PAID IN FULL
At least on paper this just does not work: An all black, all Rastafarian band playing a mixture of the most furious - and pioneering - hardcore punk blended with righteous dub and soulful reggae? Surely not. Yet almost thirty years ago on the crazy, go-going streets of Washington DC, just such a beast, named BAD BRAINS, first reared its dread upholstered head…
Fronted by HR (Paul Hudson to his mum) with brother Earl pounding skins, Dr. Know (aka Gary Miller) on guitar and a Mr. Darryl Aaron Jenifer on bass duties, the Bad Brains were, in short, awe inspiring. Initially formed - during the early 1970s - as a jazz-fusion outfit called Mind Power, these brothers in innovation were unsurprisingly shocked into action by those nascent punk pioneers on both sides of the Atlantic. Taking their moniker from an early Ramones track and peddling guitar-driven hardcore at previously unheard of velocities, a shocked US East Coast scene soon began to sit up and take notice. Speed wasn't everything but, back then, it certainly helped and when coupled with the bass heavy trips into dub the quartet's originality rightfully marked them out as genuine pioneers. Yet all wasn't sweetness and light in their world. The problem? Only a select few could actually hear the Bad Brains play.
A legendary debut single 'Pay To Cum' (featuring what is, surely, the most energising guitar riff ever) was ultra-limited edition and even a self-titled debut album was issued on the cassette-only label Roir. Live excursions were almost exclusively limited to the East Coast of the USA (by now the band had relocated to New York City). Plus, a planned trip to the UK with a support slot to the Damned guaranteed was forcibly canned when the band were refused work permits.
Luckily, a chance to catch Bad Brains during this period - their finest hour, according to some - has recently arisen in the shape of the ‘Live At CBGB's 1982’ DVD. Raw, fast and intense (and featuring some classic old school crowd slamming alongside nineteen choice musical cuts) it makes for fascinating viewing. Tensions on (and off) stage blatantly run sky-high and, taking this and various other factors into account, common consensus dictates it's a minor miracle 1983's second album, the majestic ‘Rock For Light’, ever saw the light of day. Yet despite the hassles, every fan of loud, brash, fast hardcore should be thankful that said collection did emerge. It's stunning. Produced by Ric Ocasek of new wavers The Cars, it really rips with righteous fury. HR is on particularly spectacular form, his howling vocals almost literally hurled all over the warp speed guitar action. Twenty tracks in around forty minutes and then…whoosh, they're gone and the listener is left jaw agape.
However, it was around this period that HR (London born, would you believe!) opted for the first of many spells as a solo artist. As a result, it was a four year wait until fans got to hear new, equally vital Bad Brains material. ‘I Against I’ was the album, a blast of scorching metalli-punk, with the by-now expected dub blasts thrown in, that further cemented their reputation. Then, regular as clockwork, off HR trundled once more, brother Earl in tow, for yet more solo work. It was around this era that I was lucky enough to catch the be-dreaded one live, rocking a poky yet atmospheric pub in Leeds. Abiding memories centre around the air carrying a heavy, heavy vibe and an equally heavy, heavy aroma of weed (far rarer than today's
'tolerated' approach!), the man himself rocking like crazy and even encoring with a rather athletic back-flip. Go rastaman, go.
With the Hudsons away, the remaining Brains opted to recruit original Faith No More front man Chuck Moseley to fill HR's shoes for touring duties until (are you spotting a developing pattern here?) the original line-up reunited for 1989's ‘The
Quickness’ album. Thankfully, they made it to these shores in support of that particular collection and rocked - amongst other similarly glamorous venues - a sweaty, heaving Huddersfield Polytechnic.
Then HR departed (Trinidadian replacement Israel Joseph I sang on major label debut ‘Rise’), returned for 1995's ‘God Of Love’ album prior to his most spectacular vanishing act yet, instigated by fist-fights with fellow band members and untimely drugs charges. And that was, apparently, that. Hardcore pioneers, the premier punk/dub crossover outfit and one hugely influential band vanished forever.
Well, until word got out that they were due to play the legendary, CBGB's in New York. Touring followed and their highly anticipated eighth album ‘Build A Nation’ (produced by Beastie Boy, friend and long-time fan Adam Yauch) hit stores in June ’07 to positive critical and fan acclaim. In January the band announced they are working on a box set of 7” records. It seems you just can't keep a bad brain down.
‘Build A Nation’ is out now on Megaforce Records.
Sonic Boom Six