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.