“Bad Brains: Live at CBGB 1982″: Rare club concert footage of one of Washington D.C.’s best hardcore bands

By on March 28, 2017

Bad Brains: Live at CBGB 1982 — now streaming over on our Night Flight Plus channel — captures rare footage of one of Washington D.C.’s best hardcore bands at the legendary CBGB club in New York City, culled from filmed concerts shot over a period of three nights, during what was billed as the Hardcore Festival, beginning on Christmas Eve and ending on December 26th, 1982.

By 1982, Bad Brains were regulars at CBGB, one of the venues were they played infrequently after relocating to New York City from Washington D.C. in the late 70s, after they had been banned from appearing in D.C. clubs and venues (they would later address this in their song “Banned in D.C.,” which is one of the songs you’ll hear them play.)

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Paul “H.R.” Hudson — who somehow earned the nickname “Hunting Rod” during his childhood, shortened to “H.R.” and later in life, he would also claim that it stood for “Human Rights” — and his brother Earl Hudson moved around a lot when they were kids because their father was in the Air Force. He says he was born in Liverpool, England, and Earl was born in Georgia, where they were living at the time.

However it happened, they ended up in Maryland, where H.R. went to Central High School in Capitol Heights, about seven or eight miles southwest of Washington D.C. H.R. began playing guitar sometime in the mid-70s, when he was still in his teens, although his younger brother Earl (just a year or two younger) had started drumming when he was five years old.

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He appears to have loved 70s heavy metal (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, etc.), Funk and R&B (Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston, Parliament-Funkadelic) and other musical genres, but H.R. may have actually been drawn more to what was popularly called jazz-fusion.

H.R.’s first high school band, called Mind Power, played a lot of jazz-fusion at first, replicating album tracks by Chick Corea, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, and other acts.

The band also featured an accomplished guitarist, Gary Miller — who was two years younger, in the same class as Earl Hudson — who went by the name Dr. Know, or just “Doc.” Miller was really an accomplished bassist, but he was more interested in switching over to guitar. H.R. also played bass early on with the band.

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That worked out pretty well since they found a guitarist named Darryl Jenifer, from Oxon Hil (about ten miles south of Capitol Heights), who was more interested in playing the bass. He was also the band’s lead singer for awhile.

The foursome jammed in their friend Alvarez’s basement — on Tuesday and Thursday nights, when his mother played bingo — but in 1977, the musical landscape was quickly changing, and their varied musical interests led to a lot of experimenting.

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They briefly had another singer, Sid McCray, who early on had turned them on to punk rock after watching a documentary about the Sex Pistols, and he also played them albums by new bands like Wire and the Dead Boys. Sid didn’t stay with the band too long, but he managed to have an influence on them nonetheless.

Before Mind Power, Dr. Know and Darryl were also jaming with funk and funk-rock musicians, and it’s quite likely that they could have ended up playing go-go music, but what made this band unique was that they didn’t want to be like anyone else, they wanted to play everything.

They also liked playing it fast, with breakneck beats, raw power chords and spidery bass lines, and at some point, Mind Power, still in an embryonic state, began transmogrifying into a band that wanted to define themselves by playing a kind of original music that wouldn’t go stale in a few years.

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The music continued to change, taking on a heavier punk-influenced rock formaton, becoming a complex sound that was like visceral gut-punch of heaviosity, a part punk/metal/jazz-rock fusion, with complex chording and start/stop arrangements.

It required stamina and speed, particularly for drummer Earl Hudson, who attacked his drum kit with sped-up machine-gun firing punk paradiddles that would become part of the band’s signature sound.

As the band transformed, they decided a new name was needed, deciding to call themselves Bad Brains after a song by the Ramones (“Bad Brain“), although H.R. has said that he liked the idea that “bad” was also slang for “good” or “tough.”

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H.R. eventually stopped playing guitar, and focused on singing, and at some point they all moved into a house they bought together in the Maryland suburb of District Heights, rehearsing at midnight because that everyone worked different hours and shifts: H.R. — who would eventually stop taking his pre-med classes three years into his college training — and Dr. Know both worked at a research center, Earl worked at a hospital, and Darryl worked for a D.C. government program, which quite possibly could have been a “bomb factory.”

By the summer of ’79, they were playing their first poorly-attended club show (at the Marble Bar in Baltimore), and they would eventually find themselves playing a series of bi-weekly gigs, which gave way to shows in bigger venues, amassing a large following.

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At some point in 1979, the band went to a show at the Capital Center in Largo, Maryland, to see Stanley Clarke, who had played with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, one of the premier jazz fusion bands of the 70s; Clarke’s 1976 solo album School Days, in particular, was a major influence on bass players who tried to cop his slapping bass licks note-for-note, and certainly it influenced future funk-punk bands and others, including Living Colour, 24-7 Spyz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys and Jane’s Addiction (to name just a few).

