Bad Brains interview: Darryl Jenifer discusses the band’s classic ’80s recordsAndrew SacherPublished: March 2, 2021
After winning back to the rights to much of their catalog, Bad Brains launched an extensive reissue campaign that includes the "Pay to Cum!" single, the self-titled LP, the I and I Survive EP, the original mix of Rock For Light (which had been out of print for decades), Quickness, The Youth Are Getting Restless (Live At The Paradiso, Amsterdam, 1987), The Omega Sessions, and Live at The Fillmore 1982 coming out in that order between now and spring 2022. The campaign may continue after that with other records like I Against I, which Bad Brains are hoping to get the rights back to as well.
The reissues are all coming out on the band's own Bad Brains Records, via Org Music; several are already up for pre-order (and some have already sold out, so don't sleep). BrooklynVegan has also teamed up with that to add new exclusive vinyl variants to our store for each release. We recently sold out of two different variants of the "Pay To Cum!" record, and we just launched pre-orders for the self-titled LP, the I And I Survive EP, and Rock For Light. Pre-order those and browse our full Bad Brains collection here.
We also caught up with bassist Darryl Jenifer for an in-depth interview about how this reissue campaign came to fruition, and to talk about some of the history behind all of the records that Bad Brains are reissuing. Darryl talked about the band's early influences and how they came to help pioneer hardcore, the fearless creativity that led to blending punk and reggae, their legendary live shows, working with producer Ric Ocasek of The Cars on Rock For Light, embracing metal and working with Cro-Mags drummer Mackie Jayson on Quickness, the differences between the DC and NYC scenes, their very first recording (done at home on a reel-to-reel that apparently Henry Rollins or Ian MacKaye is in possession of), and much more, and he reminisced about Sid McCray, the early Bad Brains vocalist who helped turn the band onto punk rock and sadly passed away last September.
Read on for our chat with Darryl, and stay tuned for the upcoming reissues.
Can you give some background on how you got the rights back to the catalog and launched Bad Brains Records and went about launching this reissue campaign?
Well, I've been saying it's about time. Have you ever heard the saying when they say, "Shit happens,"? Do you know what I mean? This happening is one that — through all these years of Bad Brains and all the recordings, the band, each one of us have always been on, like a mission, do you know what I mean? The result is handling all of the particulars involved, the contracts and the terms and what have you. But for us being what I like to consider real true mission oriented musicians, our focus is mainly on that and our music, as you can see here, aside from the contractual shit.
Now as time goes on in Bad Brains, they're doing their thing, the mission of PMA and peace and love and Rastafari, the rock music, and we do our thing. Then there comes a time, which I've been describing as the OG era. We were living and we reached the OG era, right? This is when the shit happens and saying "shit happens" is not necessarily all the time a negative thing. It's a positive thing as well. The happening here was in consolidating all that was Bad Brains, our legacy and our assets and what have you, that we never really paid a lot of attention to that others were handling. There came an epiphany to me where I said, "Man, wait a minute. I don't want us to go down in history… because they put us in a museum and they asked us about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so I thought, "Wow." I thought, "Well, I don't want to be like others that I've seen before us," in terms of our assets and ownerships and our property and music and what have you. I said, "I want to consolidate all that into a box, like a gift under a Christmas tree."
Coming off a lifetime of just being in music and being more focused on the creative aspects of Bad Brains, there came a time in the OG era that I said, "Hey, wait a minute." My big brothers, we all do different things in different ways, but me, I said, "Let me go get this together," as the youngest brother. That's when I started down the path of trying to figure out about the terms and contractual agreements and the this's and the that's of our albums and masters. That led to this, it's a happening. Basically what I'm saying is I started out late. Some artists don't start at all in terms of trying to figure out where all your creative assets are. All that can be said in short, when you're in the band, you don't pay fucking attention. You get OG. If you get OG, you start paying attention and you get shit together if you've got any sense. So when people would ask me about that, I find that this is probably one of the better explanations that I have for it because I keep shit real. I don't want to make it feel like there's some kind of contrived effort to make this happen. This happened naturally, right? It's not like I've been out here and was worried about the various deals. It's a lot of records and a couple of different labels. But in the happening of the OG era of the history and legacy of Bad Brains, now came the time that we woke up and we were thankful that we were able to easily get back our stuff which is cool. I never thought about it. Basically it's a product of being too involved in one aspect of something and not in the other.
