rock and changed their name to 'Bad Brains', after the Ramones song 'Bad Brain' but with the word 'bad' in the sense of 'powerful'. Despite their burgeoning punk sound, the early Bad Brains also delved deep into reggae music.(5) McCray left in the early days of the group's hardcore-punk era, and guitarist H.R. became the band's singer.(6)
The band developed an early reputation in Washington D.C., due in part to the relative novelty of an entirely African-American band playing punk rock, but also due to their high-energy performances and undeniable talent.(5)

The band's considerable musical technique, due in part to their jazz and progressive rock roots, set them apart from other Washington punk groups, who were typically earnest but often amateurish performers. Bad Brains' emphasis on extreme speed, especially in their early records and performances, are often regarded as establishing hardcore punk.

Their music still contained hints of their progressive rock past, with quick time changes and H.R.'s fluctuating vocal dynamics. H.R. was a muscular and unpredictable stage performer with a very wide vocal range, who often leapt into the audience or onto amplifiers.

In 1979, Bad Brains found themselves the subject of an unofficial ban among many Washington D.C. area clubs and performance venues (later addressed in their song, 'Banned in D.C.'). The band subsequently relocated to New York City.(5)

Their self-titled debut album was released on Neil Cooper's ROIR Records on 'cassette only' in January 1982, followed in 1983 by Rock for Light, produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars. These two albums, containing hardcore punk and mellow reggae, were landmarks, influencing an entire generation of musicians, including Beastie Boys, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 311, Living Colour, Sublime, Deftones and more.

The band fought constantly with volatile singer H.R., who was very expressive. H.R. seemed to reflect Bad Brains' music: one minute calm and espousing peace and love, and the next minute an aggressive, sometimes violent man. In 1984, Bad Brains broke up; it was the first of many splits. H.R. began a solo career devoted to all genres of music, calling music 'Transcendental' and saying 'acceptance of all music is what I feel will be the unification of all nations under one' releasing many albums from 1984, 86', 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 2000.(citation needed)

Change of style (1986–1992)

In 1986, Bad Brains reunited and SST Records released I Against I. As the title track demonstrated, Bad Brains could still play extremely fast, but there was also a new variety; there was much more melody and slower grooves. Dr. Know sounded a bit like a punked-out Eddie Van Halen, there was an outright love song in 'She's Calling You,' and H.R. famously provided vocals for 'Sacred Love' over the phone from the Lorton Reformatory while doing a bid for a cannabis charge. Also critically praised was H.R.'s performance: 'he digs deep into his bag of voices and pulls them all out, one by one: the frightening nasal falsetto that was his signature in the band's hardcore days, an almost bel canto baritone, and a declamatory speed-rap chatter that spews lyrics with the mechanical precision of a machine gun'.(2) The title track's video was shown on MTV's then-new 120 Minutes program, for which the band appeared in promotional footage. Despite the success of I Against I, Bad Brains broke up again after spending most of 1987 on the road.

The group signed with Caroline Records in the late 1980s to release Quickness in 1989. The album continued where I Against I had left off, yet with a heavier sound and featuring the return of reggae with 'The Prophet's Eye'.

Bad Brains were plagued by internal tensions nearly from their beginning. Aside from the problems with H.R., who sometimes refused to perform at scheduled concerts, he and his younger brother, drummer Earl Hudson, also wanted to devote the band strictly to reggae, while Dr. Know and Darryl Jenifer were increasingly interested in heavy metal music. H.R. was replaced by Taj Singleton for the Quickness tour. H.R. had financial problems after an unsuccessful European tour with the group Human Rights, and meanwhile touring replacement singer Taj Singleton did not fit well with Bad Brains. H.R. and Earl both returned to the band, and H.R. was given a week to spit out some lyrics and get the vocal tracks down for Quickness. After the Quickness tour, H.R. and Earl left once again and H.R. was replaced by former Faith No More vocalist Chuck Mosley. Soon afterwards, Bad Brains broke up yet again.

In 1990, Bad Brains backed longtime friend, fan, and protege Henry Rollins on a cover version of The MC5's 'Kick out the Jams'. The recording appears on the soundtrack to the film Pump Up the Volume.

