Max’s Kansas City is famous for hosting acts like the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Television, Suicide, and the whole downtown punk scene of the mid-1970s, but it also was the venue for an early gig by Bad Brains, the legends of DC hardcore. The original location of Max’s Kansas City on Park Avenue South and 18th St. closed in 1981. It’s said that Bad Brains and the Beastie Boys played the final gig at that location, but the evidence is mixed: this exhaustive page on the venue states that that lineup was scheduled but cancelled.
Bad Brains were there two years earlier, however, and fortunately for us the gig was exhaustively documented. The date for the show is commonly listed as February 1979, but that’s not correct. The date of the show was Sunday, December 16, 1979, a fact that is corroborated by two pieces of information, the poster above and the comment by H.R. during the show that it was drummer Earl Hudson’s birthday that day. (Also H.R.‘s younger brother, Hudson turned 22 in 1979.)
This is another one of those fun, seen-in-retrospect “time capsules” about how allegedly scary punk rock was supposed to be, whilst presenting footage of kids who seem anything but scary. Misfits? Sure. Scary? No.
The time was pinpointed by one of the people interviewed as either 1982 or 1983. The segment was from something called called “2 on the Town” and I’m gonna guess that this was something seen on the local CBS affiliate in New York at the time. Dig the “Let’s Get Physical” location of the host wraparound. Instead of using an actual hardcore punk soundtrack, for some (bad) reason, they decided to cut it to David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” and “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors. Despite this, there’s a choice clip of the Bad Brains and a look at the sort of explosive melee they inspired. We also see a bit of the infamous “punk” episode of Quincy followed by some disgruntled teenage commentary about it.
There’s even an interview with a cool mom! See it after the jump…
Here’s some godlike video footage of Bad Brains playing Berlin in 1983. I thought I had seen every bit of classic period Bad Brains video out there, but somehow this one avoided my radar until now. Strange I’d missed it, as it’s been up on YouTube since 2011 and I’m certain I must have searched “Bad Brains live” at least a dozen times in the past five years—but sometimes, you know, incredible stuff just bubbles up to the surface. As we’ve said before at Dangerous Minds: “The world will never run out of ‘newly uncovered’ (insert band name here) videos.” The Internet, like Jah, mon, always provides.
There are actually two shows on this video. The first show is from The Loft in Berlin on May 22nd, 1983. The second show begins at about 37 minutes in. I believe it’s also from Germany. Despite some issues with video and audio quality (some of these issues clear up a bit as the show progresses), this is some of the best footage around of the Bad Brains. The band is absolutely on fire. Although the video quality is far from the quality of the commercially available DVD Live at CBGB 1982, I think the band’s performance at this Berlin show eclipses the CBGB performance. The sound quality on the second show is a bit better than the first.
It’s interesting to witness the German audience’s reaction. They are certainly much more stoic than the frenzied pit maniacs you’d have seen at an American Bad Brains show in 1983. And they don’t seem very excited about the reggae numbers AT ALL. The audience highlight is clearly around 25 minutes in when the band launches into “Pay to Cum.” This was probably their most well-known track at the time as it had not only appeared on their first single and the self-titled ROIR cassette, but also on the widely European-distributed Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation on Alternative Tentacles. The crowd goes absolutely pogo apeshit when “Pay to Cum” kicks in. The ritualized American circle-pit hadn’t yet made it to Germany.
It’s worth noting that there are a few songs in the first set that I don’t recognize: two reggae songs and one hardcore song. The band split up for a brief time following this tour, so perhaps that’s why they didn’t get around to recording these songs.
Bad Brains’ singer, H.R., and guitarist, Dr. Know, have both been in the news recently for unfortunate health issues. H.R. is currently raising money to combat a neurobiological disorder that causes extreme cluster headaches, just a week after Dr. Know set up a GoFundMe page to recoup $100,000 in medical expenses incurred from a recent cardiac arrest that left him on life support. It may come as a shock to some, but punk rock doesn’t come with a great insurance and retirement benefits package.
As we keep these guys in our thoughts, let’s remember how absolutely unrelentingly raging a musical force they were.
If you’re a Bad Brains fan and haven’t seen the video after the jump yet, well you’re in for a TREAT…
Though it is as yet unsubstantiated by any news media, word is spreading wildly via social media that the influential hardcore guitarist Gary “Dr. Know” Miller of Bad Brains is fighting for his life. Sources thus far include Living Colour’s Corey Glover, and the Black Rock Coalition’s Greg Tate, who received the information from 24-7 Spyz guitarist Jimi Hazel:
Searching the hashtags #drknow and #badbrains on Twitter yields plenty of well-wishes, but no news source seems to have reported this yet, and Bad Brains’ and Know’s FB pages haven’t been updated in months. The vagueness of it all is frustrating—no hospital location is given, and no specific illness or condition has been specified anywhere we can find, yet given the credibility of some of the primary sources thus far, it’d seem imprudent to simply hand-wave the rumors as mere viral bullshit. We at DM wish the best to Dr. Know, his family, friends, and bandmates. (UPDATE: the band has made a statement on FB confirming that Dr. Know is in need of well-wishes.)