You're starting the campaign with the "Pay to Cum!" single, which a lot of people consider one of the first hardcore records ever. What was your mindset like at the time? Could you tell that you were part of something so revolutionary?
Well, here's the thing with that, when they said "hardcore," I had already been popular in Bad Brains and had no idea what they were talking about. To me, hardcore only meant a porno, right? What I was used to do was punk rock. Like I said, hardcore is something that I didn't really know. It just became what Bad Brains was, our brand of punk — [hardcore] had more to do with youth. You know how a grownup can do one thing and a kid does something in a certain way as opposed to someone older and more mature does something a certain way? If a kid tries to do something that he sees someone older do, they do it fast and sometimes they're a little bit more reckless because they're kids. What happened was by us being clearly influenced by the Ramones and influenced by The Damned at the same time, then also coming into [punk] being musicians from the late '70s… being a bass player and a guitar player, a young cat who could play the guitar, I would listen to other records that had good guitar players, like fusion records. Those were the ones that I was drawn to as opposed to maybe Jimi Hendrix's style of talent and genius, I was more drawn to Al Di Meola or Mahavishnu or more of, I guess what you could call fusion rock.
I already had a fusion rock background, which a lot of people try to misinterpret and say Bad Brains were jazz fusionists but we weren't. We were just teenagers that were looking into that style of music before we started to listen to punk rock music. That's like if you interviewed us back in 1979, we'd say, "Man, we listen to Return To Forever." When we were Mind Power in our garage, we were into Return To Forever but now we're punk. And then the press runs off and says, "Oh, these guys are fusion-ists." It's not true. What happened was that once I discovered the Ramones and The Damned and all, being a young cat back in that era that played guitar, I said, "Shit, I can make my own shit like this." Like any teenager, it had a competitive nature to it. I was about 17 or 18. You put on the Ramones during this time and you think, "Man, that's fast." My competitive nature says, "You think that's fast?" Because I listened to Return To Forever, and watching them work the fucking scales and shit at breakneck speed, because I had that in me and I heard the Ramones, but the Ramones are a primitive, stronger, what they would call, fast and it wasn't even fast. The Ramones are not fast. The "Pay To Cum!" single is not fast. So happens is when you go to a club in 1979 or 1978 and play something maybe a smidge more tempo-d up than the Ramones, people were already, during that time, thinking that's fast. Then the band that opened for you, the kid band from out in Maryland or wherever. You see, they're kids, they're going smash-smash-smash, and then my drummer is thinking, "Shit, we're the headliner, we're going smash-smash-smash!" See what I'm saying? And then over time, the tempos and the speeds go up. Bad Brains is a punk rock group. When we first started, the dance all our songs were made for was the pogo, not slam, what they call "moshing" and all that.
All that and the term "hardcore," all that happened after Bad Brains was already doing our thing and made it popular. To me, hardcore is something I started hearing people call a style of music, and playing breakneck speeds is something that I felt was naturally happening because I could construct the riffs. It's like a dance partner. If all a sudden, my drummer is onto some of what the young boy opening up for us [is doing] or whatever, he's got the shit jacked up like this and I'm trying to play my shit and I've got it jacked up here tempo-wise and I've got to catch up, that's creating the style, you see what I'm saying?
A lot of the riffs and stuff that I wrote, they all got changed with the tempo of the time. As a matter of fact, one time "Pay to Cum!" was going so fast from us that it was impossible to play! It wasn't intentional. Eventually they're going to say it's hardcore or something. I don't really know what that meant. The same way my father asked me when I said that I was punk. He thought that it had more to do with being soft. See what I'm saying? When they say "hardcore" to me, I'm responding with saying, "Wait, what's that? That's that culture thing? Punk kids, they think they can play faster than us," or whatever.
