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Darryl Jenifer (Bad Brains)

Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains
19 February 2011

Darryl Jenifer may be known to the underground rock world as the bassist of Bad Brains from their formation in 1978 to the present day. But recently he stepped out for his first solo LP, In Search of Black Judas, fittingly for the same label that released the first Bad Brains album 21 years ago, ROIR.

A magazine like ours named after a Bad Brains song (note, that “Big Takeover” was an unreleased song when we chose it for our moniker in 1980, already a huge favorite of mine from their semi-monthly live sets in New York, coming up from their native Washington D.C., to play CBGB, the Playroom, Peppermint Lounge, TR3, Mudd Club, One Under, Studio 9, etc.) is naturally interested in this first ever solo LP by their incredible bassist, curious what style would take precedence of the many he plays. Answer: it’s reggae, dub, and rub-a-dub that rules the roost on Black Judas, after an opening one-minute snatch of punk. Like the expansive experiments of dub pioneers I name in the interview below, Jennifer uses reggae’s soothing cool-down grooves and dusky pot-smoke atmospheres to dazzle all bad (as in bad-ass!) brains with sound collages. Employing spoken-word samples in lieu of melody—though I know Jenifer can sing, and he admits below that he can indeed—while briefly sampling Bad Brains singer H.R.’s vocal from 1982’s “I and I Survive,” and using studio chops forged producing others’ records, Jennifer makes engrossing dub. And as a listening experience, it’s true immersion.

As well, the album’s release has given me the chance to play a number of tracks on my radio show, “Big Takeover on” and to catch up with my old acquaintance (half the band was staying at my apartment when they were recording that first ROIR album, throughout the summer of 1981, which is why my name appears in the thank you section on the sleevenotes, which is fun to look at nearly 30 years later, exactly), which I did by email, as you will see below. Keep an eye out for Mandy Stein‘s (who did the recent awesome movie about CBGB) documentary on Bad Brains, which, Jenifer confirms, is nearing completion. If you don’t flip over the footage, you don’t know a rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon on the level with James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix when you see one!

My thanks to the folks at ROIR, especially the Coopers, for their help setting this up!

JR: What suddenly clicked with you about the idea of making a solo album now, as opposed to any other time in the last, say 25 years? Was it an inspiration that came to you all of a sudden, or was it something you’d been mulling over or dying to do for a long, long time? In making this album, did you go in thinking you would like to make a dub album, or what was your thinking exactly going into the process?

DARRYL: It felt like a natural progression for me to explore and experiment with dub based ideas in my O.G’ness, but I have always been a fan of rebel music, all music.

JR: Were you just teasing your longtime fans with that little snatch of hardcore punk in the first song? Of course, any Bad Brains fan would be well versed in the group’s reggae, so it’s not like they wouldn’t know what a big part of that you were, given the bass guitar’s prominence in the reggae genre. But hearing that, I at first thought you might be going for a mix of the two styles the band started out with on its first ROIR album and Rock For Light.

DARRYL: The rock intro was just a reminder, suggestion and respects to the Bad Brains, like a calling card.

JR: In no way do I have the expert knowledge of reggae history that you do, but I’ve picked up my share over the decades since I first heard a lot of the artists hanging around with you guys three decades ago. Do you think my references in my review of your album to Lee Perry , King Tubby , Augustus Pablo and * The Mad Professor* are in the ballpark, for someone who’d never heard your record and wanted to know what sort of experience they would be in for? Or are there better ones?

DARRYL: All of those guys you mentioned were the sound track to my reggae youth and up bringing, I can’t say I ever sat and listened to any of those artist as a reggae fan they were just a part of my life, maybe Augustus Pablo, I was trying to make a dub combination of the Quiet Storm , JAH SHAKA meets Roy Ayers with a lil Brains.

JR: How much tinkering and experimentation in the studio was required on your part to get all the dubby arrangements and sounds to full fruition? Or is this something that was sketched out by you well in advance or came naturally to you after so many years of playing reggae?

DARRYL: Well, I generally power up my studio and start jamming,reaching for positive inspiration to pass on to the listener ,I try and tidy my ideas, but they have to feel rugged, but thoughtful,and with cause, the mixes are performances, spark up delay, reverb JAHverb!! I try to stretch the threshold between Roots and Punky reggae, Go-Go, R&B, all of the music that I love.

JR: You barely sing on the album, even sampling H.R., I think, from “I and I Survive” at one point if my ears are correct. Why is that, or does it even matter? (I know it’s not all that unusual for dub.)

DARRYL: I’m lil shy about my singing voice, although I have been told that it’s not bad, and often times good, I don’t want to sound like Stanley Clarke singing Vulcan Princess. hehehe naw I wanted to make a instrumental record.

JR: In the end were you satisfied with both the end result of the album, and the experience of making it? Given that it was the first time you’d done one on your own that was released (if I am right about that), what is your feeling about stepping out and getting the project finished and released after having made so many albums in more of a group context.

DARRYL: In the words and voice of Julia Childs, “no excuses”

JR: What did you bandmates think of the album, and beyond that, what was the general response you were aware of? And was it about what you expected?

DARRYL: Every one seem to enjoy it, [drummer Earl [Hudson] said I’d be big in Europe, it’s a rugged typa grown folks, back ground sound, Yankee dub love groove on.

JR: Were there any thoughts of touring the album? It’s hard to do these days, I know, on your own.

DARRYL: I’m sure I will do a show with this album, I have an idea and vision for this; I have a live concept that I call Play J were I DJ and play some live bass with beats that I produce specifically for the live performance, I’ll be jumping off with this soon—stand by.

JR: When will the Bad Brains documentary that Mandy Stein was working on be released. And what is your thoughts about some of the books and movies like *Steve Blush*’s [book and movie] that prominently dwell on Bad Brains?

DARRYL: Mandy’s doc is in the final stages, I really don’t know Blush, I don’t remember him from the era, I felt like his stuff was a suspect in it’s content about Bad Brains—seems to focus on all the wrong stuff. but ey, such is rock and roll.

JR: What are your future plans, in any, both as a solo, recording artist and as an ongoing Bad Brain.

DARRYL: All I do is try and stay positive and grind all of my artistic endeavors,from the bass, to the studio, on the canvas, with pen, in the kitchen, on the course. PMA [Positive Mental Attitude] every day. hanks Jack you have been a key supporter of BB’s throughout the years, you were there with us from the NY start, miss you man!


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