The opening act, Bob Marley and the Wailers, however, would prove to be even more of a life-changing epiphany.

Soon, they too would become Rastafarians, not only recognizing and embracing a spiritual side in their own lives, but embracing the island music that came along with the Rastafari religion, reggae.

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Suddenly, the heavy hardcore punk band were adding reggae to the mix, imbuing their music with a message of peace, positivity, and perseverance. The Clash’s version of Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves” was a huge touchstone for the band too. In 1983, H.R. would begin his solo career with the formation of his own reggae band, Human Rights, a.k.a. the HR Band.

During their first outdoor gig, near the Linoln Memorial in Washington D.C., they drew a huge crowd, but when the metro cops came by and tried to pull the plug on their power, it ended with a verbal battle, and soon Bad Brains found themselves being blacklisted in the greater D.C. area. (Listen to “Banned in D.C.“).

The banning led to Bad Brains spending much of their time in New York City, staying for days with the legendary New York performance/makeup artist Screaming Mad George, who lived right across the street from CBGB. The band played their first gig at the club on a Sunday night, which was the “Audition Night” at the club.

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Pay to Cum,” one of their first recordings from December ’79 still remains among their best, and in June 1980 the band self-released the under two-minute hardcore rager on a 7-inch single. The single (on Bad Brain Records) was recorded in New York City, at Jimi Quidd’s Dots Studio.

The single also features the letters “PMA” on the sleeve insert, which was another part of the band’s philosophy, particularly H.R.’s, standing for “positive mental attitude,” a concept he’d gleaned from a book given to him by his father, called How to Think and Grow Rich.

For awhile, the band would split their time between D.C. and New York, becoming part of New York’s hardcore punk hardcore fringe — influencing nearly every subsequent hardcore or quasi-hardcore outfit, including the earliest incarnation of the Beastie Boys — and then going back to D.C. to recharge their batteries for a few months at a time.

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By 1982, they were spending most of their time in the Big Apple, and that year their fortunes really seemed to change with the February release of a Bad Brains cassette on the ROIR label (Reachout International Records), who only released cassette tapes at the time (it has since been released on vinyl LP and CD).

The songs had been recorded in the last months of 1981, about a year before this set of live shows at CBGB, and the famous cover art — showing D.C.’s capitol building being struck by a bolt of lightning, was created by Dave Parsons, founder of Ratcage Records, who released a few Beastie Boys EP s.

In addition to photos of the band, album credits and song lyrics, the unfolded J-card also featured liner notes by Ira Kaplan, a writer for New York Rocker and Soho News, who later fronted his own band, Yo La Tengo.

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As you can see in this live concert from late 1982 — released on DVD in 2006, just as CBGB was closing its doors for good — Bad Brains were notably splitting their set list into two halves, playing both dub-reggae and intense and pummeling hardcore punk.

Bad Brains headlined these trio of shows (Ian MacKaye’s Minor Threat and future Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz’s first band, The Young and the Useless, opened the shows), playing tracks from their first three albums, Black Dots, Bad Brains and their Ric Ocasek-produced album Rock for Light, which wouldn’t be released until early ‘83, a few months after these concerts.

(Ocasek had offered to produce recordings at his Boston studio, resulting in the release of the album, originally issued on the PVC label).

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Two cameramen — including the film’s director, Richard Oretsky — capture all the action, including slam-dancing and stage-diving fans, not to mention H.R. and the band in their prime, although based on the position of the cameras, bassist Darryl Jenifer isn’t seen too often as he was forced to stand behind drummer Earl Hudson due to the lack of space onstage.

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Most of the focus is on H.R., shaking hands with fans, moving through the crowd, pulling faces, storming across the tiny stage, dancing in place, and sometimes standing next to his brother Earl, who’s wearing a CBGB t-shirt and bashing away at his kit while they’re pummeling away on the band’s hardcore classics, like “Big Takeover,” “Right Brigade,” “How Low Can A Punk Get,” “Pay to Cum,” and their reggae tunes, “King of Glory,” “The Meek,” and “Rally Round Jah Throne.”

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It’s interesting to note that these late ’82 Christmas shows capture the band at what may have been their subsequent movement away from hardcore music and deeper into roots reggae, and even though most of the audience may have been patiently tolerating the reggae songs, treating them as a brief respite in order to catch their breath, the band were really more interested in becoming more of a full-on reggae band but were certainly obliged to play their hardcore punk hits, even though that’s not possibly not where their hearts truly were.

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Watch Bad Brains: Live at CBGB 1982, and be sure to also check out Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) too, both are streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.