Washington, DC’s 5th Gift To The World-Music (Bad Brains)

A tad less refined than Sousa or Ellington, my portion of DC’s 5th Gift to the World is just as influential to its respective audience. I’m here to write about Bad Brains.

Talking about the musical legacy of the Velvet Underground, David Bowie once said that during their original run not many people had heard VU but everyone who did went on to form their own rock-n-roll bands, himself included. The same could be said for DC’s own Bad Brains, the most influential East Coast Hardcore band.

Bad Brains was formed in 1979 by Dr. Know, a former jazz guitarist, who wanted to combine the chaos of live UK Punk shows and the protest song mentality of Reggae lyrics. To do so he recruited three other young, DC-born, african-american musicians – Darryl Aaron Jenifer (bassist), Earl Hudson(drums), and of course the legendary H.R. (vocals).

Taking their musical inspiration from the previously mentioned styles, Bad Brains crafted a hyper-kinetic speed-punk style that no one had ever heard before. Here was a band doing something enitrely new. Bad Brains live shows quickly took Washington by storm and the rest of the East Coast shortly there after. Combining their musical stylings with the Napoleon Hill’s Positive Mental Attitude pseudo-philosophy the Bad Brains were not only spreading a new style of music, but a new way of life. A positive self-reliance that offered some hope in an otherwise nihilistic scene.

In the early 80’s the reputation of Bad Brains spread across the United States. In every community their music reached dozens of Hardcore imitators appeared. The high point of Bad Brains’ hardcore phase was the release of their epic debut album, the ROIR Cassette. Released after 4 years of touring, their self-titled cassette was like a musical hand-grenade, the shrapnel of which lodged into thousands of American punks, creating wounds that would fester until American Hardcore was spreading through Ronald Reagan’s America like gang-green.

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4 Comments so far

  1. Mike (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 1:30 pm

    Well said and damn right!


  2. Doug (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 1:43 pm

    Nice overview. I was a punk, back in the day, and I remember the first time I heard me some bad brains. ;-) Sadly, never saw them live.


  3. sean bonner (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 3:45 pm

    And still one of the best bands ever. Nothing holds up like Bad Brains, anytime I put on any of their stuff it’s as exciting as the first time I heard them.


  4. William Thirteen (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 4:44 pm

    having seen them live as well engaged in a little ‘business’ on the side with HR, i agree that the Bad Brains were like none before or since. A breath of fresh air (followed by a punch in the gut) in the otherwise claustrophobic and stuffy DC punk scene…



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