Paul Hudson, known as Joseph I or H.R. (for Human Rights), is arguably the greatest hardcore singer of all-time. Go on YouTube and watch his ecstatic performances with Bad Brains in the early ‘80s and you’ll see the definition of classic hardcore. Or just listen to the songs “Pay to Cum,” “At The Movies,” or “Banned in D.C.” It's all thrilling stuff still, even 30 years later.
You can see why he is regarded as an icon by younger generations and his peers. Just the other night, members of the New York Dolls and Sex Pistols saw him at a small club show and were posing for photos with him.
But those days were gone quickly. The singer became a Rastafarian and started releasing more mellow reggae music over a solo career that has lasted decades now. Today, the 58-year-old is married and lives in Baltimore. He still performs with Bad Brains occasionally, but he’s not the same guy by a long shot. Of course you won’t see him whipping the crowd into frenzy like a demented conductor or doing backflips right on the beat. He’s much more restrained – barely moving some shows.
H.R. will be performing with a new group, Dubb Agents, at Sound of Music on April 5 in a show being promoted by local reggae veteran, Charles Brown, and his clothing shop, Urban Traders. The singer’s manager, JameKee (James Keene) runs a company called Diverse Intensified Audio (DIA) that has been booking HR solo gigs of late around the east coast.
“There’s a whole lotta reasons H.R. is not living in Beverly Hills. He’s a true artist. I’ve got so much history with him,” says Brown, who used to run the popular New Horizon’s Café back in the day. “You know he will give 100 percent, whatever that is.”
Brown says he is trying to start a series of Urban Traders shows at various venues around Richmond. “[The local reggae scene] it’s still bubbling under the ground. Soja comes through and sells out. The Toots incident -- that was a bad scene -- but it’s not going to affect the scene one way or another. It’s all about the dollar bill y’all. What reggae needs is a hit. Most of these acts are so old the generation gap has kicked in – unless your last name is Marley. Sometimes it’s a challenge to bring it to a club. In Richmond, if you put festival and beer you have a chance of getting people out.”
Style caught up with HR by phone from Philly. When talking to him, he is polite, but does not elaborate much at all in this interview or any other ones I’ve seen in recent years. Friends tell me he’s like that with anyone he doesn’t know well. Others talk about past homelessness and drug abuse. But I thought I’d at least try.
Style Weekly: How are you?
H.R.: Doing OK, man. Doing OK.
You’re married now, how do you like it?
Oh, I like it a lot. It feels so good.
How long have you been with your new group, Dubb Agents?
We’ve been together since January.
Have you done any recording?
No sir, we haven’t. Just live shows.
How did the group come together?
I talked to JameKee and he hooked ‘em up. From DIA.
You saw Bob Marley on tour in 1979 – what did you experience at that show that changed your life?
I saw a lot of togetherness. Unity. And also some wise individuals, so I decided to take it up [Rastafarianism].
Going even further back, what do you recall from playing with Follow For Now early in your career?
Oh, it was good.
Any chance those early records will be reissued?
Yes sir, there is.
Whatever happened to Olive Tree Records?
They haven’t put anything out in quite awhile. It folded.
Do you still keep in contact with SST’s Greg Ginn?
No, I’m not working with Greg no more.
What has your brother Earl been up to these days?
Earl’s been working, making movies. He does movies, moving the musical arrangements around.
What is your relationship like with Richmond?
Oh, I like Richmond.
Do you still have a lot of friends here?
Yep. Sure do.
Growing up, how did your use of LSD affect you?
It was a blessing in disguise. I liked it. It was fun, educational and also exciting too.
Do you feel the drug influenced your melding of musical styles?
Yes sir, I do.
How did you develop your singing style?
Oh, I just kept on trying. Trying different ways of trying. Now I’m doing it.
Do you have an opinion on why there haven’t been more black rock groups?
No, I don’t know why there hasn’t been more.
Do you think it’s harder for groups like Fishbone and Living Color to find a niche in the music business?
Yes sir, I do think so.
How about you tell me the story behind one of my favorite Brains songs, “Banned in DC”?
It was a song we put out. I did it as a joke. It was not really banned. Just a band from DC.
When you play live these days, you often stand still – do you ever get the urge to go wild and bust those old Elvis moves?
Yes sir, every so often I do have the urge to play some old tunes. We mix them together and come out with some pretty decent music.
Can you talk about any new songs you’ve written?
The music I will be playing will be from original music I had worked on with JameKee and DIA. [going back to early solo records like “Charge”]
A while back there was a photo online of you smoking herb with Brooke Shields.
Oh, that wasn’t true. That was a gag. It was a look alike. That was me, but not her. Hold on for a moment. [at this point he wanders off to order food – returning five minutes later].
What kind of music are you listening to these days?
One of the greatest bands I like is the Abyssinians -- and Israel Vibrations.
Where do you feel the strongest reggae scene is on East Coast?
[unintelligible, something about burgers and fries]
Can you talk in detail about the music you write now?
The music we are doing now is very strong, I like it. Brains too.
Will you play anymore with the Brains?
Yes, we will.
Are there any bands today that remind you of the Brains?
Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s also this group called . . what’s their names, I did a show with them just the other day . . . OK its um, ‘JameKee what was that group we played with last time?’ Reblematics!
Are there any more films coming out about you?
Yes sir, they are working on a documentary. Brother by the name of [James Lathos] is putting it out. He is in the editing part of it now. It should be out around April or May.
Did Earl do music for that?
Yes, he did.
What are your future plans?
Probably be playing with DIA and Dubb Agents for awhile, then in May we’re supposed to be reuniting with the Brains.
OK. Is there anything – anything at all -- that people should know about your artistic vision or this show?
They should come out because it’s a real good sound. Good music.
Good talking to you, H.
Good talking to you, man. Respect.
DIA’s Global Rock Showcase and Urban Traders present H.R. and Dubb Agents at Sound of Music Studios (1515 W. Broad) on Saturday, April 5. Tickets are available at Plan 9 and Urban Traders – 1387 W. Broad. $18 in advance. Refreshments will also be provided.