Bad Brains, the most intense band to come out of the Washington D.C. punk scene, with their unique blend of hard core rock and reggae, was back on the road for a two week blitz through the Southwest, starting here in Phoenix, AZ at the Celebrity Theater on November 7, 1998. At that show, Dr. Know, HR, Darryl and Earl lit up the old hard core rock right from the start with "Attitude", "At the Movies", "Sailin' On", "Pay to Cum","Right Brigade" and then put the brakes on after a few more slammin' numbers for a half dozen reggae tunes. How sweet it was! I caught up with Dr. Know in Santa Ana, CA before the start of the fifth show. The name Bad Brains has been replaced with Soul Brains, partly for a more positive perception by the public. As a fan of the band since 1980 in its East Coast days, I was glad to sit down and talk with Dr. Know, who plays a guitar like no other can. We talked about the past present and future of the band.
Johnny M: This is Johnny M, getting a little quality time before the Soul Brains' fifth show of their 1998 Tour of the Southwest...
Dr. Know : Johnny M!
JM: Hanging out with Gary Miller, better know to Moisst Music readers as Dr. Know, the only guitarist the Bad Brains
have ever had. Doc, do you prefer Doc or Gary?
DK: Well, my mother calls me Gary, so....
JM: We'll stick with Doc for tonight. If we could start with a with quick history of the band, even though I'm sure its a story you've told many times before, of where you guys came from, and how the four of you started in the late 70's playing jazz fusion, etc...
DK: You said it all right there. That's what we did. Started out in D.C. and uh, we were "attemptin to do jazz fusion You know, we was just tryin' things out
JM: That was when you were called Mind Power ?
DK: Yeah, like 1977, 1976
JM: And you actually became Bad Brains
JM: Everyone knows the song "Banned in D.C.", and apparently that came from a true situation. How did that really come to be?
DK: Well, when there's a next kind of music, like when rock and roll first was happenin and jazz first was happenin, and like with everything, it's something new people can't really deal with. Like with all the kids dressed in the punk gear, and people couldn't deal. So one promoter would call up clubs and be like , YO! don't book them dudes, cause,
JM: Look out!
DK: Well, yeah, but nothing got destroyed or anything, in those days it used to be the pogo, with the kids just doing the pogo around. That was the dance then, just different, and some people couldn't accept it but the next year, it was the in thing, and the clubs started booking the bands. But back in the day, ain't nobody know what time it was!
JM: So did the song Riot Squad come out of that whole situation?
DK: No, that was just a song we wrote, but Banned in D.C came out of that situation from promoters calling the other promoters and clubs and sayin "Don't do that man, they gonna destroy your club. And it wasn't about that at all.
JM: Some bad word of mouth....
DK: No. Just their perceptions, how they mis-perceived us.
JM: That's a damned shame
DK: Well that's what I'm sayin, it happens all the time:
JM: Well I've been a fan for more than 15 years and I'll never forget the first time I saw you live at the old Rock Hotel on Jane Street in NYC in 1983. Since then I've always noticed you at you shows on the floor checking out the bands that are opening up for you . I was wondering what bands that have opened for you over the years that you like.
DK: That I LIKE?
DK: A lot of the bands I really like, but as far as successful bands, quote unquote, go... Well, back in the day, 'cause something that we also did was we were one of the first bands to go out and tour across the country, so we had a chance to see other bands like the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag on the west coast and us on the east coast, like Minor Threat in D.C., although we were in NY at the time, SSD in Boston. And we were touring, so we would get a chance to see all them, and one thing that we did, as we had got enough props to be able to do it, is book our own bands that we wanted to play with us.
DK: So we would pull bands from Philly, DC and New York and Boston cause everybody had to make their own records then.
DK: you know, you get a thousand bucks to make a thousand records. And the bands that were fortunate enough to do that had their couple of little records. You know, record like Pay to Cum, that's what we did.
JM: do you have an original copy of the 45 of that?
DK: Na, Nope, but we were able to book some show at CB's (CBGB's in New York) and have Minor Threat, and SSD, the Young and The Useless, the Beastie Boys. Then some bands would happen to come from the west coast, man it's been so many years now. We'd just try to put bands on and than that would broaden the scope, cause back in the day, the shit was all underground.
JM: yeah, absolutely
DK: So that was a cool thing. We were fortunate enough to see those other people, and We were able to get it like that where we could DO that, so we DID that. You know what I mean?, REPRESENT.
JM: so over the years, and all of the places you've been, in the US and all over the world, have you found good hospitality from all of the fans and all the people in the scene?
DK: God Knows! Absolutely.
JM: and I guess that's a direct result of "what comes around, goes around" after getting to know all of you, there's just a positive vibe.
JM: Good follows good and bad follows bad, huh?
DK: yeah man, THAT'S what the band is about. And through out the years, and still now, you know, every night I see some people and they say "Doc, you don't even know man" okay, you tell me I don't know, but I DO. About how the music's touched their lives. And that's just the work of God still, you know, that's what we're doing. We're tryin to spread some love, some enlightenment, some consciousness.