The dancing too, and the whole moshing and Henry [Rollins] and all those guys, I remember when we wrote the second part of "Banned in DC" when it's bridged down — when we were first starting to be culture, Rasta — and then they would come to the show with these caps on. It was like a satire, they were making fun. You see, that turned into something because once it sped back up, and then that whole skank, you know what it's like, when it starts going into this full-fledged skank. I know in California, they had their little thing about that and all, but also I'm talking more about the East coast, about what I saw evolve from pogoing to what they call slam dancing or the mosh pit. If you ask me, the term came from us, and HR being like U-Roy. U-Roy back in reggae used to say, "Mosh it! Mosh that body, mon!" That's what HR used to sing when he would break his speed down for a song like "Banned in DC." He would yell, "Mosh it!" like that but coming from a reggae dancehall vibe. Next thing you know I see people talking about that they're moshing! We were like, "whoa, that's pretty crazy." They're like mashed potatoes or something. They're thinking that dance means you're moshing up, you're smashing up something.
That actually brings us right to the self-titled record. When Bad Brains started playing reggae, how was that received at the time? I know in the UK, the punk and the reggae scenes were so intertwined, but it wasn't really like that in the US.
You see what happened with that, The Clash and Rock Against Racism had our attention as well. That probably had to do with us wanting to be conscious through the teachings of PMA and thinking we're rich. Our energy was coming from a positive mental attitude perspective. That led us to Rock Against Racism and what they did at the time with our brand of punk rock. The Clash was making that happen.
With us, that happened about 1980 and we'd already been a band for two years. So now the discovery of the culture, the big culture bomb of Rastafari and Bob Marley's music and reggae and Africanism, Africa awareness. All that dawned on us as really what our PMA was. It's almost like we were thinking that we were rich like Napoleon Hill, who is a very wise man in teaching positive progression. We were on that, but somehow Bob Marley, what he had to say made us realize, almost like a spiritual awakening, that our PMA was really Jah.
Then our music switched, our lyrics, and our whole — not our mission, but our style of our mission and that's what you can hear in our records. As far as us, we're from DC creating our own styles of reggae or wanting to play some of the early versions of that, you know what I mean? One of the earliest versions is on the first side of "Pay to Cum!" That's actually heavily Clash influenced.
HR and Earl, his mother is Jamaican, but it's like our Jamaican would almost be like a Harry Belafonte type thing, being from DC. Not so much about Bob Marley, but more with ragga or something, that vision of it. That's why the song jingles along because it's like, "Yo, I'm playing reggae or ragga," or whatever. Then you know at the bridge, I'm like, "Yo, we're about to be the Clash and we kick it like this, and we're going to kick this." I'm trying to bring that rock and trying to mesh in and blend it hybrid-like, the power of the Clash in that single.
It just mainly comes from, it's like a fearless creativity that we had. We didn't mind melding what we liked. I think fusion [inspired that]. Like a hardcore song like "Sailin' On" that has that pretty end. We just raged for a minute or two at breakneck speed, and all of a sudden, the song is over and it's a major seven chord. That's like Stevie Wonder. We weren't afraid to do that. That's the key, that people should learn when they look back on the Bad Brains, it's the fearless creativity. It's not like we sat somewhere and contrived and said that we were going to be fearlessly creative, it's just that I guess the happening for us was that, through influences of fusion, we could flex the arrangement and creativity in any direction we wanted.
Next up, you have the I and I Survive EP and Rock for Light, which were from the same sessions. A lot of the songs on Rock for Light are the same as the self-titled, but with production from Ric Ocasek. What did Ric bring to the table that was new for Bad Brains? And being that Rock for Light and the self-titled do overlap a lot, for you at this point, when you look back on those records, how do they compare for you?
Well, that's a good question. I think that when Ric got involved, we had just started out and it was more like someone famous had gotten ahold of us. It was more like a big brother sort of thing. There was a time — when I was a punk rocker, I remember this one time, this girl was playing The Cars and I went and I just kicked that shit off the turntable. I was a real punk. I was young, 17 or 18, but I was a little Black Sid Vicious or something.
But the Ric record, when we met Ric, we didn't have any gear or nothing so he gave us an amp, a Boogie amp which is real expensive. He came down to our show. It felt like, for us, someone that was odd. Someone one that, to me personally, I wouldn't dig, because I was punk. A punk don't like new wave, see what I'm saying? But now here's this new wave guy who likes punk but he was older and real famous and giving us the amp and inviting us on his solo records. He came out to be like an uncle. What I learned from him production-wise was he wasn't the type of producer that's going to be telling us about our verses and our chords and all of that shit or whatever, it was just more about babysitting us, in a way, you know what I mean? Making sure we were there and don't waste time, that we're getting it done, almost like you recognize from being an older guy, like, "Whatever it is about these guys that attracted me, that's what I want to see them lay down, not like me trying to influence," like other producers do. Like "that's wrong right there, you should come in with this" – there was none of that going on in Ric Ocasek overseeing production.
