Bad Brains Music

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The Bad Brains are an extremely influential American all-black hardcore punk and reggae band, originally formed in Washington, DC in 1977. They are widely considered the pioneers of hardcore punk.

Originally formed as a jazz fusion ensemble, the Bad Brains developed a very fast and intense punk rock sound, which was both musically complex and more extreme than most of their punk rock contemporaries. The Bad Brains are one of the first American hardcore punk bands, commonly cited by many fans as the first hardcore band, though this is not surprisingly under persisting debate. They were also an adept reggae band, in a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde arrangement, while later recordings featured elements of funk and heavy metal. The Bad Brains were also notable as religious Rastafarians.

The Bad Brains broke up and reformed several times over the years, sometimes with different singers and/or drummers. The group's classic lineup features singer H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, bass guitarist Darryl Jennifer, and drummer Earl Hudson.


The band was first founded as a fairly ordinary jazz-fusion ensemble called Mind Power, with singer Sid McCray, in the mould of bands such as Chick Corea's Return to Forever and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. Mind Power's members were talented musicians. In 1978 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.

Via McCray, Mind Power became obsessed with punk rock and changed their name to the "Bad Brains," after the Ramones song "Bad Brain," but with the word "bad" in the sense of "powerful." Before the band recorded, McCray was replaced by singer H.R., brother of drummer Earl Hudson. The band also soon converted to the Rastafari movement, becoming devout followers of late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I and reggae legend Bob Marley. Despite their burgeoning punk sound, the early Bad Brains also delved deep into reggae music.

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.

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 influencing or perhaps even 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.

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

The band fought constantly with volatile singer H.R., who was very expressive. H.R. seemed to reflect the Bad Brains' music: one minute calm and espousing peace and love, and the next minute an aggressive, sometimes violent man. In 1984, the Bad Brains broke up; it was the first of many splits. H.R. began a solo career devoted to reggae music (with Hudson on drums), releasing two albums in 1984 and 1985.

In 1986, Bad Brains were back. SST Records released I Against I, seen by some as their finest recording. As the title track demonstrated, Bad Brains could still play extremely fast, but there was also a new variety; there was much more melody, slower grooves, and straight-ahead heavy metal (but, surprisingly, no reggae). 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 brother, drummer Earl Hudson, also wanted to devote the band strictly to reggae, while Dr. Know and Daryl Jennifer were increasingly interested in heavy metal music. Charges of homophobia dogged the band (particularly over the track "Don't Blow Bubbles" from Quickness, and a run-in with the Texas hardcore bands MDC and Big Boys, both of which included openly gay members), especially H.R., whose unreliability also cost the band a number of perfoming opportunities, such as serving as the opening act for U2. In this case, at the contract signing, H.R. excused himself to go to the bathroom but left the building. After the Quickness tour, H.R. was replaced by former Faith No More vocalist Chuck Mosley. Soon afterwards, Bad Brains broke up again.

In 1990, the Bad Brains backed longtime friend/fan/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.

As bands influenced by Bad Brains (such as Living Colour and Fishbone) enjoyed commercial success, Dr. Know was approached by Sony 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 Daryl Jenifer replaced them with former Cro-Mags drummer Mackie Jayson (who had played as a session musician on Quickness), and a young H.R. clone named Israel Joseph I (he sounded almost exactly like H.R.). Rise was released in 1993 and remains one of the band's strongest albums. Mixing jazz, punk, reggae, pop, funk, and rock, Rise was by far the most diverse album the group had released. Sales were weak, however, and Israel and Mackie were sacked to make room for the return of H.R. and Earl.

With the original band back together for the first time in five years, an old fan from the band's punk days, Madonna, signed the Bad Brains to her Maverick Records label for the 1995 release God of Love. Filled with more reggae than ever before, the album, despite lots of press and major promotion, failed to widen the band's audience.

At a show in Lawrence, Kansas in 1995, H.R., while high on mushrooms, bashed a microphone stand against the skull of a fan (some say a skinhead who was taunting him). After this incident the band called it quits yet again. Earlier that year, while on tour with the Beastie Boys, the group was busted with drug paraphernalia while crossing into Canada. The Beastie Boys gave them a warning. Then, while in Canada a second time, once again allegedly high, H.R. attacked their own manager and brother Earl before a show in Montreal with the Beastie Boys. This incident caused them to miss the next show, which was at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Beastie Boys kicked them off the tour.

Four years later in 1999, the original lineup toured under the name "Soul Brains" (for legal reasons). A live album, A Bad Brains Reunion Live from Maritime Hall was released in 2000. The band has toured sporadically since.

In 2003, the band, now able to use the name Bad Brains again, released I and 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 Hudson to back him on a version of his song "Real Nigga Roll Call," which interpolated the music of I Against I's "Reignition." The recording appears on the limited-edition release of Lil' Jon's album Crunk Juice. The accompanying DVD features footage of the session.

In 2005, Daryl 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, which would see a return to their hardcore glory days.

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, in California, H.R. and Hudson played a gig with their reggae outfit, The Dub Agents. According to the band's management, the CBGB's performances were a one-time event and the original lineup is said to be still together putting the finishing touches on their new album.

Bad Brains' 1982 album Bad Brains was the inspiration for Shepard's 2002 print Bad Brains.