Back in Washington D.C. in 1977, four black guys formed a jazz/funk outfit called
Mind Power. "All the while we was jazz, we wanted to innovate," HR says. "We wanted
to be part of something new and different and real. We was continually seeking.
And then I saw the Sex Pistols album, and I said, 'BOOM! This is it!" The credit
for introducing safety pins and punk rock goes to Sid McCray, an early vocalist
for the band.
Influenced by the Pistols, Eater and the Clash, as well as Led Zeppelin, Mind
Power changed their name after six months to the Bad Brains and dove head first
into punk rock. It was the Clash's version of "Police and Thieves" that introduced
the band to reggae. The foursome bought a house in suburban Maryland. They went
to jobs and school during the day, and rehearsed furiously at night to build
stamina and speed.
After 6 months, the band ditched their daytime commitments (among them: washing
cars, laundering clothes, and working in a bomb factory). HR forfeited 3 years
of pre-med to go professional. They distributed flyers outside DC new wave clubs
for a free show in their house basement. "It was different, because we were all
black and playing punk rock music. The news spread around DC," HR says. "Before
we had even played our first show, people were coming up to me telling me how
good the Bad Brains are."
After a series of bi-weekly gigs, the more established venues followed. The legions
of young fans who followed the band religiously included future members of the
Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Scream, and S.O.A. However, after a verbal battle with
police (who tried to pull the plug on an outdoor show) and ejections from larger
venues, the Bad Brains found themselves blacklisted by area clubs, hastening their
departure from Washington D.C.
Before they left, the band recorded at Don Zientara's home-based studio, Inner Ear,
in Arlington, Virginia (where all the early Dischord bands recorded). These 4-track
recordings were eventually released as Black Dots in 1996 on Caroline Records.
This session is absolutely incredible punk rock, a document of blistering hardcore
whose intensity would rarely — if ever — be matched again by any other band.
In 1979, the Bad Brains left for New York City. In December, the band recorded a
debut 45 on their own label ("Pay To Cum" b/w "Stay Close To Me"), which was later
included on the widely distributed Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation LP. The
first pressing of the "Pay To Cum" 7in. lists two separate Maryland addresses
(one on the label, a different "Fan Club" address on the sleeve) indicating that
the ties to DC weren't completely severed. The band would later repress the single
in New York City and issue it without a picture sleeve (red & tan labels instead
of the brown & white of the first pressing). "Pay To Cum" shattered any previous
claim to a land speed record (probably held at the time by the first Middle Class 45).
The amazing "Don't Bother Me" also appeared on the Best of Limp compilation LP in 1980.
Earlier in 1979, the group had attended a Bob Marley show which, for them, was a
spiritual epiphany. By the time the band moved to the Big Apple, they had collectively
adopted the Rastafari religion. Their newfound beliefs focused on survival through
righteous action and thoughts, or PMA (positive mental attitude). HR lifted the
PMA concept from a self-help book called How to Think and Grow Rich. "PMA" appears
in large, unexplained letters on the insert for "Pay To Cum".
1982 saw the release of the Bad Brains cassette on ROIR. The songs, recorded
in the last months of 1981, are another incredible studio effort, more polished
than the Inner Ear recordings. First appearances of songs like "Big Takeover"
and "Sailin' On" proved the band was as intense as ever. 1983 saw Ric Ocasek
extend an invitation to record at his Boston studio. This session resulted in
the Rock For Light LP originally released on PVC.
Around that time, the Bad Brains intended to split into three tangential bands.
The primary band would be Zion Train, a seven man outfit playing only reggae.
A second band would be called "HR", featuring HR backed by three members of New
York's the Mob, playing only hardcore. A third project called 101 would involve
HR and Zion Train member Judah Selassie. The two will tour and use local reggae
bands as back-up, much in the manner of touring Rasta DJs.
This plan included using money generated by 101 to fund HR's and Judah's pilgrimage
to Ethiopia, where HR planned to take a second wife (Rastafari doctrine permits
up to seven). Any additional profits would be used to establish a 101 Headquarters
in Nigeria in the same vein of a group house and Rastarafi organization the band
set up in Brooklyn.
Whether any or all of these things came to pass is unknown to your humble narrator.
I've chosen to cut off the narrative circa 1983 as Break My Face bylaws dictate
only extraordinary exceptions past that year — not to mention that, unlike
Rastafari, we have a two wife max per person around here. The Bad Brains continued
recording and releasing records well into the 90's and may very well still be around
in some form. Jah bless 'em.
BAD BRAINS were: Paul "HR" Hudson (vocals), Earl Hudson (drums), Darryl Jenifer (bass),
Gary "Dr. Know" Miller (guitar). And, by the way, "HR" is short for "Hunting Rod", a
The above is a composite of two pieces, one by Don Howland in Trouser Press
and one by Anthony Countey (Bad Brains manager) in the liner notes of
the Black Dots LP (1996)
CONTACT: Break My Face