Perfect Sound Forever

Bad Brains


Photo from Punky Gibbons website

Life After H.R.
by Pete Crigler
(December 2014)


The year was 1992, grunge was the new hip thing while real, down and gritty punk rock had been confined to the tiniest of clubs. Many of the great pioneers were on the downswing of touring or had either thrown in the towel and called it quits. Bad Brains were in the midst of a transitional period. This is that story, one that has been beat up and spat upon but deserves a chance to be heard.

1989's Quickness had been seen as a kind of lackluster record after the grand masterpiece that was 1986's I Against I. Frontman H.R. had to be brought back into the picture to redo the lyrics after temp frontman Taj Singleton, who quickly dropped off the face of the earth, had recorded the whole album while Mackie Jayson, formerly of Cro-Mags manned the drum throne, in place of H.R.'s brother Earl Hudson who was pictured on the cover and toured the record but did not play on it. With H.R. back on vocals, the album was quickly finished and released to a growing-up hardcore crowd that was tiring of the Bad Brains' antics.

By 1990, H.R. was gone again and Mackie had rejoined on drums. The band managed to eke out a cover of the MC5 classic "Kick Out the Jams" with Henry Rollins on vocals for the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack. Afterwards, the band (Jayson plus founding members guitarist Dr. Know and bassist Darryl Jenifer) took some time off to figure out what to do next. H.R. wasn't going to come back anytime soon, off to his reggae band/solo career, but the guys wanted to keep working so they set about working with some different vocalists. Most notable was Chuck Mosley, former frontman of Faith No More who'd been kicked out due to drunkenness. He joined the Brains for a while, playing some shows, most notably at the fabled City Gardens in New Jersey, footage of which has been uploaded to YouTube and they began writing new material. At one point, as reported in Spin Magazine at the time, the new band were close to signing a deal with Atlantic Records. All of this fell through however and by 1992, Mosley was off on his own to form Cement and the remaining three decided to hold auditions to find a suitable replacement.

Enter into the picture twenty year old singer Israel Joseph-I who was fresh out of New York, fronting cover bands and reggae groups around the city. Working at a local Tower Records a few years prior, he was turned onto the I Against I record and after getting several other records from friends, became a diehard disciple of Bad Brains and H.R. The seeds were sown when Joseph's girlfriend tried out at an open audition and gave Darryl his number and told him to give Joseph a call.

In a recent interview, Israel Joseph-I explained the process: "Three weeks later, the phone rings and it's Darryl calling. I couldn't believe it at first. Told me to come on up to Woodstock, gave me a bus ticket to meet with the band. Got there at night and Darryl was there. Talked about music and started jamming. First song played was "Re-Ignition." Jammed on three more songs. They asked ‘You wanna be down with the group?' Jammed for 4 hours.

After some very successful jam sessions, Jenifer and Doc realized they'd found their man. They invited Joseph to join the group and shortly thereafter, the reconstituted band began working on new material. By this point, Jenifer had written most of the lyrics in the band's repertoire and in his new role, Joseph started bringing lyrics to the band and Jenifer was impressed by someone actually wanting to contribute lyrically to the band. Writing the majority of the record, Joseph became fully immersed in the band.

Israel Joseph-I: "They didn't have anything going on at that point, the band just had their instruments. Couldn't believe the position they were in." The misfortunes of the band had taken their toll and the guys were looking for a fresh start. After working up the new material, the band scraped together enough money to crank out a demo tape. Within weeks, they suddenly had all sorts of label interest surrounding them, from the smallest indie to the largest major label. With all this interest, the band and manager Anthony Countey weighed their options before deciding to sign with Epic Records.

After finally signing a deal, the band entered the studio to begin work on what would be their first studio album in nearly four years. Instead of working with the legendary Ron St. Germain, a great producer in his own right, they hooked up with Beau Hill who was best known for working with hair metal bands like Ratt, Winger and Warrant. The band began trying some new things. Israel Joseph-I: "One of the friendliest, cool human beings. Very dynamic technician behind the boards. He had a great engineer at the time. Could've worked with Ron St. Germain again. Wanted to work with someone who brought a different style to the band." St. Germain ended up just fine though, working with Living Colour and 311.

After getting the record done, Epic penciled it in for a 1993 release date. To prepare the fans, the band hit the road hard. Now you would think that hardcore Bad Brains fans would not take too kindly to someone taking over for H.R. but according to Joseph, that wasn't the case at all: "People were ready to hear Bad Brains. Getting to stage, no one was holding me back. Gonna give a show like it was the last moment of my life. This kid is coming to rock the fucking house. Some shows had to stop the mosh pits to make sure everyone was safe. Good vibes, even from the old fans." With the touring successful, the album, now titled Rise was released in 1993 and the title track was released as the first single.

