Back in 1980, when the Brain boys were just four Chocolate City jazz fusionists more into Return to Forever than the Sex Pistols, group members H.R. (singer), Darryl Jenifer (bassist), Dr. Know (guitarist) and Earl Hudson (drummer) were turned out by the audio angst of Brit-punk culture and never looked back. Performing regularly at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., Bad Brains merged hardcore, dub and metal, and started a rhythmic revolution on their self-titled 1979 album. As the late writer/Washington D.C. DJ Tom Terrell told me one snowy night, “Before Bad Brains, no other band had been able to combine white noise with black spiritualism and make music sound so powerful.”
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Inspired equally by ska, punk and drunken Richard Pryor styled humor, Fishbone was making music for “another forward state of mind,” as they sang on “Another Generation,” that was open to musical experimentation and bugged-out boogie down live shows. In thirty years, front-man Angelo Moore and his motley crew of band brothers have released a few wonderful albums including In Your Face and The Reality of My Surroundings, but their cover of “Freddie’s Dead” was one of their biggest hits. Seeing these cats perform is to experience true boned-out ecstasy. For a proper introduction, check out the Fishbone documentary Everyday Sunshine.
Living Colour were, as New York Times writer John Lelend once wrote, “The last great band to come out of CBGB.” While guitarist Vernon Reid was the focus for many, vocalist Corey Glover, whom I’ve always considered underrated, was the perfect lead singer who obviously listened to both Robert Plant and Al Green and became a soulful screamer because of it. In their more than three decades together, the group has had their ups and downs, with Glover releasing the slept-on solo album Hymns (LaFace) in 1998. The Brooklyn-bred partnership has since been repaired and this past summer, Living Colour toured with Aerosmith.
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Eye & I
Back in the late ‘80s, Eye & I was supposed to be the next big thing after Living Colour signed with Epic Records, but something happened to alter their pre-destined path. Led by then-married couple bassist Melvin Gibbs (pictured above) and powerhouse lead singer D.K. Dyson, they played with a mad energy that walked a fine line between free jazz and punk funk that few could dispute. Catching one of their shows at CBGB, New York Times critic Peter Watrous wrote: “The band played with power that seemed to be emanating not from the stage, but from the room itself.” Their self-titled album was released in 1991, and the group broke up shortly afterwards.
When BRC co-founder Flip Barnes introduced 24/7 Spyz co-leaders Jimi Hazel and vocalist Peter Fluid to the music of Bad Brains, he had no idea he was contributing to the construction of a rock-n-roll Frankenstein. On stage during BRC shows, they perfected their hardcore guerrilla playing style until they were as sharp as broken glass. A few years later, when the Spyz released their debut Harder than You (1989) they proved to the world that South Bronx boys could rebel yell and play guitars as well as they could rap and spin turntables. Harder includes the autobiographical “Grandma Mama Dynamite,” a blazing cover of Kool & the Gang’s funk classic “Jungle Boogie” and Hazel’s roaring instrumental “Jimi’s Jam.”
EXPLORE 24-7 Spyz’ discography via Amazon | iTunes
For more information about the BRC, visit blackrockcoalition.org.
Michael A. Gonzales has been writing about music since the 1980s. A few of his subjects include Barry White (Vibe), D’Angelo (Wax Poetics) and Lauryn Hill (The Source). In addition to soulhead, he contributes to Complex, Pitchfork Review, XXL, Baltimore City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly and The Weeklings. His essay on the DeBarge family appears in Best African-American Essays 2009. Gonzales blogs at Blackadelicpop.blogspot.com. Check out some of his work for soulhead.