Bad Brains started in the ‘70s as, of all things, a D.C. area jazz fusion ensemble, who had an epiphany at their discovery of punk, and cribbed their new band name from a Ramones song. They played punk rock with uncommon levels of skill (being fusion players after all) and at breakneck speeds, becoming pioneers of the music that would come to be known as hardcore. Dr. Know, in particular, played guitar with an expressiveness that elevated him not just above standard issue hardcore players, but miles above rock guitarists in general; I’d direct you to “Re-Ignition” for proof, but evidence of his brilliance abounds in all of Bad Brains’ work. In a 2012 interview with Premier Guitar, Miller expounded on his influences:
I was really influenced by players like Verdine White [Earth, Wind & Fire] and Stanley Clarke. It was, like, “Damn—these dudes are out there.” Verdine is crazy. I used to dibble and dabble in the fusion of the early ’70s, too. I’d wear those records out trying to see what the hell was going on there. [Laughs.] Return to Forever was definitely influential on guitar and bass. It was inspirational for me to start playing the guitar when Al Di Meola got in [Return to Forever], because he was so young and such a badass. I was, like, “Yeah, uh-huh—I could do this.” [Laughs.] I liked all the Return to Forever guitarists—Bill Connors, Johnny Mac [McLaughlin]. I liked Allan Holdsworth. On bass, it was Larry Graham. I had the beautiful opportunity to see all these people over the course of a five-year span. We saw Earth, Wind & Fire four or five times, and P-Funk played every month in their heyday in D.C. Yes, Zappa, Thin Lizzy, Graham, and all the funk and soul stuff—Tower of Power. You name it, we saw it. It was all happening, every week.
The band embraced Rastafarianism—a mixed blessing, as it gave them an abiding spiritual drive and notoriously virulent homophobia, though that’s a stance they’ve since renounced—and even incorporated completely straightforward and relatively languid reggae songs into their albums and live sets. The mid ‘80s would see them incorporating textures and strategies from heavy metal, resulting in the incredibly potent LPs I Against I and Quickness. In the ‘90s and onward, unfortunate lineup shakeups and an iffy name change to “Soul Brains” would plague the band, and while the original lineup eventually reconvened under the original name, they’d never really return to their peak form. The 2007 album Build a Nation was a worthy try.
Here’s some footage of the band from their utterly face-melting metal influenced phase, performing the title track from their LP I Against I on Dutch TV in 1988.
British animator Neil Williams (aka Stelos485) has created two of the coolest punk-related cartoons ever. The animation for the Bad Brains’ “Pay To Cum” is very much like the song and band itself: stripped-down, kinetic and as frenetic as a frog on a hotplate.
Williams’ animation for The Ramones’ “Chainsaw” is an ingenious mix of Saturday morning cartoon visuals, Tobe Hooper’s slice and dice horror films and beach party fright flicks. It’s perfectly in the spirit of The Ramones’ own obsessions and I wish there was one of these cartoons for every Ramones’ song ever recorded.
More of Neil Williams’ work can be viewed on YouTube channel. It is definitely worth a visit. Check out his Beatles’ stuff and an animated version of the notorious Orson Welles’ frozen pea radio ad.
In 1981 (it may have been 1980, different uploads of the video sport different dates), many among suburban Washington, D.C.‘s population of normals were introduced to Bad Brains—arguably the inventors of hardcore, definitely a crucial musical incendiary device—via the agency of that aggressively bland franchised newsmagazine program PM Magazine. History and the internet do not yield for me the name of the announcer for that segment, but man oh man, was he ever a DICK.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, lower the volume and meet the Bad Brains. Not what you’d call the crowning achievement of modern culture, but definitely a part of it. A loud part of it.
For starters, chump, we do not lower the volume when Bad Brains are playing “Attitude.” Second, they are absolutely goddamn contenders for crowning achievement of modern culture. And lastly… well, OK, I certainly can’t argue with “loud.” The clueless announcer—who puts me in the mind of the guy Patton Oswalt made notorious in his bit about local news movie reviewers (and this would be roughly the same part of the country)—goes on to disparage the band’s dancing fans and to amusingly refer to their music as “a genuine social phenomenon called ‘Punk New Wave Rock and Roll.’”
Despite the awkward frisson of the segment being voiced by the whitest man ever to live, there’s great interview footage with the band, and stellar performance clips with some jaw-dropping acrobatics from singer H.R. Here’s the best looking and sounding upload of the segment I could find. That weird glitch around 02:12 is in all of them, so I couldn’t tell you what you missed, but it doesn’t seem like any significant meaning was lost.
Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jennifer recounts the tale of one of the band’s more memorable shows… This happened sometime in the 80s when frontman H.R. had himself duct-taped to a chair while the band performed on stage. According to Darryl, no one knew in the band exactly why H.R. had decided to do this. They were a little surprised themselves:
So I know this one night my big brother H.R. seemed a little uncomfortable. And you know I, you know everyone knows H.R. can be eccentric, you know? But he seemed a little uncomfortable. So I was like ‘What’s up?’ and he said, ‘I’m good, I’m good.’”
