|Also known as|
|Origin||Washington, D.C., United States|
Bad Brains are an American rock band formed in Washington, D.C. in 1977. They are widely regarded as among the pioneers of hardcore punk, though the band's members have objected to this term to describe their music. They are also an adept reggae band, while later recordings featured elements of other genres like funk, heavy metal, hip hop and soul. Bad Brains are followers of the Rastafari movement.
Originally formed as a jazz fusion ensemble under the name Mind Power, Bad Brains developed a very fast and intense punk rock sound which came to be labeled "hardcore", and was often played faster and more aggressively than many of their peers. The unique factor of the band's music was the fact that they played more complex rhythms than other hardcore punk bands, also adapting non-punk style guitar riffs and solos into their songs.
Bad Brains have released nine studio albums. The band broke up and reformed several times over the years, sometimes with different singers or drummers. Since 1994, the definitive lineup of singer H.R. (Human Rights), guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson has reunited, albeit performing sporadically. In 2013 keyboardist Jamie Saft was recruited to play with the band, fulfilling both live and studio roles. Chogyi Lama performed with the group live 2016–17.
From fusion to hardcore (1976–1985)
The band was first founded in 1976 as a jazz fusion ensemble called Mind Power in the mold of bands such as Chick Corea's Return to Forever and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra as well as R&B musician Stevie Wonder. In 1977, their friend Sid McCray introduced 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." Despite their burgeoning punk sound, the early Bad Brains, after seeing Bob Marley in concert, also delved deep into reggae music and the Rastafari movement. Sid McCray became their first singer but left in the early days of the group's hardcore punk era, and guitarist H.R. became the band's new singer.
The band developed an early reputation in Washington D.C., due in part to the relative novelty of an entirely black band playing punk rock at the time, but also due to their high-energy performances and undeniable talent.
In 1979, Bad Brains found themselves the subject of an unofficial ban among Washington D.C. area clubs and performance venues (later addressed in their song, "Banned in D.C."). By 1980, the band relocated to New York City, where they would serve as a catalyst for that city's burgeoning hardcore scene. At first, the Brains stayed with their NYC friends in the bands The Mad and The Stimulators. By 1982, Bad Brains were a regular act at famed NYC music venue CBGB. Dr. Know recalled, "We played CB's every friggin' night. This whole 'Sunday matinee' thing is from us. When we first played, nobody was there. It's like, 'Who are these niggers?' And we're in their face, killing it. We got a weekend day, and by then a little buzz started happening."
New sounds (1986–1989)
In 1986, Bad Brains signed with SST Records and released I Against I, which, in addition to their hardcore punk and reggae sounds, introduced a heavy metal/funk hybrid sound. H.R. provided the 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: Rick Anderson wrote on AllMusic that, "[HR] 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". 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, H.R. quit the band again, taking his brother Earl with him after spending most of 1987 touring. 1988 dates for the I Against I tour were done with Taj Singleton on vocals and Mackie Jayson on drums. In 1988, Bad Brains signed with Caroline Records, who released their fourth album Quickness the following year. Since vocalist H.R. and his brother, drummer Earl Hudson were unavailable for the recording sessions, Quickness was originally recorded with Taj Singleton on vocals and Mackie Jayson on drums but before Quickness was ready for mastering, H.R. returned, rewrote the lyrics and overdubbed the vocals for Quickness replacing Taj Singleton's recorded lyrics and vocals.
Turmoil and switching singers (1990–1994)
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 and sessions, 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 rock.
H.R. experienced financial problems after an unsuccessful European tour with the group Human Rights and Bad Brains touring replacement singer Taj Singleton did not fit well with the band, so H.R. and Earl both returned for the Quickness tour. 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.
As bands influenced by Bad Brains (such as Living Colour and Fishbone) enjoyed commercial success, Dr. Know was approached by Epic Records in 1992, offering the band a major-label record deal. The former Cro-Mags drummer Mackie Jayson (who had played as a session musician on Quickness), and vocalist Israel Joseph I joined at this time. Rise was released in 1993. The Rise tour began in 1993 with Mackie Jayson on drums and finished in 1994 with drummer Chuck Treece.
Reunion with the original lineup (1995–1998)
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. In support of the album, Bad Brains opened for the Beastie Boys on the Ill Communication tour, and headlined a U.S. tour with then-unknown Deftones. However, the reunion did not last for long, because of H.R.'s erratic behavior while performing with the band, such as punching their manager in the face, beating a skinhead and a security guard in separate incidents throughout the tour. These incidents prompted the Bad Brains to break up once again.
Name change and return as Bad Brains (1998–2004)
H.R. appeared on the track "Without Jah, Nothin'", on P.O.D.'s Satellite (2001). In 2002, Bad Brains released I & I Survived. In 2004, Lil Jon 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 "Re-Ignition". The recording appeared on the limited-edition release of Lil Jon's album Crunk Juice. The accompanying DVD featured footage of the session.
H.R. performed his song "Who's Got the Herb?" with the band 311 on June 22, 2004, in Long Beach, California. H.R. was also featured in a live song version of "Shame in Dem Game" with Sublime, who are also from Long Beach, California.
Build a Nation and Into the Future (2005–2015)
In 2005, Darryl Jenifer told Billboard that the band was in the studio recording their first proper studio album in ten years, to be released later in the year. Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys gave interviews indicating that he was producing the sessions, for which basic tracks featuring the original lineup had been recorded. While homeless and faced with severe poverty, H.R. reunited with Bad Brains for two dates at CBGB. While H.R. & Dubb Agents geared up to tour Global Rock Showcases '07 dates, in early January 2007, Bad Brains had Build a Nation released on June 26, 2007. The album debuted at No. 100 on the Billboard 200. Bad Brains played five dates including Sasquatch Fest (June 2007). These were followed by concerts in California and a European tour in October 2007. Upon return to the U.S., the band took stage in Chicago for the Riotfest rock concert. 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. Before the release of the new album, Dr. Know stated he was eager for the band to record more albums. H.R. was ripped off due to poor management through the remainder of 2007. The title of bassist Darryl Jenifer's solo effort is In Search of Black Judas.
In January 2008, the band announced they are working on a box set of 7" vinyl records. Bad Brains toured South America during April 2008 with former singer Israel Joseph I (who was in the Bad Brains from 1991 to 1994 and appeared on the album Rise), temporarily filling in for H.R. The band performed at the Smoke Out festival in San Bernardino, California on October 24, 2009. As of 2009, two documentaries of the band were in production as well as a documentary focusing on H.R. Bad Brains were planning a three-date tour of Australia in June 2010, but were forced to cancel due to health reasons.
In March 2011, it was reported that Bad Brains had begun work on new material for their follow-up to Build a Nation. In April 2012, H.R. revealed the album would be called Let's Have Fun. However, the title was changed to Into the Future and the album was released on November 20, 2012.
Bad Brains played a short U.S. tour in support of Into the Future including a sold-out show at Howard Theater, Washington, DC, on April 20, 2012. On March 22, 2014, Bad Brains posted a picture of Darryl Jenifer and Dr. Know in the studio on their Facebook page, which indicated that the band has been working on new material. In November 2014, a book was released titled Punk! Hardcore! Reggae! PMA! Bad Brains! by author Greg Prato, which recounted and studied the band's history. The band appears on the HBO documentary Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways.
On May 30, 2015, Bad Brains (minus H.R.) recorded a new EP in a studio in Woodstock, New York in front of approximately 70 people. The EP is part of a series aptly titled, The Woodstock Sessions, and for unknown reasons, H.R. did not participate in the sessions; Jamaican singer Jesse Royal filled in for him. At first it was unclear if H.R. was no longer a member of Bad Brains, but when asked if he would work with him again, guitarist Dr. Know replied, "Only Jah know."
Dr. Know and H.R.'s health issues and Mind Power (2015–present)
On November 3, 2015, Bad Brains announced on their Facebook page that Dr. Know (Gary Miller) was hospitalized and on life support, after many other musicians reported so. Bad Brains later announced, on November 10, that Dr. Know had come off life support and was "under close care" after a heart attack and subsequent organ failure. His bandmates were asking fans to help via a GoFundMe campaign to pay his expenses for rehabilitation. After nearly three months in the hospital, he was transferred to a medical rehabilitation facility for the physical therapy and other necessary treatment he needed to make a full recovery.
On March 15, 2016, it was reported that Bad Brains frontman H.R. was diagnosed with a rare type of headache called SUNCT, and was seeking $15,000 to fight the "Suicide Syndrome" using methods not covered by health insurance; as a result, a GoFundMe page was created. According to the GoFundMe page, H.R. had dealt with "several health issues" in recent years that he had been able to overcome.
In a December 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, where Dr. Know and bassist Darryl Jenifer talked about the band members' health issues and the status and future of Bad Brains, it was revealed that the band hopes they will record the follow-up to Into the Future, titled Mind Power.
On June 8, the band played an unannounced short gig in Darryl Jenifer's art exhibition. They played three songs with H.R. on vocals, two songs with Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe on vocals and one song with Sid McCray singing with the band for the first time in 39 years.
In April 2017, it was announced the Bad Brains would play an exclusive 40th anniversary set at Riot Fest in Chicago's Douglas Park. On September 16, 2017, they made that Riot Fest appearance, playing ten songs with H.R. on vocals and three songs with Randy Blythe on vocals.
Sid McCray passed away on September 15th, 2020.
Musical style, legacy and influences
Bad Brains' music has been described as hardcore punk, alternative rock and reggae. Bad Brains have influenced many acts. They were ranked No. 99 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. On October 18, 2016, Bad Brains were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 but failed to be inducted. They have been eligible since 2008.
- Bad Brains (1982)
- Rock for Light (1983)
- I Against I (1986)
- Quickness (1989)
- Rise (1993)
- God of Love (1995)
- I & I Survived (2002)
- Build a Nation (2007)
- Into the Future (2012)
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