Lineup change and reunions (1993–2000)

As bands influenced by Bad Brains (such as Living Colour and Fishbone) enjoyed commercial success, Dr. Know was approached by Epic Records in 1993, offering the band a major-label record deal. However, H.R. and Earl weren't interested, as they were concentrating strictly on reggae. Dr. Know and Darryl Jenifer replaced them with former Cro-Mags drummer Mackie Jayson (who had played as a session musician on Quickness), and vocalist Israel Joseph I. Rise was released in 1993 to some confusion as original vocalist H.R. had been billed as 'Joseph I' on the Rock for Light album back in 1983. Mixing jazz, punk, reggae, pop, funk, and rock, Rise was by far the most diverse album the group had released. In addition to a mix of reggae and hardcore, the album also featured heavy metal overtones. However, sales were unimpressive, reviews were mixed, and Israel and Jayson were fired to make room for the return of H.R. and Earl Hudson.

With the original band back together for the first time in five years, Bad Brains signed to the Maverick Records label for the 1995 release God of Love.

At a show at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, Kansas in 1995, H.R., (according to some accounts, while high on psychedelic mushrooms), bashed a microphone stand against the skull of an audience member, notably, a skinhead, severely injuring him. After this incident, the band called it quits yet again. Earlier that year, while on tour with Beastie Boys, the band was arrested with drug paraphernalia while crossing into Canada. Later in Montreal, Canada, H.R. attacked Bad Brains' manager Anthony Countey, breaking his nose, and also assaulted his brother Earl before their scheduled appearance with Beastie Boys. This incident also caused them to miss the next show planned for Madison Square Garden in New York City. Maverick dropped the Brains soon afterwards.

Two years later, the band worked together to remaster some very early studio recordings which were then released as the EP The Omega Sessions by Victory Records. In 1999, the original lineup toured under the name 'Soul Brains'(5) due to H.R.'s desire to not be associated with anything 'Bad'. A live album, A Bad Brains Reunion Live from Maritime Hall was released in 2000.

Soul Brains (1999-2001)

Soul Brains was the name used by the original Bad Brains from 1999 to 2001. It is rumored that Bad Brains took this name because they had temporarily lost legal rights to the original band name. Darryl Jenifer, though, stated several years ago(citation needed) that the actual reason was a 'spiritual change' of H.R., who found it inappropriate for some time to use the word 'bad' in the band's name. The other band members, who (according to Jenifer) didn't care too much about the name Bad Brains as long as they could play their music, then decided to replace the word 'bad' with 'soul'.

New millennium (2001-present)

H.R. appears on the track 'Without Jah, Nothin' ', on P.O.D.'s triple platinum 2001 recording Satellite.

In 2002, Bad Brains released I & I Survived, an album devoted entirely to dub and reggae; many fans had been pushing for such an album for years.

In 2004, rap singer Lil' Jon, another longtime fan of the band, recruited Dr. Know, Jenifer and Earl Hudson to back him on a version of his song 'Real Nigga Roll Call,' which interpolated the music of I Against I 's 'Re-Ignition.' The recording appears on the limited-edition release of Lil' Jon's album Crunk Juice. The accompanying DVD features footage of the session.

H.R. Performed the song 'Who's Got the Herb?' with the band 311 on June 22, 2004, in Long Beach, California.

In 2005, Darryl Jenifer told Billboard magazine that the band was in the studio recording their first proper studio album in ten years, to be released later in the year. Beastie Boy Adam Yauch also gave interviews indicating that he was producing the sessions, for which basic tracks featuring the original lineup had been recorded. H.R. was said to be on board for the new album, slated to emphasize a return to their early hardcore sound.

In late 2005, it was announced that Bad Brains would headline a two-date show at New York City's legendary CBGB's, which was scheduled for February 24–25, 2006. Tickets for both dates quickly sold out. After sets from a handful of other hardcore punk acts, Bad Brains came to the stage, as billed in print, 'with John Joseph' of The Cro-Mags filling in for H.R. and former Bad Brains drummer Mackie Jayson filling in for Earl Hudson. Meanwhile, H.R. and Dubb Agents played gigs under the Global Rock Showcase event brand in California.