I feel as far as punk rock representation of Bad Brains and what we really were — because we weren't Bad Brains after 1984 or something, all the records and all the stuff after that is just more like some rock star shit or something to me. But Bad Brains I think is the ROIR cassette. That's when we were popular just enough to be in New York, be in a movement, be on the scene and stumbling into making some recordings without, "you guys play this," you know what I mean? [Laughs] The whole punk rock for real shit!
The other Bad Brains, that's when Bad Brains maybe realized that they're Bad Brains a little bit. [Laughs] One thing about those records, and I attribute this to my big brother Dr. Know, is anything we did, we always were trying to push it somehow and make it different. If you listen to the difference between the first real Bad Brains, and then you listen to I Against I Bad Brains, that's like a little bit more popular, a little bit more older, a little bit more refined, a little bit more of a lot of things, away from hardcore.
How come I Against I isn't part of the reissue campaign?
Well, because SST still owns the rights to that. That should be coming up, we should be able to get that going. Again, that's another weird thing to me, just want to show we're not paying attention to shit, you would think that SST would be the last label that would be keeping something from a band. Out of all the labels that we've been on, major labels, you would think they would be more into that. You would think SST would be like, "Man, here, take your record, bro."
SST and Greg Ginn, whatever, they take more of that album than anyone in Bad Brains. That ain't cool. Then when you know that, when you know the transgressions involved in a business dealing from 30 or 40 years ago… Bad Brains is all about positive mental attitude. I'm not out here to say anything negative about SST or none of that, but what I'm saying is what's real. I've got no beef with Greg Ginn, business is business. But at the same time, I find it ironic that the one label owned by our own family of style is the one now 40 years later that, you were asking me, "What's up with that record?" That's a story in itself.
So Quickness, this one's a more a metal record. It was the first one for Caroline Records and had a video on MTV. What was the mindset going into this one? What were some of the influences pushing you guys towards metal — and a little hip hop — on that record?
Well, that's like a New York record, right? We lived in New York, we're in New York and we were New York at that point. Also, HR was doing his thing, him and Earl, with their reggae group, but being in New York and being on the Lower East side, there's a community down there with John [Joseph] and Harley [Flanagan], we were all family, and Mackie [Jayson]. Mackie was our drummer because as far as I'm concerned, I was the first cat to see Mackie play in the club A7. I thought, "Wow." What he was really doing was interpreting what Earl was doing, but he had his own way of doing it because it was New York and he was learning and feeling it and discovering it from Earl, and Earl discovered it from the Ramones or something or The Damned.
So you've got the Bad Brains, and we're kicking it, and then little groups are starting up in the city, and Mackie was one of those drummers who I thought was the man. So me and Doc, with no singer, we started making riffs. Those riffs, if you listen to that album, it's like every day, we'd walk downtown where we were rehearsing in the financial district. For a year almost, we made these riffs and we would practice these riffs between this place downtown in the financial district and this theater on the West Side where we used to rehearse a lot – myself, Doc, and Mackie. We were all in the prime of our lives. I must have been about 27, Doc was about 29 and Mackie was probably about 20. We were kicking it. We're the Bad Brains and then Mackie, and we were making these riffs, but because it's Mackie, it's a little bit more metal. And so I kinda dug that because I like tight, as far as the riffs that I write, I write them with tight corners, which is not a good thing all the time, that I went on to learn as well in terms of chemistry and sound of music and dynamic. But personally, that's just what I like, tight corners.
Mackie was cutting the corner tight and I was cutting it with him. It might have been going a little bit too fast for me, as far as what I'm feeling. It's like a dancing partner when you're dancing and you're like, "Damn, slow down a little bit on the spin," or some shit. I feel like I can't keep it up. That's the youthfulness because you provide talent that you can now build on. I've got a drummer and Earl was older than me and now I'm playing with someone younger than me. Not that age had a lot to do with it, but it's how you're kicking shit.
