Music — July 25, 2019 14:54 — 0 Comments

H.R. Of Bad Brains On Headaches, Human Rights And Speeding Up Songs

Paul “H.R.” Hudson is the longtime front man for Bad Brains, a group founded in 1979 and often credited with creating the original hardcore sound. Through fast, energetic songs and snarling, high-pitched vocals, Bad Brains raced through shows as their fans moshed all around them. Bad Brains also often played reggae between the punk rock. And after decades in the scene, the band only plays reggae at shows today. This fall, H.R. (short for Human Rights) is releasing a new solo record, Give Thanks, a reggae-inspired album filled with the uplifting music he’s made his signature. I caught up with the front man to talk with him about the origins of Bad Brains, what they talked about as they were creating a new sound and what it was like for H.R. to get brain surgery later in life after enduring a series of terrible headaches.

What initially drew you to playing music? 

Well, it was suggested by a youth. The youths were getting restless. It was a youth that came to me one day when I was just walking along, singing a song, and he had heard me singing and said, “Man, you should start a band! You sound great!” That’s what started it for me.

Do you remember when that was?

Oh, it was about ’76 or ’75.

How did Washington, D.C. shape your creativity?

We did some shows up in Maryland first, some shows in my mother and father’s basement and then my mother said, “Oh, lord, I can’t take the noise anymore! You’re going to have to play somewhere else!” So, we went out to D.C. and did a thing out there at a club that was having alternative shows. I remember my brother was playing so fast and I said, “Come on, man! Slow the music down!” He wouldn’t slow the music down for nothing, man! He said, “Nah, I’m playing the bass [drum] here so you’re going to have to function the way you function.” So, I’m telling you, I had to sing what I could to it. It was so fast for me to keep up with. And so, I came up with my own style and Gary [Miller, aka guitarist “Dr. Know”] just played the guitar so fast and strong and Darryl [Jenifer] was playing his bass.

I had met Daryl a few years before that, in ’77, the same year my son was born. He was just walking along and I had this car, this Camaro and I’d seen this guy walking. I just pulled over and said, “Hey, you need a ride?” And he said, “Yeah, man!” I remember he got in the car and later on that day I asked him would he want to be in our band and he said, “Yeah!” So, I gave it a try and I just said, “It’s a jam session we that we’re having, would you like to jam?” And I remember, he played the guitar and Gary was playing the bass. But for whatever reason, they switched up and they said they wanted to have it where Darryl played the bass and Gary played guitar. So, they went ahead and did it, the transformation, and that’s how the whole thing stared.

This may sound obvious, but I’d love to hear it in your own words. Why is the term “human rights” especially important to you?

Oh, well, I think everybody needs human rights, from when you’re little – the youth of today will be the man of tomorrow. And I always say that people need human rights. No matter what color they are, they need human rights. They should be treated as if by the Lord and the Lord gives them human rights. I know people have heard of civil rights before but civil rights transform into human rights and human rights is for everyone.

How did Bad Brains talk about hardcore music in the early days as you were inventing the new sound?

Well, at first, it was just we went over to a friend’s house named, Sid. And Sid introduced us to some punk rock music. And I was saying, “Man, this is fine, good music! But they need to be more positive.” And Sid said, “Well, you’re going to have to talk to them or put out your own style of music.” I remember we used to play the music at 78 speed and our stuff was on 33 and 45 speed and we just turned it up. We would turn the music to 78 speed and then we could hear it faster. That’s how that started right there.

Do you remember what records you played?

Yeah, sure do, man. We listened to the Slits and Ramones and this group called, let me think back now, oh yeah: Sex Pistols. We heard the rebellion of the music and we said we could dig. What the youth needed, though, was something more positive. We were digging what they were saying, though, we dug what they were saying, they was talking about the radicalism and how they come to find out about reality and all kinds of madness, man! I tell you that was, for us, so inspirational and we was glad that we went ahead and tried it ourselves.

The early Bad Brains shows had this dualistic quality of madness and healing, like two minds: brash hardcore and calm reggae. Did it feel like this to you? 

Yes. Yes, sir. We did the best we could because we were suffering from hard times. We were just leaving our jobs. Even now, to this day, we’re still having hard times. God has tested us. What I’d like to do now, can you share this email address? People can use PayPal to send a few dollars, what they can afford, straight through the email address, okay?

Go for it.

For PayPal: That would help us out a lot. If they can’t, we understand. It would help us out a lot because we’re going through a struggle in these times. Thank you.

Also at your early shows, there were often bodies flying at you. Did you ever feel scared on stage?