May 28, 2005, to Sept. 8, 2006, H.R. & Dubb Agents headlined a series of Global Rock Showcase dates across the United States. Dates include Little Steven Van Zandt's 'Save CBGB Rally' concert in Washington Square Park, New York City, August 31, 2005. H.R. has a long time association with Global Rock Showcase organizers D.I.A. Records, and released an album through them titled Out Of Bounds.

On hiatus from Global Rock Showcases, in the fall of 2006, H.R. reunited with Bad Brains for two dates at CBGB's on October 9 & 10, as part of the continuing celebration of the venue's legacy and imminent closing. Due to tickets selling out within mere minutes, unsurprising due to the band's devoted following, a third show was added for Wednesday, October 11. During the course of the three day bill, H.R. announced that the new Bad Brains album was 'forthcoming.' He also stated that the band's next set of tour dates would be called The Re-Ignition Tour. However, the tour eventually was not billed as such.

While H.R. & Dubb Agents geared up to tour Global Rock Showcases '07 dates, in early January 2007, Bad Brains revealed the title of the new album. Build a Nation was released on June 26, 2007. The album debuted at #100 on the Billboard 200, and also garnished overwhelmingly positive reception from fans and critics alike. Scheduled between Global Rock Showcase dates, Bad Brains played five dates including Sasquatch Fest, June 27, 2007, George, Washington, and Virgin Fest, Aug. 5, 2007, Baltimore, Maryland. Bad Brains' California dates were Sept. 22 to 28, 2007, followed by a European tour in October, 2007. Upon return to the U.S. the band took stage in Chicago for the multi-billed Riotfest rock concert. Bad Brains, as of 2006-07, appear to be a more stable unit, and are enjoying successes that did not come to fruition previously. The internet has also contributed to the band's resurgence as it is now possible to view old and new concert footage via Youtube, or read archived interviews.

The video for the song 'Give Thanks and Praises' can be seen online on the band's MySpace page as of August 2007. Director Shavo Odadjian makes an appearance at the end of the concert video with frontman H.R.. The two are seen charismatically walking stageside, passing and smoking a marijuana joint.

Before the release of the new album, Dr. Know stated he was eager for the band to record more albums. As of 2007, Dr. Know, Darryl Jenifer, and H.R. all have solo albums in the works. H.R. will continue to tour solo with DIA Records Global Rock Showcase through the remainder of 2007, with his instrumental section Dub Agents. The title of bassist Darryl Jenifer's upcoming solo effort is Blackvova Universal Sound.

In January 2008, the band announced they are working on a box set of 7' vinyl records.(7)

Bad Brains toured South America during April 2008 with former singer Israel Joseph I (who was in the Bad Brains from 1992–1994 and appeared on the album Rise), temporarily filling in for H.R. The band performed at the Smoke Out festival in San Bernardino, CA on October 24, 2009.(8)

Two documentaries of the band are currently in production as well as a documentary film focusing on H.R..(9)

According to their official website, Bad Brains were planning a three-date tour of Australia in June 2010, but were forced to cancel due to health reasons.(10)



In a 1982 interview with fanzine Flipside, in issue #31, H.R. made a few homophobic remarks near the start of the interview. He said San Francisco (where they had just played some shows) had '...too many faggots' and said that '...most of them (homosexuals) act so crazy even out in public, it disturbs me, makes me want to go and shoot one of them.'(11)

During a 1982 tour, Bad Brains played in Austin, TX with local band Big Boys, whose singer Randy Turner was homosexual. They also incurred a debt to Turner, with some sources indicating the debt was from loaning Bad Brains' money(12)(13), others indicating the debt was from Turner buying the band marijuana.(14) When H.R. learned that Turner was homosexual, an argument erupted, with a particularly heated exchange between H.R. and MDC singer Dave Dictor, leading to Bad Brains leaving Austin without repaying their debt to Turner and instead leaving a note that allegedly read 'burn in hell, bloodclot faggot'(12)(14)(15) and vandalizing Turner's house(14). Big Boys seemed to gloss over the incident; in an interview after the incident in Suburban Punk #7 they refuse to discuss the issue and refer to Bad Brains as ' of the best live bands I've ever seen'(16). MDC on the other hand referred to the incident often in interviews and even wrote a song about it called 'Pay To Come Along.'(14)(15)(17)

In a 1982 interview with Forced Exposure Fanzine, in issue #2, there was a discussion with H.R. about changes in the band (becoming a reggae band and abandoning Punk Rock, moving out from the city to 'the land', becoming 'survivalists'). When asked about what led to the final decision to make these changes, H.R. responded 'I guess the final decision was made about a couple months ago, halfway through the tour when we went out to California and we saw all the faggots and we went to Texas and seen all the punk rock bands. Out there the in thing was being gay and all the hardcore bands were gay. That was the last straw, I couldn't take no more. I had to say somebody got to go out there and show the youth the truth, man.'(18)

On the 1989 Quickness album, a song titled 'Don't Blow Bubbles' had lyrics that were generally interpreted as being homophobic and suggesting that AIDS was God's cure for homosexuality. When asked about the song, guitarist Dr. Know said that 'We wrote that song as kind of an angry warning to homosexuals. We didn't really mean to insult them, but a lot of people we knew seemed to be living with their eyes closed.'(19). In a 2007 interview where bassist Darryl Jennifer called their previous homophobic views 'ignorant' he was asked about the song and the furor over the lyrics and replied 'They don't understand that we've grown. Just like anyone, I'm not ashamed to say, 'Maybe I could have been...' Damn right, I was a homophobe! I shouldn't have to explain that to the world because everyone will do that. That's wisdom. You have to grow to be wise.'(20)

Bassist Darryl Jennifer further stated in the 2007 interview, 'In Rastafari and even in Christianity, they disagree with homosexuality. That's a known fact.'(20). In the same interview, he also distanced himself from his earlier homophobic statements, saying:

So the point being here, when we first were discovering Rastafari – like any young men or any young women getting into anything – you're overzealous. Back in 1988, I might have been saying, ''Fire burn…'' I'm 25 years old! You've got to understand that I'm a young man growing, getting into something. Now I'm 46 years old and I've learned that that's ignorant. I've learned through the years that we're all God's children, regardless of your race, creed, color, sexuality, any of that.(20)


Current members

* H.R. — lead vocals (1978–1984, 1986–1989, 1990, 1994–1995, 1997–present), guitar (1977–1978)
* Dr. Know — guitar (1977–1984, 1986–1995, 1997–present)
* Darryl Jenifer — bass (1977–1984, 1986–1995, 1997–present)
* Earl Hudson — drums, percussion (1977–1984, 1986–1991, 1994–1995, 1997–present)

Former members

* Sid McCray — lead vocals (1977–1978)
* Chuck Mosley — lead vocals (1990–1991)
* Israel Joseph I — lead vocals (1991–1994, 2009)
* Mackie Jayson — drums, percussion (1991–1994)

Legacy and influence

* Bad Brains were ranked #99 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.

* Henry Rollins, who had been personally encouraged by H.R. to become a singer himself – even to the point where H.R. would drag the young Rollins onstage and make him sing a song with the rest of the band, long before Rollins formed State of Alert or joined Black Flag – considered Bad Brains among the most important rock bands. Adam Yauch of Beastie Boys (who started off as a hardcore punk band) also shares Rollins' sentiments, citing Bad Brains as his main influence. Dave Grohl stated that they were the 'greatest live band ever'. Rapper and hip-hop producer Lil Jon also considers the 'Brains among his favorite bands.

* Moby covered their song 'Sailin' On' for the Never Give In: A Tribute to Bad Brains (1999, Century Media) tribute album to the band. Living Colour, No Doubt, HIM, Some Days You Just Can't Get Rid Of A Bomb, Outbreak, and John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers have also covered 'Sailin' On'.

* Dr. Know plays in Mos Def's backing band, Black Jack Johnson. He also played additional guitar on the Coheed and Cambria song 'Time Consumer' featured on the album The Second Stage Turbine Blade.

* Billy Corgan credits Bad Brains' combination of hardcore punk and reggae as a primary influence for The Smashing Pumpkins hybrid of soft and loud music after attending a live show by the band in 1986. Years later the Pumpkins had Bad Brains open for them for a show in Paris, which Corgan has cited as a highlight of his career.

* Minor Threat, who also were formed in Washington, D.C., were influenced by this type of hardcore punk and adopted it as their primary style.

