Behind the Punk Rock Band Name: Bad Brains

Do you like hardcore punk rock? If so, you have Bad Brains to thank for it.

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Founded in Washington, D.C. in 1976, the group helped to pioneer the genre with rampaging raucous shows, screaming-style singing, and musicianship that would shake and rattle any club. Truly, the band was a walking, talking, singing, playing earthquake.

But how did the group get its name? And what is the status of the band today?

Mind Power and the Band’s Beginnings

Originally when the band formed in the mid-’70s, the group went by the name Mind Power. Together, they played jazz fusion music.

Over the years, while the group has rejected the hardcore label, they played music that spurred on the genre. But the world of Bad Brains is also multi-faceted. The group, along with its thrashing roots, is known for somber, even religious reggae music today.

To date, Bad Brains has released nine studio LPs and have broken up and reformed several times over the years, sometimes using different frontmen and musicians. But to many, the classic lineup includes singer H.R. or “Human Rights” (Paul D. Hudson), guitar player Dr. Know (Gary Miller), bassist Darryl Jenifer and drummer Earl Hudson. These artists were together as Bad Brains until 1987. In later years, they reunited several times.

To date, Bad Brains is cited as major influences by many big-name groups, from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys to Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Guns N’ Roses, and more.

Bad Brains

A year or two after the band formed, the group’s friend Sid McCray introduced them to punk rock music. It was then that Mind Power switched up its sound to help create the hardcore punk genre. In so doing, the group also changed its name to Bad Brains. The choice was inspired by the Ramones song, “Bad Brain.”

But the group wasn’t then done evolving. Despite its trashing, hardcore punk sound, they also loved other genres. And upon seeing Bob Marley perform, they got into playing reggae music along with becoming members of the Rastafarian movement.

McCray was a short-lived singer for the group and when he left, H.R. took over as the lead vocalist. With their wild, rambunctious performances, the group began earning wide notoriety in Washington, D.C., and beyond. Their shows included moshing, and pit dancing and people even got on stage while the group was performing, to jump back into the audience. In fact, H.R. has talked about feeling scared when surrounded by wild fans.

Check out this live video of the group below.

Banned from D.C. and Embracing New York

Indeed, as early as 1979, the group was banned from many D.C. clubs for all the anarchy they created. In 1980, the group left D.C. and relocated to New York, where their popularity and influence only increased. They frequented CBGBs (which you can see in the video above).

“We played CB’s every friggin’ night,” said Dr. Know in Louder Sound of this time. “This whole ‘Sunday matinee’ thing is from us. When we first played, nobody was there. It’s like, ‘Who are these n***ers?’ And we’re in their face, killing it. We got a weekend day, and by then a little buzz started happening.”

Soul Brains and Beyond

After a few failed attempts to reunite for longer stints, the band got back together in 1997 to remaster some early songs. The songs were released as an EP, The Omega Sessions. From 1998 to 2001, the original lineup toured under yet another new name, Soul Brains. Together, they released two live albums.

In 2016, Bad Brains was nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But as of now, they’re yet to get inducted. That should change sooner or later, given the massive influence the group has had on bands and music since the 1970s.

Photo by Jason Kempin/FilmMagic

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