So Quickness now, is in a time when all the Bad Brains are in their 20s, late 20s, already popular from our punk rock style and now me and Doc are riffing off onto something else and Mackie is making it sound like what Quickness went on to sound like, a real tight, almost slam dance type of record. I never wrote shit that was slamming and all that, you see what I mean?
A lot of work went into that record. That record was in the prime of our lives. We didn't have singers. We were using a cat that we knew from the Lower East side named Taj [Singleton]. What happened was when we went to record the album with Taj, [Ron] Saint Germain, after we were in the studio for a while, he pulled me and Doc to the side — and I don't think I've told this story and this is a real story — and said to us that me, Mackie and Doc [sounded like we were] like chasing this singer down on the train tracks or some shit. You could see it and feel it in the music. We were like, "Damn, what do we do?" Then we reached out to HR and he said, "No problem." He was our big brother, so we said, "Well, we'll see what big brother wants." I believe that HR wrote that whole album in a night or something. To be honest with you, that's something that rock and roll people should know, I think HR wrote that whole album in a night by listening to each song and writing what he was going to do and how he was going to do it.
You were talking about like that's a very New York record. Obviously Bad Brains were first in the DC scene and then the New York scene, tons of CBGB shows. How do those two scenes compare for you?
As I look back, I see it like this. In DC, once we started the PMA stuff, we had this PMA, we had that and it's about something. No diss to Black Flag or anything, but I tend to use their "Six Pack" as an example of the different topic matters of the styles. Like rock and roll could be about girls, drugs, fast cars, drinking, whatever. Now you've got this high speed, high energy brand of rock and roll that's about a positive mental attitude, what's that? That kinda stems from us being pre-Bad Brains, being musicians in the hood from a go-go culture in DC and the funk and all that is what they call Black music. We wanted somehow or another through a blessing or something, we wanted to have our music mean something. The only thing that I can think that leads to that is a band called Mandrill. In the band Mandrill, the guitar player wore like a robe – he could have been a Buddhist or a Christian or something. And that attracted us, we were like Black psychedelic fusion trying to say we're like… you know, music with a spiritual connection.
That New York, punk rock was like a drug thing. New York was drugs before we got there. DC was more like what they went on to call hardcore or straightedge, a high energized brand of music that had a positive message. So when we landed in New York… Bad Brains landed in the Lower East side and now it's like a light coming, it's like a positive vibration coming towards a dark place in rock and roll. You know like Harley was a young kid when I met him, when he was playing with The Stimulators. And just to see how Ian [MacKaye] and all those guys went on to do straightedge which had more to do with how you're acting and thinking. Then the Cro-Mags had more like their Age of Quarrel, their Krishna and spirituality. Bad Brains had their Rasta and their PMA. And all of this is based around fierce, fierce-ass rock. So to me, now that I'm telling the story, the whole, what they call, hardcore might have quelled out drug rock in New York and threw a wet blanket on drug rock in New York.
When I look at us back then, if I had to sum it up, I would say that, not because of us, but through the PMA concept, keeping it into a style of rock that went on to be what they called hardcore, it could help get negative rock out for a little while. After a while, that whole style started to turn negative as well. That's when you started seeing people saying, "I don't go into a mosh pit" and all that shit because all the dudes that are out there want to fight," or whatever. When that got popular, cats started coming to those shows to be violent. It got a little violent back when it was pure, but it wasn't really violent back then. It didn't have that negative, like, ""I'm really a football player from Jersey or something and I'm going to come in there and mosh a fucking couple of broken noses and shit." That started happening and that started us wanting to calm down the crowd, because then we would go back into the dressing room and look at each other sad and say that we don't want nobody to get hurt.
So, the reissue campaign has two live albums, Live at the Fillmore 1982 and The Youth Are Getting Restless from Paradiso in Amsterdam in '87. What's special to you about those two shows?
When I think about those shows, because of how long ago it was, what I remember about those shows — I don't remember anything about the Fillmore show, maybe the other band members do. That was way back — you said '82 — I definitely had blinders on for what I was doing. The Amsterdam one, I remember that because of the weed and all and being in Europe and all that shit. I remember it being packed and being filled with pure energy and love for us. I think I was a little drunk, to tell you the truth. I must have just started drinking because I noticed I was talking a lot of shit on the record and I don't really do that. It embarrassed me a little bit.
I don't really listen to my music. I don't think I've ever heard that album all the way through to the end, to be honest. I've never heard a lot of our albums and records. I don't listen to them. I know what happened. It's almost too close to me. I know what happened when I tracked what you're listening to, that day, that moment, what I felt, I know that I know that purely about what it is that you're listening to. Through the years, I realized that I wasn't a good judge of my own creativity because I've seen a lot of people and a lot of times over a lot of years really say something that I felt completely sucked could be great, and vice versa. That can cause confusion when you're the artist, when you're the source of the situation, the riff or the idea.
You asked me that question about those two live shows, what I mainly feel is I can remember how I felt, what time of life and what was going on. In 1982, I'm just blinders. That's the next reason why people, I guess, now that I look back, say Bad Brains is tight or powerful or any of that stuff. Because we would go in the dressing room and just look at each other like, "What the fuck did we just do," in a negative way with people screaming and hollering like they'd never seen nothing like this. I always pushed for a certain feeling, but later on I realized that I just didn't understand what chemistry meant, I didn't understand what it meant to be in the crowd because I didn't go to shows that much anymore, which means that I don't understand what a PA is doing with the sound and all these things. I'm just there on stage hearing a shitty monitor mix trying to play as hard and as exact as I can to impress. On stage you can't hear because shit is so hectic, but out in the audience that shit is coming together on some real shit.
It was a learning experience being a stage performer and all that, being in Bad Brains. To me, if I don't hear it the way I hear it, if I write the riff with the band together or we come up with an idea, if that shit is not beating my ass on stage where I'm standing, which can't happen a lot of times — so for many years, I would complain and didn't like shit and be an asshole, you know what I mean, about shit that was just fine, but for me, I had to mature to not be a watchdog over my riffs and learn about chemistry. I learned about it because a friend of mine I taught how to play the bass, I taught him from the ground up from scratch. His name is Nick Martin. He played in a band called Lords of Discipline. He was a good friend of ours and let us stay in his house when we first came to New York. I taught Nick Martin how to play the bass. One time I went down to a show at CBGB and I heard him kicking it, I said, "Damn Nick, my man is killing that shit." What I realized is that if he sounds like that, imagine what the hell I sound like if I was listening to me standing out here. Once I realized it, it probably changed my playing.
The last reissue for now is The Omega Sessions which was recorded in 1980 but not released until 1997. What was the story with that? Why was that shelved for so long?
I think what happened with that is we had a manager in DC, one of our first managers, a guy by the name of Mo Sussman. He owned a restaurant on Connecticut Avenue or something, Capitol Hill. It was called Mo and Joe's, which was high end, like Walter Cronkite and dudes like that were in there a bunch. Through a series of events that happened, he wound up wanting to manage us. So he got us into this studio back in DC, the popular Omega, it was the first recording studio. I don't even know what's on the record. I don't even remember the sessions. I was probably 18 or 19, a teenager, being dragged around by my big brothers in this studio and these other people and the managers and what have you. I do know Omega Studios is a popular studio. I would assume the material on The Omega Sessions is our early stuff, same stuff that's on the others. I'd say that it's probably a different recording, I haven't listened to it, to be honest with you.
[Before that was] the Black Dots, where you're really a teenager and you're at some guys house because he's got a recording studio and we're like playing our set. The Black Dots would be the earliest, I believe, recordings of Bad Brains, other than a reel that we had when we were first in the basement out in DC and in Maryland. That's literally in the basement, basement dudes with a reel to reel. That, I believe, Henry or Ian said that they have a version of that. That might be true because we made this reel to take to this place Yesterday & Today Records to this guy Skip Groff, who during this time was [handling] imports and stuff like that. So the reel that we took to him, and I believe that it exists, I haven't heard it, but I remember making it. It's like if you had a band and you're a teenager and you're 17 or 18 and you borrow your cousin's reel to reel and he's like, "Are you guys ready?"
Omega is like, you do that and then you get a manager with some money that buys you a van and puts you all up in the house and puts you in the studio.
So I just have one last question. Last year, Sid McCray passed away — I know you had recently reunited with him for that art gallery show in New York. I was just wondering if you would say a bit about Sid's impact on the band, or anything else you might want to say about him.