* Beastie Boys were huge Bad Brains fans, and they intentionally selected a name with the initials B.B. because of this.(21)

* Post-hardcore band The Bled covered their song 'House of Suffering' for the Tony Hawk's American Wasteland soundtrack.

* The album The First Three Years by singer/songwriter Frank Turner includes an acoustic cover version of Pay To Cum.

* Oakland-based groove metal band Machine Head also covered 'House of Suffering' as a Japanese bonus track to their 1999 album The Burning Red.

* On their album Soundsystem, 311 covered Bad Brains' song 'Leaving Babylon'.

* On their album Master of Styles, The Urge covered Bad Brains' song 'Gene Machine'.

* 'Pay to Cum' was used in a scene in the 1985 Martin Scorsese film After Hours.

* 'Big Takeover' was covered by John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers on his first solo album, Niandra LaDes and Usually Just a T-Shirt, released in 1994.

* 'House of Suffering' was covered live by Sublime and is featured on their boxset Everything Under the Sun, released in 2006. Also featured on the boxset is a live performance of 'Leaving Babylon'.

* 'Pay to Cum' was covered by the ska band Skankin' Pickle on their cover album The Green Album.

* Long-time friend and original Bad Brains singer Sid McCray still works with the band today, accompanying them on tour, setting up for shows, and in other capacities.

* Dutch skateboard brand Built To Destroy made a signature model for skateboarder Nelson Mosikili of which the artwork is directly adapted from the artwork from the Destroy Babylon single.

* The Beastie Boys' song 'Pass The Mic' contains a guitar riff sample from the Bad Brains song 'Big Takeover'(22).

* The Hive song 'Ultrasonic Sound,' which is featured on The Matrix soundtrack is built off of a sample of Bad Brains' Re-Ignition.

* Brazilian metal band Sepultura covered the song 'Gene Machine/Don't Bother Me' as a b-side for their 1998 single, Choke.

* Pro skateboarder Bucky Lasek, a Baltimore native, listed Bad Brains as his No. 1 musical artist on his blog on his official web site,

* Adam Jones (guitarist of Tool) listed Dr Know (Miller) among his top 10 influences/inspirations in music magazine 'Guitar World' (vol.30, no.4, April 2009)

* The track 'Telegram' on Saul Williams' self titled album contains a sample of Supertouch & Shitfit by Bad Brains

* Frank, a recurring character on the TV show 'My Name is Earl', normally wears a Bad Brains T-shirt whenever he is not in prison clothing.

* In a sketch on Vic Reeve's Big Night Out, featuring 'Mr Dennis' a character played by Bob Mortimer named 'Mr Lister' claims to have recently attended a Bad Brains concert.


1. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. 'Biography of Bad Brains'. Allmusic. Retrieved 29 December 2008.
2. ^ Washngton Dcs 5 ' Washington D.C. Metblogs
3. ^ (1)
4. ^ see the documentary film Punk Attitude.
5. ^ a b c d Moskowitz, David V. (2006). Caribbean Popular Music. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 18–19. ISBN 0-313-33158-8.
6. ^,M1
7. ^
8. ^
9. ^ 'New Bad Brains documentary: Where were you?'. Music Blog (The Guardian). 6 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-09.
10. ^
11. ^ 'Bad Brains', interview in Flipside Issue 31, April 1982 Flipside Issue 31 ( PDF version)PDF)
12. ^ a b KFTH - Bad Brains Page
13. ^ MDC (band)
14. ^ a b c d :30 Under DC > Bands > Bad Brains
15. ^ a b KFTH - MDC Interview from Flipside #36
16. ^ KFTH - Big Boys interview from Suburban Punk #7
17. ^ Andersen, Mark; Jenkins, Mark (2003), Dance of Days, Akashic Books, ISBN 1888451440
18. ^ :30 Under DC > Bands > Bad Brains > Interview from Forced Exposure 2
19. ^ Don't Blow
20. ^ a b c Darryl Jenifer Of Bad Brains: 'I Want To Be The Soldier Of My Music' ' Interviews @ Ultimate-Guitar.Com
21. ^ 'Bad Brains: A Punk Powerhouse Reunited', The Washington Post, August 3, 2007
22. ^ 'Pass The Mic Song Spotlight'. Retrieved 2009-07-08.

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