JM: I know it's worked for me for more than fifteen years
DK: yeah, that's what it's about. In turn you do the same
JM: exactly, I tell two friends, and they tell two friends
DK: yeah, then we're supercool. That's the real thing
JM: You and Darryl seemed to carry the torch over the fifteen years I've been following Bad Brains
, even when HR and Earl were doing other projects. One thing I waned to talk about is your guitars. You seemed to be changing guitars over the years, while Darryl always has the Green Monster
(Darryl's green bass). Do you have a sickness with buying new guitars, always trying something different, or,
JM: are you on this eternal quest for the right feel you haven't even found yet?
DK: No. No way. I'm totally satisfied. Yeah, Darryl got his green bass, and actually in the pictures that you got from back in the day, the one I had then is the same guitar that's my black guitar right now.
JM: with the neon colored Demarzio pick-ups
DK: yeah, that's the same guitar I've had, my main guitar that I got when Darryl got his green bass. It's just got a different body on it, same neck and guts. The pickups just some covers that go over it. Then I had that white one in that old picture there, an that was basically my only other guitar. That white one wasn't "my axe" you know, my "tool" ,it was just a guitar I was playing for a little while. My main tool is that same guitar that I'm playing now. You know, you can't judge a book by its cover baby! It's the same one as always, just looks a little different. Got a little paint job
JM: took it to Earl Scheib? (laughter)
DK: Right! (laughter)
JM: another question I have for you is this: Over the years Bad Brains
have broke up, had a reunion tour, broke up again.
DK: Wait! They were never considered reunion tours. We never broke up. That's the whole media thing, you know, HR was doing HR tours and albums. You know, but its not really "broke up". Like right now, everyone's hyping it up as "the reunion tour", but...
JM: so it never comes down to tension in the band and you all can't stand each other after a while and you gotta take a step aside for a while?
DK: well you know. You gotta get away after a while....
JM: I can imagine after jammin more than four people on that bus for a while for fourteen show in fifteen days, that could end up being a problem.
DK: well, brothers need space, and people have other lives besides the band and you just can't go out for two months, you know? We DID that already in a little VAN! With eight people in it. So, with the little more money we make now, you know, we get this (pointing to the tour bus) and do it so we can ride in some comfort.
DK: and buy some better equipment so we sound good. Maybe buy another guitar, or some effect board, or whatever. But then there's the part where there's companies that wanna just GIVE you stuff, so that's cool too! We jut got a free shopping spree today and got some gear.
JM: So you're about to play the fifth show in five nights in a row, can you give me a quick report card on the first four? How you felt the first four went, maybe there was a favorite show so far?
DK:: John, you know how I am, I have fun on ALL of 'em.
JM: I know, I see you smiling ear to ear every show!
DK: and you know, that's me. The shows have been going very, very well, and it feels good to be doing it and that's it. What can I say? Last night was the LA show, so whoever was in town was there, we had a beautiful venue, a nice setting. Its a beautiful thing, what else could you want? Being a musician is to go out there, have the people be a apart of it, have them have a good time, and have a good time ourselves. THAT'S IT! That what its all about right there.
JM: I couldn't agree more. I've got a lot of friends who are die hard Bad Brains
fans back on the east coast that would love to know when they can expect this tour to make it back east. Any comment?
DK: We gonna go on the east, the holidays are coming up, it's gonna be cold, and that's why we're doing these two weeks out here now. It's a little chilly here, but back east it's like 30 degrees, they even had a blizzard yesterday in the Midwest, so we cant be doing that part of the country now. In the beginning of the Spring hopefully, sometime when the weather brakes hopefully, we'll do the east coast thing and hopefully the Midwest thing too.
JM: so should everyone look to the WWWhats Up web site to stay informed for future tour info?
DK: That, and there's people who have sites that just do concerts, but I don know the site names, but it'll be out there.
JM: can we talk a little bit about the name change, from Bad Brains
to Soul Brains?
JM: From what I read, in my limited knowledge, is that the name was changed from Bad Brains
to Soul Brains to get away form a contract that as unfavorable to the band. Is that pretty much the story?
DK: Where did you hear that one, I ain't heard that one.
JM: I read that on a Web page on the Internet.
DK: No, actually this is a name we were contemplating using years ago.. When we first came up with the concept of Bad Brains, its interpretation was always mis-perceived. Being four brothers from D.C., when we say "bad", it's like James Brown saying "Baaaaad". And people would interpret it as being a negative thing. After all these years, people still don't get it yet, you know? They think we're bein' like fuckin punk rock or something, you know what I'm sayin'? And we ain't fuckin punk rock. We're not being negative. We just wanted to lose the old, make it so it's no doubt. Nothing so people can contemplate the "meaning" of it. Comin' from Mind Power, to Bad Brains you know, Mind Power - BadBrains, think about it, you could call it Dope Brains, you know. But when the word "dope" was first bein' used, people would be like, "Dope?". Same thing, new things mess wit people's heads and they can't deal. So back in the day, we were tryin to up the consciousness.
JM: Another thing I'd like to know is- what are the earliest influences on you musically? Who were the bands you heard that made you say "GodDAMN" that's good stuff?