I see my man sat down on stage and on top of that my man had one of the techs come out and duct-tape him to the chair. So you know, I figure it’s Bad Brains. Even me I’m in the band and I’m like what happens must be some wild punk shit I don’t even know about.
Annnnd, the rest is history, folks. Watch this amusing animated tale below to find out the real reason why H.R. had himself duct-taped to a chair.
Washington, D.C. hardcore punk-reggae legends Bad Brains have had a tumultuous career since forming in 1977. The band started out playing jazz fusion along the lines of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin until they were introduced to punk via The Dead Boys and The Sex Pistols. They remain one of the very few all-black punk bands. The band members became devout Rastafarians after seeing Bob Marley perform in 1979 and singer H.R. (Human Rights, real name Paul D. Hudson) wanted to steer the band into more reggae rather than punk and heavy metal. Songs like “I Luv I Jah” and “Jah is Calling” were open professions of their faith. However, H.R. left the band a few times, along with his brother, drummer Earl Hudson, and concentrated on reggae with his band Human Rights. But for the past 15 years both men have remained in Bad Brains consistently.
One of the best stories about Bad Brains has to do with the recording of their third album, I Against I for Greg Ginn’s SST Records.
In 1986 H.R. was arrested and convicted on marijuana distributions charges. Rather than scrap the album or wait until H.R.’s release from prison, the band kept the recording sessions in Massachusetts going at the encouragement of producer Ron Saint Germain. H.R. provided the vocals for the song “Sacred Love” over the phone from Lorton Reformatory in Laurel Hill, Virginia. H.R. unscrewed the mouthpiece of the telephone so that there could be no background noise and sang into it. Saint Germain still describes “Sacred Love” as “the best makeout song ever written.”
The studio/jail version of “Sacred Love”
Bad Brains performing “Sacred Love” at The Ritz, New York, December 27, 1986, below:
So this mysterious, undated photo of Bad Brains frontman H.R. and an allegedly young “Brooke Shields” smokin’ the good shit is currently being passed around Facebook and websites like a wildfire. Just to set the record straight, I’m 99.99999999% certain this is not Brooke Shields. That’s not her hairline. It’s not her.
However, if it were, this would have made for the best random photo on the Internet ever.
Aside from the obvious— they were the first all-black punk band— two additional things must be said of the early Bad Brains: they were the most ferocious musical tornado ever unleashed; a frantic, thrashing monster of a group that had absolutely no competitors for the crown of being the most hardcore of all of the hardcore bands in Washington, D.C.
They were also the best, most skilled musicians of any of their compatriots. Sure, they played buzz-saw punk rock music that sounded like a Black Sabbath album spinning at 45rpm, but they actually came from a jazz fusion background (think Return to Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra!) before the energy of the D.C. hardcore scene turned their attention to punk.
Lead vocalist H.R. was, simply put, one of the greatest frontmen of the punk era, up there with Johnny Rotten or Jello Biafra as a presence so incendiary, so crazed and so utterly unhinged that you wondered if he was possessed. Backed by Dr. Know (guitar), Darryl Jenifer (bass) and H.R.‘s younger brother, Earl Hudson, on drums, the Bad Brains would explode onto the stage like a nail bomb had gone off. If that prospect seemed worrisome, well, stand back!
It wasn’t long before the group found they weren’t able to play shows in their hometown, hence their famous number, “Banned in D.C.” which has been appropriated for the title of the new film about the group, Bad Brains: A Band In D.C. co-directed by Mandy Stein and Ben Logan. The film actually started as an offshoot of another project about CBGBs, but as Stein told us “What director wouldn’t want to tell this story?”
The 30+ years of the Bad Brains’ existence has been fraught with interpersonal conflict— one epic argument was caught on video by the directors— but it’s that tension that makes the band so great that also, perhaps, prevented them from being as big as they might have otherwise been. Band in DC features some fierce archival footage, more recent live performances and interviews with Henry Rollins, The Beastie Boys, Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye, British black punk DJ and filmmaker Don Letts and The Cars’ Ric Ocasek, who produced the band in the studio.
In the clip below, co-director Mandy Stein and Bad Brains singer H.R. discuss the film and the energy of the early Washington, D.C. punk scene.
Proshot high quality video of the Bad Brains playing in Florida on March 20, 1987. Shorter clips from this show have appeared on the Internet but nowhere near this quality. This is the Bad Brains’ performance in full and it looks and sounds great.
The Chevrolet banner hanging from the stage declares that “This is the heartbeat of America.” I agree. But the college kids on spring break that make up the audience seem clueless.
3. House of Suffering
4. Daytripper/ She’s a Rainbow
5. She is Calling you
6. The Youth are getting Restless
7. I against I
8. At the Movies
Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore: A Tribal History, has uploaded 911 hardcore tracks of his favorite bands for free. Some of the artists include: Flipper, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, Dicks, Butthole Surfers, Cro-Mags and more!