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Henry Rollins

+ {Rollins Band}

Pounding a similar path to pioneering punk rocker JELLO BIAFRA (and his DEAD KENNEDYS), singer HENRY ROLLINS’ meteoric route to celebrity stardom, from BLACK FLAG to his ROLLINS BAND, also ended up filed under the “spoken-word” category. He was not an original member of the aforesaid nihilistic California combo (he was fourth in line), though he nevertheless flew the ‘Flag for anti-establishment, and the disenfranchised. Unleashing several sets as head of the ROLLINS BAND; 1994’s breakthrough album “Weight” would win over fans from the punk, metal and grunge worlds, the uncompromising father-figure to a fresh generation, duly opted for self-deprecating satire and acting rather than stay an alt-rock star.
Born Henry Lawrence Garfield, February 13, 1961, Washington, D.C., he formed his first band while still at high school. After cutting his teeth in the hardcore “straight edge” (militantly clean living) punk combo, State Of Alert (S.O.A.) – the “No Policy” EP was issued on Ian MacKaye’s Dischord imprint – Henry took the wise decision of hopping into a semi-vacant space with heroes BLACK FLAG.
Recruited just in time to cut their “Damaged” (1981) opus, Henry added a manic intensity to their re-vamped `Six Pack’ track, as well as new numbers like `Life Of Pain’ and the two-part title track. So extreme was the record that M.C.A.’s top man, Al Bergamo, tried to block its release on subsidiary Unicorn; though thousands of copies had already been pressed by Greg Ginn’s SST imprint. That money-spilling episode left a bitter taste in the band.
But Henry slogged on regardless, honing his co-writing prowess with Ginn, that stretched over several subsequent LPs such as “My War” (1984), “Family Man” (1984), “Slip It In” (1984), “Live ‘84”, “Loose Nut” (1985), “In My Head” (1985) and the swansong “Who’s Got The 10½?” (1986).
In stark contrast to his cassette-only recording, “Short Walk On A Long Pier”, ROLLINS’ debut set proper, HOT ANIMAL MACHINE (1987) {*6}, was a crudely visceral attempt at leaving punk rock behind. Augmented by guitarist Chris Haskett, bassist Bernie Wandel and drummer Mick Green, the opening three cuts (`Black And White’, `Followed Around’ and `Lost And Found’) guaranteed there’d be no going back. But there was a sense of déjà vu in its trine of cover versions a la SUICIDE’s `Ghost Rider’, The VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `Move Right In’ and CHUCK BERRY’s `Crazy Lover’.
Hot on its tail was the `Drive By Shooting’ 12-inch EP (billed under the pseudonymous Henrietta Collins And The Wifebeating Childhaters). It was indeed a taste of ROLLINS’ particularly tart brand of dark humour; though it did cater for a re-tread of WIRE’s `Ex-Lion Tamer’ and a parodic take of QUEEN’s `We Will Rock You’, re-addressed as `I Have Come To Kill You’.
By October ‘87, the ROLLINS BAND line-up had solidified around the aforesaid Haskett, bassist Andrew Weiss and drummer Sim Cain. Henry had formerly roadie’d for Ian MacKaye (then of The Teen Idles), so there was an element of payback when the FUGAZI man produced the quartet’s inaugural set, LIFE TIME (1988) {*7}. An incendiary opus, the record was the band’s blueprint, setting the agenda for future releases and with a lyrical incisiveness and musical ferocity that would be hard to equal. From a variety of EU venues that helped launch the combo, studio cuts of a PINK FAIRIES title track, that aforesaid VU re-tread and a Louis Prima & Sam Butera cover (`Next Time’), complemented a fully-endorsed live record, DO IT (1988) {*6}.
If Henry’s stand-up ventures such as “Big Ugly Mouth” (1987) and double-set “Sweatbox” (1989) didn’t float one’s boat, then the assured ROLLINS BAND kept the motor running by way of HARD VOLUME (1989) {*7} and the live-in-concert TURNED ON (1990) {*6}; the latter recorded for Quarterstick imprint in Vienna, Austria, on November 27, 1989.
Henry was never short on lending a hand to bolster his buddies. In 1990, for instance, WARTIME was an extracurricular activity led by Andrew Weiss, with his boss on vocals. Sadly only a funky-rock driven EP (`Fast Food For Thought’) surfaced on Chrysalis Records, before the project was put to bed; the bonus tracks featured a cover of GRATEFUL DEAD’s `Franklin’s Tower’. The following summer, HENRY ROLLINS and the HARD-ONS unleashed their collaborative cover of AC/DC’s `Let There Be Rock’; its B-side a cover of CHEECH & CHONG’s `Earache My Eye’, that the ROLLINS BAND had earlier flipped with sole Sub Pop Records entry, and cross-pollinated bonus, `I Know You’.
Following a slot on the hugely prestigious 1991 Lollapalooza tour, the ROLLINS BAND shifted gears from cult status to major label commodities. Inking a deal at the newly-founded Imago Records, THE END OF SILENCE (1992) {*8} catapulted Henry and Co into the lower reaches of the Billboard 200. Fiercely self-analytic, the main man had always used the stage and rock mediums, to a certain extent, as a kind of therapy, dredging up his childhood demons and tackling them head on. With this double album, ROLLINS had penned his most introspective work to date, leaving no stone unturned. The fact that he’d had seen his best friend, Joe Cole, gunned down in cold blood had obviously deeply affected him and, subsequently, the material on the album such as `Low Self Opinion’ (also a 12-inch single), minor UK hit `Tearing’, and the 11-minute anchor, `Just Like You’. This intensely personal exorcism was what made the ROLLINS BAND shows so damn compelling; for Henry, this was far and beyond mere entertainment, for the most part at least, and this was no doubt a major contributing factor in the quartet’s constant live shows.