DK: In the Rock and Roll playin? Or..
JM: Anywhere, Beethoven to Public Enemy... Anything
DK: Well there wasn't any Public Enemy to motivate us when we were growin up, uh, but you know, comin form D.C., there was a lot of Go-Go music, and uh a lot of the fusion guys, Return to Forever, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea
JM: Mahivishnu Orchestra?
DK: Oh Yeah! and Stevie Wonder, and a lot of the R&B like The Dells, but that wasn't called R&B then, that was "Soul". And Ohio Players, and really anything that people be sampling NOW. But we was livin that. All them phat tracks from back then, you know what I'm sayin?
JM: uh huh
DK: So it's like THAT.
JM: Do all of us Bad Brains
fans have any new music from Soul Brains to look forward to in the near future?
DK: At some point, yeah, at some point.
JM: Not that we're trying to hold you to any schedule
DK: Yeah, well good, 'cause there ain't no schedule! It's like, first things first. These thins you can't necessarily plan, we haven't even sat down and wrote any new songs yet. WE got together, rehearsed a little bit and came out and did the tour. When we finish that, yeah, we'll always make NEW music and put out records and write. But, you gotta take things step by step, that's something we learned over the years. You don't try to do too much, you gotta focus. Focusing is very important, because its HARD being out on the road. Like you said, YOU'RE TELLIN ME KNOW! This is number five out of fifteen on a row tonight! Right? Or fourteen in fifteen nights?
JM: Yeah, fourteen shows in fifteen days
DK: Honest, I don't know. Even when we were "younger people" we never even did THAT, so HA HA, (continuous laughter by both) Ahh, Shit.
JM: So what project were you involved in when Bad Brains
was not touring or working on new albums?
DK: MMmmmmmm, nothin too much, a little dibblin and dabblin here and there, no too much. I wanna start doing some things coming up. I would like to possibly get into doing some sound tracks and also doing some producing.
JM: Any particular bands you're working with now, or planning on working with?
DK: Nah, it's just something that I want to do, you know, start putting some energy into that. Now I feel it. I'll produce a few bands here and there, cause I like doing it.
JM: I can tell you like what you're doing just by watching you on stage.
DK: YEAH! ha ha ha ha ha .......Word.
JM: Well I've asked everything I wanted to ask you...
DK: Well you got all them old pictures, baby,
JM: Yeah, I tried, I've been there for a long time too. I be there for as long as you're around. Thanks for spending this time with me for the Moisst Music Mag.
DK: That's the way it's gotta be, you know? Now this paper's based here in LA?
JM: No, it's in Phoenix AZ
DK: Well I gave you my digits so you gonna send me a copy and some of them pictures, right?
JM: Absolutely, we'll have this interview and some of the pictures from the Phoenix show at the Celebrity Theater in the Magazine.
DK: Well you KNOW I want that one picture with the hair.
JM: The one with your dreads flyin high, huh?
DK: Yeah, that's...that's one of the best pictures I've ever seen.. All the pictures were...., it's like you captured some great moments over the years.
JM: Well I'm glad you like them, and I wanna thank you for putting so much pleasure in my life over the years. I don't think a week of my life has gone by without listening to your music.
DK: I hear that man, that's what it's about.
JM: It's a shame for the people that don't get it.
DK: Well, you know, you gotta touch people in different ways. Still its all the same whether its music, art, speaking, whatever
JM: or the way you drive down the road.
DK: Exactly, or how you drive down the road
JM: Has it ever reached a point for you where it's become a job and you've said to yourself "Damn, I gotta go on and play tonight"
DK: Well, being on the road is hard. But NO, I've never said THAT! But sometimes you are tired, and you gotta get out there and give a 100%, and sometimes its hard night after night, but Jab give me the strength still.
JM: I know right before the interview you went to call you wife and I'm sure that's hard being away for a long stretch like this.
DK: Absolutely yeah it's hard for her, she's like "Oh, I wanna come out". But we can't really afford it, and the way the tour's going, we hittin' so many dates you know boom boom boom, so we wont even be able to chill, it's like play the gig, then go eight hours north and then more of that.
JM: you've been all over the US and the world with Bad Brains
over the years. Is there anywhere you hold as a favorite, or do you find yourself having positive experiences wherever you go
DK: Yeah, that's it absolutely, positive experiences everywhere.
JM: I'm not surprised.
DK: It's always the love and the respect and people give it up when WE give it up that's how it works. It's just a mutual thing.
JM: did you run into much racist stuff in the early days?
DK: Nah. It's been almost twenty years now and there's probably been like three incidences, and they all ended on a positive note and it didn't really get THAT negative. NOBODY MOVE, NOBODY GETS HURT you know? But what it is, is that those people that cause those things are confused, and those same people that we had the confrontations with early on in the a show, afterwards, were sittin' down reasoning. Cause it's about communicating. Some people are just lost and just need some guidance.
JM: and you were there to give it.
DK: Well, it's Jah, it's God you know. I'm gonna go in here and see what's up before we play
JM: Doc, much respect
DK: Cool vibe.
Done on 11/11/98 in San Diego, CA by John Mousheghian