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Pioneers of Hardcore Punk:Bad Brains

Hardcore Punk Bad Brains

Bad Brains is a hardcore punk band that was formed in Washington D.C. in 1977. The band’s original lineup consisted of vocalist H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson. They are known for their unique blend of punk rock, reggae, and metal, and are considered pioneers of the hardcore punk genre. Bad Brains’ self-titled debut album, released in 1982, is widely regarded as a classic of the genre. The band has undergone several lineup changes over the years, but they continue to tour and record new music to this day.

The Bad Brains are a study in True Freedom against all odds. Henry Rollins Said Brains’ lead vocalist H.R. Jumping on him from the stage and pinning him to the Floor while singing in his face was the actual moment he felt he was truly Born. They Mixed the most aggressive Hardcore and Punk Music with a later devotion to Rastafarian Beliefs and Dub Music and somehow balanced the two. They were Legendary before they recorded a note during the end of the ’70s and in 1983 were recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest band on planet Earth. Throughout it all, they carried a message of unity where many in that genre spewed Destruction and Nihilism.

Originating from the Washington D.C. area in 1977 Their classic lineup includes singer H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson. This lineup was intact until 1987 and has reunited periodically in the years since. An All Black Punk band as a concept in the public mind drew curiosity from people like Rollins and Ian MacKaye of Fugazi. It was quickly of no importance to their collective race, they were one of the most Influential Bands ever.

The band name was taken from Ramone’s song “Bad Brain” and they were inspired by many of the movements by the Ramones, The Damned, The Sex Pistols, The Dead Boys, and others. They didn’t simply copy what they heard, they added to it and became equal contemporaries.

Their Positive message was a mission, but the intensity of the delivery caused the Rabid fan base to be so amped up and Tornado like that they quickly were as one of their songs proclaimed “Banned in D.C.” as Club owners didn’t want their venues literally torn apart. They relocated to New York City and joined in the scene at CBGB learning to live on $5.00 a day.. Which became a survival skill to buy $5 of weed and turn it into $15 selling single joints.

In August of 1977, the band had recorded a cassette of Music some would simply call demos That would make waves. The recordings later became the album “Black Dots”. By all accounts, this is a Monolith of inspired music.

The vocal parts were recorded outside of the makeshift home studio….in the bushes and Shrubs and crickets are on the recording announcing H.R. had invaded their territory. This recording would be given new life later. (see the band’s Webpage)


Their stint in New York was Promising but the hard living sent them home to D.C. for a time and were soon summoned by Successful Restaurateur Mo Sussman who even though he didn’t understand the full weight of Punk and Hardcore rock music did see something special in them. He had been asked to invest in a film that he conceptually found horrible.

However, in the film, there was footage of the Bad Brains playing Max’s Kansas City and he was awestruck.

He became their Manager and invested 25 thousand dollars in Bad Brains by buying them all new equipment and a Brand New Van, which in a short time was Stolen in its entirety within the first month of their return to New York.

Mo had the foresight to insure everything so they just repeated the shopping trip. . 1980 was also the time the Band saw Bob Marley perform and made the decision to Turn to Become Rastafarians.

Before the final move to New York, Sussman also secured them in a house in Rural Virginia where they could play all hours of the night and progress in their writing and becoming an even tighter machine.

The noise wasn’t the issue with enough distance from the Neighboring residents, it was the culture shock of a Group of Black men, Rastafarians at that, living in the vicinity of wealthy Whites that had to be addressed to some racial satisfaction.

They were raided on the assumption the equipment they had must be stolen and they had to have Massive amounts of Drugs.

The Police soon discovered neither was the case and Mo pushed the facts that the real truth was this was Racial profiling and shamed the police into not taking the band into Jail. Luckily they didn’t have their usual personal amount of weed on that particular Day as the members recall in Laughter the house was almost always a Fog of smoke.

When they returned from the Rural house to the Stage many old friends and fans were shocked that they now were mixing Reggae and Dub in the same set as their Hardcore music. More shocking was they were speaking with Jamaican accents. Some fans were lost, and More fans were Gained. Members of the band that would become “The Beastie Boys” stated it perfectly balanced out their live show as similar to a Race they could pace the energy between Frantic to mellow and kick the gears back into Hardcore again. All the while the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) of their beginnings were now further amplified by the Rasta creed of oneness.

Bad Brains – I and I Rasta (live at CBGB 1982)

1981 a fellow named Jerry Williams saw Bad Brains perform and being a sound engineer would become an integral part of the band’s recordings. He set up a rehearsal space at 171 avenue A but was using it more as an underground venue for bands to play to a substantial audience.

He also had an elevated sound booth much like some indoor tree house and had an income recording bands live for $10 per hour. On May 2nd, 1981 Bad Brains played 171 A and Williams recorded the band’s show. Those recordings became the foundation of the Band’s First full release via the ROIR label.

In the fall of 1982 Ric Ocasek of “The Cars” came in contact with Bad Brains and invited them to play a few shows with his band and then offered Brains to make a record for their first time in a Professional Recording studio.

They were a bit standoffish at first but in the end, embraced the idea. The Band and Ric recorded this album in only 3 days. “Rock for Light” was the result and Nirvana / Foo Fighters Dave Grohl credits that album as a must-have for any self-respecting punk fan. He further Credits Brains Drummer Earl Hudson for inspiring his own drumming style.

1986 brought the Album “I Against I” on SST records. It was another expansion of their music. It incorporated their signature sound with new elements of Funk and Metal.

The entire records vocals were done in a matter of hours all the same day as Vocalist had announced he had to return to D.C. and serve 6 months in Jail over a past conviction for possession of a substantial amount of weed.

The record only lacked one vocal part and in time was literally “Phoned in” to the tape from the correctional facility.

Bad Brains I Against I (live Florida 1987)

Bad Brains membership fractured in 1987 with the band on tour supporting “I Against I”. H.R. and the Hudson brothers wanted to focus more on Reggae and left the tour. The next album “Quickness” was started with other people and then H.R. would return and replace vocals. When the next tour was in swing H.R.’s behavior of not showing up to shows or meetings became a habit and His involvement with the band essentially ended for a long time. He became even more eccentric, loved by many, and confused by more.

Five more albums were recorded in various states of Membership. The changes were many and enough to confound anyone. The Original band was scattered for months to years. H.R. had quit the band 3 times by 1989, that 3rd departure was only one month into a tour,

March 1994 brought a call from Beastie Boy Adam Yauch waving the flag of reunion as the word was a Rep for Madonna’s Label Maverick wanted the Band with H.R. The signing was a Flurry of money and contracts ultimately spawning the album “God of Love”. Maverick executives were not aware of the extent of singer H.R.’s quirks and tendencies and they were placed on a Major Tour per request of The Beastie Boys.. On the Opening night of the tour, H.R. refused to leave the bus ranting about improper behavior from the Authorities and Generals and not being addressed in the right way by what were essentially invisible people. As the tour manager is trying to escort him off the bus to the stage H.R. physically attacked everyone on the bus and was arrested. He was banned from Toronto more so because of yet another Marijuana charge than the assault.

2006/2007 a reunion Tour was rolling along with Great shows and not-so-great shows. Bad Brains were asked to play CBGB for the last 3 nights of its closing party and The institution of Rock Music History meant as much to Bad Brains as any of the bands who were a part of its legacy.

H.R. arrived onstage on night one wearing a motorcycle helmet he had fitted with a microphone inside and refused to take it off although it was causing Feedback and chaos on stage.

He followed up in Chicago by sitting on the drum Riser and smiling, standing at the mic motionless still smiling like the Cheshire Cat, but NOT performing and seemingly mocking the crowd.

In 2012 Bad Brains released their 9th album “Into The Future”. Plans for the future are uncertain, as it has been. The Band members have come to terms with their vocalist’s situation and recognized that the original lineup is the larger entity that works and what the majority of the fans want.

Bad Brains have been an influence on generations of bands and in 2021 they are still spoken of in reverence. Their following is growing and their legendary tales are being told, good or bad via books and documentaries. The Back catalog is gradually coming out in style with a rerelease of 1989’s “Quickness” slated for Feb 2022. This Band Mattered from day one in the culture and history of music and as long as the world continues they will be Important. The only thing today that can be said beyond that is the tradition of any great cliffhanger. “To Be Continued…..”

Jimmy Flemming

Jimmy Flemming

Guitarist, songwriter and former author of articles on guitardoor check out my music on my website.