Bad Brains are a highly influential American all-black hardcore punk band, originally formed in Washington, D.C. in 1979. They are widely regarded as being among the pioneers of hardcore punk.
The band was first founded as a jazz-fusion ensemble called Mind Power (1975), 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.
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., older 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. Bad Brains personnel (1977*1979)
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 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 hardcore thrash punk and mellow reggae, were landmarks, influencing an entire generation of musicians, including the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, 311, Black Flag, Living Colour, Rage Against the Machine, and countless others.
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 brother Earl 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). 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 over the phone from jail on Sacred Love. 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". 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 Darryl Jenifer were increasingly interested in heavy metal music. 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 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 a young H.R. clone named Israel Joseph I (he sounded almost exactly like H.R.). Rise was released in 1993 to some confusion. H.R. had been billed as "Joseph I" on the Rock For Light album, and many fans felt duped. Mixing jazz, punk, reggae, pop, funk, and rock, Rise was by far the most diverse album the group had released. Sales were weak, 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, the Bad Brains signed to the Maverick Records label for the 1995 release God of Love.
At a show in Lawrence, Kansas In 1995, H.R., (some say while high on mushrooms), bashed a microphone stand against the skull of a fan (apparently a skinhead who was taunting H.R.) 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. Then, while in Canada, H.R. attacked their manager Anthony Countey 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.
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". 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 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 ***** 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.
Also in 2004, H.R. Performed the song "Whos Got the Herb?" with the band 311 on 6.22.04, 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, 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.
Between 2005 and mid 2006 H.R. and the Dub Agents discontinued headlining DIA Records Global Rock Showcase Tour. H.R had a long time association with the indepentent label,and released an album through them titled Out Of Bounds.
As of fall 2006 the band has reunited for two dates at CBGB's on October 9th and 10th as part of the continuing celebration of the venue's legacy and imminent closing. Due to the tickets selling out within mere minutes, unsurprising due to the band's huge hardcore following and fans clamoring to see the band reunitied, a third show was added for Wednesday, October 11th. During the course of their 3 day bill HR announced that the new Bad Brains album was "forthcoming". He also stated that the bands next full length tour would be called The Re-ignition Tour. Speaking on the success of the CBGB's Bad Brains reunion, Dr. Know stated in an interview weeks after that the new album would have a spring 2007 release.
In 2006 it was reported that Producer Michael Birnbaum (Coheed and Cambria, The Sleeping) is working with[Dr. Know and Mackie Jayson who have been collaborating on a project called "Havona" with vocalist Jonny Scullion, best know for his work with Nuclear Rabbit and several other musicans at an undisclosed studio in Woodstock, NY.
In early January 2007 the band revealed the title to the Bad Brains return album. Build a Nation is scheduled for release on May 7th, 2007. Also arriving in stores that day is Daryl Jenifer's debut solo album Soldier Styles '07.
Soul Brains was the name used by the original Bad Brains from 1999-2001.