As well as a punishing regime of physical exercise, the heavily-inked HR found time to run his own publishing company entitled 2.13.61 – named after his birth date. It showcasing the work of underground authors, Hubert Selby Jr. and Bill Shields (plus rock stars NICK CAVE and JEFFREY LEE PIERCE), as well as the man’s own material. That including his acclaimed collections of darkly observant, often hilarious and ultimately inspiring spoken-word live sets; namely “Live At McCabes’s” (1990), “Human Butt” (1992), “The Boxed Life” 1993) and “Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag” (1994).
The ROLLINS BAND, meanwhile, returned in ‘94 with the hybrid jazz-metal, WEIGHT {*7}, the combo’s most commercially successful set to date, and a transatlantic Top 40 record featuring double-sided UK hit, `Liar’ & `Disconnect’. He’d finally made inroads into the hearts and minds of a normally standoffish audience. Musically, the album was more accessible than its predecessor, and with top tracks `Civilized’ and `Icon’, it firmly establishing him and his group as alt-rock heavyweights.
On the other end of the spectrum, Henry has expanded his jack-of-all-trades CV with another burst of acting; he’d made his onscreen debut alongside LYDIA LUNCH in 1990’s Kiss Napoleon Goodbye. HR duly appeared as a policeman in 1994’s The Chase movie (blink and you’ll miss it) and Johnny Mnemonic (1995), as well as securing a cameo in the much-heralded De Niro/Pacino face-off, Heat (1995).
In mid ‘96, Henry was the subject of a lawsuit (an 8-figure sum) by way of Imago, for allegedly signing with DreamWorks while under contract. Indeed the singer claimed he was let go by the major distributors of the label, BMG. Despite all this acrimony, the ROLLINS BAND returned to the fray with a new album, COME IN AND BURN (1997) {*6}. Was it any coincidence that his short-lived Infinite Zero label; a co-venture with Rick Rubin, was scraped forthwith. Meanwhile, spoken-word sets continued to spill out at an almost annual rate; namely “Everything” (1996), “Black Coffee Blues” (1997), “Think Tank” (1998) and “Eric The Pilot” (1999).
Come the new millennium (adding 1997’s Lost Highway and 1998’s Jack Frost to his celluloid CV), the rising superstar had parted company with his long-time backing musicians. Henry consequently teamed up with MOTHER SUPERIOR, a three-piece unit consisting of guitarist Jim Wilson, bassist Marcus Blake and drummer/saxophonist Jason Mackenroth, who’d already been making waves in their own right. The resulting GET SOME – GO AGAIN (2000) {*6} was an impressively back-to-basics effort from a man who just seemed to get angrier with age.
As ROLLINS became something of an all-round celebrity, it remained to be seen whether he could retain the outsider intensity of old; though it wouldn’t have been a great idea to argue with the man over these semantics. The aforementioned album was matched by 2001’s rather predictable, NICE {*5}. On this record for Sanctuary Records (SPV in the EU), the ROLLINS BAND stormed their way through the rock-steady beats and wailing heavy guitars, occasionally backed by horns or a female backing singer to great light-hearted effect.
When the ROLLINS BAND signed off with swansong set, the live THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW FOR SURE (2002) {*7}, so too did singer Henry; a man now disillusioned with the industry and content to call upon his acerbic wit to sustain his live shows and accompanying double sets. Films co-starring HR maintained a cult status among his acolytes: among them A House On A Hill and Time Lapse (both 2001).
Having given his comedy acolytes something to contemplate on “A Rollins In The Wry” (2001), HENRY ROLLINS slagged off the weird and wonderful human race by way four volumes of “Talk Is Cheap” (from 2003-2008), “Yellow Blues” (2003), a novel “Nights Behind The Tree Line” (2004), “Live At Westbeth Theater” (2004), “Provoked” (2008), and a pair of “Spoken Word Guy” (2010) sets; subsequent recordings were only available on DVD. Straight-to-video also went the way of Henry’s horror flicks: Feast (2006), Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007), Devil’s Tomb (2009) and Suck (2009), whilst TV work, voice-overs, documentaries and radio shows highlighted his campaigns to make the world a better place.
Whilst taking on dramatic roles in subsequent movies, He Never Died (2015) and The Last Heist (2016); not forgetting the Sons Of Anarchy series, his biggest role, musically, came when he was invited to front The RUTS during a benefit gig for guitarist and ill-fated cancer sufferer Paul Fox, on 16th July 2007; Fox passed on that October. When a properly re-formed RUTS DC trio asked the maverick man to feature on the classy lead track from their 2016 comeback set, “Music Must Destroy”, punk-at-heart ROLLINS jumped at the chance. Surely this was Henry’s window of opportunity to re-emerge as a star re-born.
© MC Strong/MCS/1994-2009/GRD-LCS-BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Nov2018

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