Yes, I surely did. I was a little nervous in the early days. I didn’t know how the people were going to react to what we were doing. The youth would come to us and they’d act wild, man! They would just dive off the stage and look at us and throw cans and bottles at us and we was nervous, man! We said, “What is going on?” And I remember we used to do shows at CBGB’s and at first, the shows were quite alternative, quite different, more radical than we play now. We got a chance to make some music in our house we’d gotten in Maryland. We had a little house, we’d all gotten this house, me and Daryl and Earl and Gary and we used to pay the rent there but we had to move because the youth was a little too wild, man! I remember that I was so nervous.

I couldn’t nearly be heard. We didn’t have a backline and we didn’t have a microphone so I used to sing while they was playing and I would sing out loud and people would say, “Well, man, why don’t y’all get it together and get you a backline?” I said, “A backline?” They said, “Yeah, get you a backline and some amplifiers and microphones.” I said, “How am I going to get those things?” They said, “Well, man, you got to get you a manager.” There was a manager, a brother by the name of Brian Brain. That’s what his name was, Brian Brain. We went to see him – the other boy was Charlie Davis. He used to say, “I know a friend named Brian Brain that could help y’all out and would be able to establish y’all some instruments while you’re playing your songs.” That was in Madam’s Organ [in Washington D.C.], that was the first place we played at. Madam’s Organ at the Atlantis Club. Later on they changed their name it 930 Club.

A friend of ours is going to be showing a movie that took him 20 years to be film and he finally got it together and it will be shown at the American Film Institute on the 29th and on the 30th is going to be showing it at the Hirshhorn Theater next to the Smithsonian Institute here in D.C. He would show you some clips of bands in those times and he will show you how nervous I was, jumping around and screaming and, “AAaaahhhhh!!” I used to have so much fun. We all would have fun. But there were times when I was nervous, yes.

How did religion influence your work?

We invited some veterans that we had met with some dreadlocks [to a show] and when we got there, a brother named Julian from Trinidad was there and another brother was named Ray and another was called Feather Mop. These boys said, “Boy, you need some religion. You need some spiritual guidance. Because the way you going, the way you living, it’s down a one track.”

They said, “If you take our advice and read your Bible, your life will change around.” And that’s the truth, man. That’s what happened. We read our Bible and I prayed, out loud sometimes, people would hear me but I didn’t care if they heard me or not.

And one day I had met this youth, who – and listen to this – didn’t have any shoes and he just had a robe on and he looked like Jesus Christ. I ain’t lying to you! This brother came from Florida and he said that he had come to set the law straight and to prophesize the word of God and I could not believe the things he would be saying. I said, “Man, this youth is telling the truth!” That’s how it all started for us in religion.

May I ask, what was it like to undergo brain surgery?

Oh, man. It was a test of will. I was having some crucial headaches and I had met Dr. Lee a few years later and he said, “We’re going to straighten you out. I see what’s going on. I see it in the X-rays, the SUNCT syndrome.” That was the problem I was going through SUNCT. So, he said, “What we’re going to do is, we’re going to have an operation with you and go in your brain and see what we can find.” So, he went and I had brain surgery. He said he needed to clean up my brain and he cleaned it up a little bit and he put something inside of my brain so that it would block the nerves because the nerves were touching my veins. That’s what was causing so much pain.

I was having some headaches that, man, let me tell you, they was hurting! I was getting headaches like, Lord. It was through the magic – not the magic, through the spiritual guidance of the Lord that He touched Dr. Lee to be able to come in there and straighten me out. He had always been on my mind. I knew it was a test, a test of will. But I had to go through it. It was God telling me to slow down.

So, we started playing reggae music for a time because my doctor before then had said, “Listen, you’re have to change the kind of music you play because all the heavy metal is too much for your brain. All that fast music is going to create more headaches and if you want to be relieved from this, you’re going to have to play reggae songs.” So, that’s what I did.

What is it like for you to be a Godfather of a sound and an inspiration to so many musicians that came after you?

Well, I think it’s beautiful to know that you have a position in life and that there’s something you can do to teach the youth through guidance of what to do. This man named Mr. Alfredo Weeks, who has his own production label called, Petrified Music, he had filmed this show from 1981 when we played at CBGBs and he took that music, it was on a little cassette, and he took it and he said, “H.R., guess what?” I said, “What?” He said, “On your birthday, I’m going to release this as an album!” And I said, “No way, Mr. Alfredo Weeks Jr.!” He said, “Yes, I am! This is miraculous music and the public has got to hear this song.” So, that’s how that went.

What are you most excited about for the release of your new album? 

It’s got 10 tracks that are so inspirational. One of them is, “Throw Away Your Gun,” and another one on there is, “We Are One,” and another one is, “Give Thanks.” Oh, man. You’re going to love it.


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney