january 2013

Darryl Jenifer and Gary “Dr. Know” Miller of Bad Brains discuss their trailblazing fusion of disparate styles—from jazz to soul, reggae, punk, funk, and metal—as well as how their new album, "Into the Future," totally lives up to its name, and what it’s like to be both legends and underdogs more than 30 years into their career.

Photo by Frank Okenfels III

When it comes to bands who’ve altered the course of musical history with mind-blowing creativity and yet somehow never really gotten their due, Bad Brains is right up there with Spirit, the Velvet Underground, Moby Grape, and the Stooges. Despite these bands’ stylistic differences, each shares the distinction of dragging modern music kicking and screaming in a fresh new direction and heavily influencing countless bands that went on to greater fame and fortune.

To be fair, in the case of Bad Brains, the fault wasn’t entirely that of fate or a fickle music industry. The band’s lack of mainstream success has had at least as much to do with their two-edged eclecticism and the unpredictability and substance-abuse issues of lead singer Paul “H.R.” Hudson—a savant who, in his heyday, could seamlessly channel the most alluring elements of Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, Johnny Rotten, and a rabid old-school hip-hop emcee.

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Heptode''s Deep Crunch must be considered a serious contender for anyone looking to add classic preamp shimmer and drive to their favorite amp, or project studio players looking for an easy way to add Soldano-style dirt to digital mixes.

It doesn’t seem like so long ago that “vintage tone” referred exclusively to gear from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. But in 2012, the measuring stick has shifted considerably, and nostalgia for the sounds of ’80s and ’90s gear has been making a steady comeback.

The recently released Ecstasy and Uberschall preamp pedals from Bogner, for instance, cop the drive channel sounds from those quintessentially ’90s amps. French stompbox builder Heptode has jumped in the fray too, and the all-analog Deep Crunch and Heavy Tone stompboxes pay homage to the all-tube preamp channels of the legendary Soldano SLO-100 head—a fixture of the ’80s and ’90s tonescape if there ever was one. The Deep Crunch reviewed here, is, as you might guess, the tamer of the two Heptode offerings. It’s suited to meaty rhythm work and riffs, and nails the response of the Soldano’s crunch rhythm channel, but it’s a dangerous weapon for bluesy leads and even singing overdrive.

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The very effective and powerful ways that the Blue Dog''s clean-boost and overdrive circuits interact make it a virtual command center for gain staging.

A Blue Dog is a fiscally conservative Democratic member of Congress. It’s also the new overdrive pedal from Laffing Dog Musical Entertainment. But if you’ll indulge us in some metaphorical tomfoolery, the pedal and the politicians have more in common than just a name. The Blue Dog pedal leans conservative when it comes to sonics, delivering old-fashioned tube-y warmth rather than radical distortion. But it also offers a liberal amount of tone-shaping options, including a novel parallel signal path that includes an impressive, blend-ready clean boost for when you want to shout down your colleagues in the hall.

Indeed, the Blue Dog’s clean boost is the wild card in a pedal that might otherwise be another button-down candidate in a crowded field of tube-style overdrives. And it will make the Blue Dog a rig-transforming element for a lot of players.

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