Well, Sid. Sid, that's my Southeast homie right there, so it's kinda me and him that was off on this rock shit, mainly him. He showed up at my house one day with Ramones albums and he was dressed up like a punk rocker. Sid was always a different type of dude. Sid would always thank me for putting him onto like Return To Forever and stuff. Sid would have me listening to shit like Electric Light Orchestra and shit like that. He was a wild, eclectic type, and coming from Southeast DC, he maybe listened to what they would call "white boy music" or something, because he listened to Yes or something like that, you know what I mean? Sid was always into that and when Sid discovered punk rock – he told me he discovered it through seeing the Sex Pistols on PBS, channel 13. It turns out another one of our homies in the neighborhood, he was the one listening to that shit. He was the one that saw that punk shit [and showed Sid]. But Sid came to my house in southeast DC as a punk rocker. I was like a what you'd probably call a Cooley High type dude, more interested in girls… He knew I played bass. That's my homeboy. We used to do things like break windows and shit like that when we were younger. We had, somehow, a little punk rock in us. We'd walk around and get high, find weed and shit, sit around. Sid was the one that came with those records and when he came with those records, the Ramones, The Damned, the Sex Pistols and another one called No New York that he had under his arm when he knocked on the door of our apartment in Southeast. I looked through the peephole and I said, "What the fuck is wrong with this dude," because he's got safety pins and all kind of shit on him, you know what I mean? So he's got these records. When he came in, I put on the records and I remember going like, "I'll make some shit like this," you know what I mean? It's been said that I said "If the Ramones think they're playing fast, watch this."
Based on me knowing Return to Forever and all that — that’s why the band had a punky kinda technical aspect to it, from its beginning. But then shortly after, we had a song, "Regulator." When we first started in the basement as Bad Brains, our first song was our song, "Don't Need It." Then I wrote this song "Regulator." Sid titled it "Regulator" because Sid as a punk was trying to be like he owned some bondage shit. I make the music and he wrote the first verse. So we got this song, "Regulator." HR plays guitar. It's Bad Brains, but Sid is the singer. What we did is we had a party in our house where we lived in Maryland in the basement, in a residential neighborhood, like, you know, the suburbs. We went across DC and we put up fliers that said, "Bad Brains, the greatest punk rock band in the world," and we hardly ever played one time. It was the PMA talking, like, positive suggestion. It's ironic that we turned out to be one of the greatest punk rock bands in the world, but when we made that flier, we were just being PMA, we hardly played or had songs. That's real and people need to understand that and know that the power of positive words and suggestions is powerful.
So, here's the deal. There's the Bad Brains as you know it and Sid, we were playing out in Maryland in the basement. Some people were at those parties, Alec MacKaye and these cats were there. We arranged to do it like this. We played "Don't Need It" and then HR would sing but then when we played "Regulator," HR would play guitar and Sid would come on and sing. But when Sid finished singing, we orchestrated it so his girlfriend Tally, at the end of "Regulator," would run out and tackle Sid off the stage and Sid would jump up and smash shit up. It was almost like performance art.
So that's why people say that Sid was our original lead singer, but what happened was, Sid was so involved in this punk rock and this menacing and this bondage and all this nihilistic and all this negative that went with punk rock, that once people started to clap or like us, he didn't want anything to do with us anymore. Like we were too popular, 'cause that's how you're supposed to be when you're a real bondage punk. It's an insult to call you a rock star. He'd look at me and say [in a mocking tone], "Fucking rock star," you know what I mean? He wouldn't come because we've got nine people at a show. Nine people came and said, "Bad Brains!!!," and now my guy Sid, who invented it, he's so dark with this shit, it's like, "No, he's lurking around the corner," so he stopped coming to the shows. He stopped being around us, most of Bad Brains, for that reason.
When I think of Sid [now], it's the same way [I did growing up]. I can see him wherever he is, having a good time. I don't think that he's somewhere, oh man, in terms of energy. If you think about that, it came to me, and it wasn't a belief or nothing, because when I went to think about it, being that he was so close to me and I've known him for so long and we've been through so much together and then he passed, I don't think I cried or nothing. It was almost like he was still alive, like he did something. I might say, "Oh nigga, I see you went on, huh?" You see what I'm saying? [Laughs]. It's like, "Oh, you're flying around in what they call heaven now, huh?" I feel like, for some odd and strange reason, he's cool and aware. He is where his energy went, it ain't about pining and sadness.
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