Almost immediately, the album was panned by the critics at large with many of them saying Joseph was a rip-off of H.R. and that the album was a pale shell of what the Brains had been previously. I had to disagree and unfortunately I was one of the few that looked at the album for what it was: Darryl and Doc trying something new and different without the sometimes difficult Hudson brothers. Many songs like the title track and "Love is the Answer," which became a minor hit in Europe, showed a new sign of what the band was becoming, a bit grungier with more melodic influences. Punkier numbers like "Unidentified" and "Coming in Numbers" showed them moving away from traditional hardcore for a melodic slant on classic punk. The best track however is a cover of the old Graham Central Station classic "Hair" with a great vocal track courtesy of Joseph. The song sounds updated, fresh, catchy and funky as hell.

Touring continued but promotion for the album was practically non-existent and the band soon found themselves back to playing to small club audiences. Nevertheless, they continued working on new material as Joseph explained to me in 2014, "Wrote a new record, 4 or 5 songs. Song "Killer," the band and manager didn't like the lyrics. The lyrics were symbolic ("I will be your killer") but the band didn't care for it. Kind of a conflict built around it. Started having fallouts about the direction of the band. Wanted the band to get grungier and more of a positive release. Wanted to go in a different direction and were looking for labels."

By that point, Epic had dropped the band and other labels began sniffing around looking for the next big thing to sign in the wake of Green Day and the Offspring. Sure enough, Maverick Records, owned by Madonna and the home of Candlebox and Alanis Morrissette, began trying to sign the band but as Joseph told me, "Maverick came around and she {Madonna} wasn't interested unless HR and Earl were back in the band. We agreed to break up due to personal struggles." But after some swift negotiating, H.R. and Earl rejoined the band, they hooked up with Ric Ocasek and produced the totally underwhelming God of Love in 1995. Again, sales were small but the momentum was good enough for the Beastie Boys to take them on tour that summer.

But again, H.R.'s attitude got in the way and he ended up having a supermassive shitfit in Kansas City after believing some fans were spitting on him. Attacking the crowd with a mic stand landed him in jail and the band were thrown off the Beasties tour. Maverick lost interest as well and the band was dropped and everything seemed over by the end of 1995. By this point, Joseph had walked away from the music industry, feeling burned out and unpaid. He went back to working a regular job while the other members of the Brains started other projects before coming back together once more in 1998 and started touring under the name Soul Brains, allegedly because H.R. thought the word ‘bad' had negative connotations.

Touring for several years paid the bills but the real, diehard fans, the ones that had been there through thick and thin wanted some new studio material. 2007's Build a Nation came out and the fans were satisfied but H.R. decided to take some time off from touring, so in 2008 with European dates booked, the band called upon Joseph to come back on vocals for the time being. Joseph, who by this point had reentered the music scene with a vastly diverse solo career, was more than up for the challenge. The tour was a success and there looked to be a future for the lineup but as Joseph told me, it all fell apart rather quickly. "In 2008, (we) played a reunion tour and then there was a communication breakdown. Moved back to New York from L.A. Nothing came together in a timely manner. Resituated myself in L.A. Couldn't hang monetarily with the whole thing." As a result of this and other differences, he no longer communicates with anyone from the band but will always consider them brothers.

Rather than feeling bitter about the whole thing, Joseph moved on and resumed his solo career, a rather diverse affair, releasing folk, reggae and soon a punk album. One can check out his material on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/josephi-1. He's very happy and optimistic about the future and looks back on his stint in Bad Brains as an absolute blessing. The rest of the Brains have moved on as well, continuing work with H.R. and putting a new album in 2012, Into the Future. While the band's legacy is secure in their hardcore past, the one album they made with a singer other than H.R. is still looked upon as the worst album in the band's catalog. That's an opinion that needs to change: go back, listen to the record with fresh ears and look at it not as ‘Bad Brains without H.R.' but rather as a new old band trying to get their feet wet with a fresh new singer. After doing this, one might say, ‘wow, I was wrong about that record. It's pretty damn good after all."

I will let Israel Joseph-I have the last word: "I would describe my time with the Bad Brains as one of the most important periods of my life. A necessary change in the tone and opportunity to rise up with the greatest players on the planet in what was the beginning of a great social change! The Rise movement... :-) Yes Jah."

Also see our earlier article on Bad Brains


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