Sunday Old School: Bad Brains
Let it never be said that heavy music only appeals to a small demographic. If it weren’t for four Rastafarian Black Sabbath fans, hardcore music wouldn’t be what it is today, and perhaps nor would heavy music in general. When the four young men from Washington D.C. discovered punk music, they would form a band that would influence thousands of others, with several of these becoming popular or influential acts themselves. Indeed, where would music be today without the Bad Brains?
The band originally formed as a jazz funk outfit named Mind Power in 1975 but their path was altered forever two years later when a friend introduced them to the punk rock sounds of the Sex Pistols and The Dickies amongst others. They soon became obsessed with the genre and changed their name to Bad Brains, inspired by the song, "Bad Brain" by The Ramones. Punk was not the only interest that gripped the four young men either. After witnessing a Bob Marley concert, they became enthralled by reggae music and the Rastafari movement. The groups original singer, Sid McCray left soon after the bands inception, and guitarist H.R. (Human Rights) took over the role as frontman. Their shows were notorious for their extremely high level of intensity and they became an influential force in the D.C. hardcore scene, particularly H.R. who claims he encouraged Ian MacKaye to spread the Straight Edge philosophy with his band Minor Threat and inspired Henry Rollins to join Black Flag. Such was the craziness of their live shows that they soon found themselves on the receiving end of an unofficial ban from many clubs in the D.C. area, and soon decided to relocate to New York. They were instantly accepted in New York and performed regularly at the legendary CBGBs club and with other young hardcore acts like Reagan Youth and the Beastie Boys (yes, those Beastie Boys.)
In January of 1982, the band finally released their first album, a self-titled effort available exclusively on cassette at first through ROIR Records. The album has since been hailed as one of the greatest albums in the history of punk and hardcore, if not the greatest. Its breathtaking blend of hardcore punk and reggae music made them stand out from their contemporaries, not least thanks to their obvious musical ability. They released their second album, "Rock For Light" the next year through PVC Records, and re-recorded several songs from their self-titled debut for the release, as well as including older songs such as "At The Movies" in addition to new material.
It would be three years before they released another album, which surfaced as "I Against I" in 1986 and was released through SST Records. The album marked a change for the band, as they began to experiment with heavy metal and funk music and is the groups best selling effort to date. It also spawned the first official Bad Brains music video, which was made for the title track and featured the song, "Sacred Love," on which H.R’s vocals were recorded over the phone, as he was jailed at the time on a marijuana charge. Although "I Against I" was a success, H.R. quit the band in 1987, with his brother, Earl (the drummer in Bad Brains) joining him. They were replaced respectively by Taj Singleton and former Cro-Mags drummer, Mackie Jayson, who recorded with remaining original members Dr. Know (guitars) and Daryl Jenifer (bass) for their fourth album, "Quickness," though the Hudson brothers would return to the band soon after, resulting in H.R. re-writing and re-recording the vocal parts in time for the albums release, only for H.R. and Earl Hudson to quit once again soon afterwards. The group recruited former Faith No More singer Chuck Mosley to replace H.R., though they disbanded soon afterwards.
Despite the split, the band was offered their first major label contract in the early nineties by Epic, after successful bands such as Living Colour frequently cited them as a large influence. Bad Brains accepted the deal, but returned without the Hudson brothers, with the drum stool once again occupied by Mackie Jayson and the vocal position being handled by newcomer Israel Joseph I. They released their fifth album, "Rise" in 1993, which was much more in the vein of the then popular alternative rock style and embarked on an ambitious tour, performing at the likes of the Reading Festival in England. The album received a mixed response and by 1995, Bad Brains had reunited with the original lineup once again, and signed to Maverick Records, the label founded by pop starlet Madonna. They soon released their sixth album, "God Of Love" and were given a major slot opening for the Beastie Boys on their "Ill Communication" tour. Despite the major label backing and a position on a big name tour, it was a tumultuous time for the group, owing largely to violent confrontations H.R. got into with a skinhead, a security guard and the bands manager. His behaviour was considered so bad that they had to pull out of the scheduled performance at Madison Square Garden, causing yet another split, albeit a short lived one, as Bad Brains reunited in 1997.
Reports conflict as to whether the word "bad" made H.R. uncomfortable or whether Maverick Records tried to get the band to change their name, but nevertheless, from 1998 to 2001, the reunited Bad Brains performed under the moniker, Soul Brains. They recorded a live album under this name, entitled, "A Bad Brains Reunion Live From Maritime Hall," which was poorly received, before releasing a mostly instrumental album named, "I and I Survived," in 2002, which focused heavily on reggae. For a while, the band spent much of their time collaborating with other artists, from P.O.D. to Li’l Jon, before beginning work on their next album in 2005, which Daryl Jenifer called their "first proper album in ten years." The new album was finally released in the summer of 2007 under the name, "Build A Nation," which was produced by the late Beastie Boy, Adam Yauch and peaked at the Billboard Charts at 100. A music video was made for the song, "Give Thanks and Praises," which was directed by System Of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian, who also makes an appearance at the end of the video, sharing a spliff with H.R. Since then, the band has been touring sporadically, but look set to enter the public consciousness again soon, with a documentary movie entitled, "A Band In D.C." recently premiering to rave reviews at the SXSW event, with another documentary along the way. In addition to this, they have begun work on a new studio album, which H.R. claimed in a recent interview will be called, "Let’s Have Fun," though it is not yet known when it will be released. Though the band has been marred by controversy throughout the years, they remain highly influential, with their work being cited as an influence by a wide variety of artists, from Hatebreed to Moby. Whatever the future holds for them, they will always be thought of as one of the true originators of hardcore.
Bad Brains - "Big Takeover"
Bad Brains - "At The Movies"
Bad Brains - "I Against I"
Bad Brains - "Rise"
Bad Brains - "Give Thanks and Praises"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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