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Henry Rollins


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Henry Rollins

Singer, actor, poet, political activist, radio-host, magazine columnist and stand-up comedian, Henry Rollins is one of rock’s true renaissance men. Building on his legacy in hardcore post-punk band Black Flag, along with his on-off fusion project, Rollins Band, the gen-X anti-hero has spent most of his time since 2007 working on other ventures away from music. 

A tough and traumatic upbringing in Washington DC led Rollins (born Henry Garfield) to seek a new family in the underground punk scene during the late 70s – where he found work as a roadie after dropping out of college. Carrying amps for DC hardcore band Teen Idols led to a stand-in spot behind the mic when the lead singer stopped showing up, and Rollins soon started hopping around other bands including The Extorts, who Rollins helped reform into the short-lived State Of Alert in 1980 (a band funded almost entirely by Rollins's part-time job as the manager of a local Häagen-Dazs shop). 

Despite picking up a reputation for fighting with fans, Rollins used his passion for punk to charm his way into his then new favourite band, Black Flag – inviting bassist Chuck Dukowski to stay at his parents' home during the East Coast leg of their tour. Turning up in the front row of every show, Rollins eventually convinced Black Flag to let him take the stage during one New York set and performed well enough to earn himself a full-time gig.

Rollins quit his job, moved to LA and got the band’s name tattooed on his leg – beginning the first phase of his professional career and kickstarting Black Flag’s assault on the California hardcore scene. Famous for their aggression (mostly coming from Rollins, who like to strut around the stage squeezing a pool ball, constantly getting into fights), Black Flag started diversifying their sound (also thanks to Rollins's influence) and pushed punk away from its three-chord roots into something at once more raw and experimental. 

Over just six years Black Flag had filled out an entire back catalogue and made an indelible mark on the hardcore scene. The band would later continue with a different line-up, but the original members went their separate ways – founder and lead guitarist Greg Ginn going on to run the SST label (championing the likes of Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden and Dinosaur Jr.) and Rollins forming new group, Rollins Band. 

Jumping straight into two solo albums (Hot Animal Machine and Drive By Shooting), Rollins barely paused for breath after Black Flag’s breakup – teaming up with Chris Haskett, Bernie Wandel and Mick Green for Rollins Band to release a new record every year between 1987 and 1990. Getting heavily into weight-lifting during this period, Rollins’s amped-up look matched his new sound, leaning further towards metal riffs even as the vocals became increasingly stripped back. 

In 1991, the tragic murder of Rollins’ best friend left the singer traumatised, and his raw emotions continued to feed into his music for the charting alt-metal record, The End Of Silence, and the spoken-word follow-up, Human Butt. 

The Rollins Band took the stage at Woodstock 94 and got their next album, Weight, into the Billboard Top 40. The same year, Rollins won a Grammy for his audio diary Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag, started writing for Details magazine as a columnist and began his Hollywood acting career in Charlie Sheen comedy The Chase.  

Rollins’s next few years saw him continue to experiment with several different careers at once – releasing several more spoken word albums, backing a recording of his social issue audiobook Eye Scream with free jazz, and starring in major films like HeatJohnny Mnemonic and Lost Highway. Disbanding the Rollins Band before reforming it again with a different line-up, Rollins put out five more fusion hardcore/jazz records with his new backing group before deciding to step away from music completely in 2003. 

“For me, music was a time and a place”, Rollins told The Skinny in 2016, looking back over the last decade. “I never really enjoyed being in a band. It was in me and it needed to come out, like a 25-year exorcism. One day, I woke up, and I didn't have any more lyrics.”

Continuing to perform spoken-word poetry at sell-out venues on his rare live performances, Rollins kept himself busy throughout the 00s and 10s with acting (Sons Of Anarchy), cameos (Jackass), presenting (RuPaul’s Drag Race), voice-over work (Batman Beyond) and his long-running music podcast (Henry & Heidi).