Dead Kennedys' drummer broke stereotypes when he became one of the first African Americans in the punk rock movement. He also nearly broke himself. "The Fix," recently interviewed him. Read the full interview here.
D.H. Peligro became one of the first black men in punk rock, when he became the drummer for the Dead Kennedys'. He also played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but now he is with a new band. Two years after a viscous relapse, D.H. is ready to tell the world what it is like to be punk, black, and trying to hide a drug habit from Anthony Keidis.
Peligro tells The Fix about his humble beginnings in a segregated African American community in St. Louis. His uncle was a drummer in a band called the Jellyroll Kings, and when he visited his uncle he was exposed to drums, piano, and bass guitar. He remembers his uncle playing those instruments in his shack with no electricity or running water. He said, "I was amazed how you could touch this instrument and it made this sound that reverberated to my soul." He wanted an electric guitar, but since his mother could not afford that, she bought him a drum kit. D.H. said, "I was eight or nine and music gave me focus like nothing else."
D.H also describes his young life in St. Louis. Because he had dyslexia, he was bussed into a white high school. He said, "It was like seeing a freedom I had never seen. They had this huge music room, and they had all these instruments." He stole a snare and a cymbal, and he really began playing the drums. In his neighborhood, other kids made fun of him for hanging out with "the white boys," but D.H. recalls loving the music he was introduced to: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Kiss. He started playing with garage bands, playing a lot of covers. Finally, a friend invited him to San Francisco, and he was an innocent black kid from St. Louis, suddenly thrown into a world of gays and drugs and playing alternative and punk rock music.
D.H. started using around this time, at first just smoking weed and drinking. He was hanging out at bondage parties and dropping acid. When he was living in his van, he met Paul McKinney, from SSI, who eventually became his first band there. D.H. said, "I was really resistant to punk at first because I wanted to play metal, but then I joined SSI and they started teaching me all different types of music. " The band developed a following around San Francisco, and D.H. started doing more drugs.
D.H. joined the Dead Kennedys' in the early 80's. When he first auditioned, he did not think they were going to let him audition because he was black, but he killed the audition. They called him back for a second audition, and two weeks later they recorded the first single. The band went on a national and international tour, and D.H.'s drug use continued to escalate. D.H. recalls instances with his addiction that would add up, like missing flights and almost missing shows because he was too busy shooting cocaine.
D.H. was with the Dead Kennedys' for seven years, but when they broke up he started drinking a lot and eventually started smoking crack. He said, "I had carte blanche at the clubs in SF and would drink for free and go home with some beast." He hung out with the Red Hot Chili Peppers there a lot, and one day Flea suggested that D.H. should move to L.A. Although he was resistant at first, one day when it was really cold in San Francisco, he moved.
D.H claims he became a junky when he moved to L.A. He remembers hanging out with a friend that he scored crack with when his friend was nodding. The next day, D.H. met a dealer selling China White. He said, "It was all pretty much downhill from there. Nothing mattered anymore." He ended up stealing drum kits and classic guitars to supplement his royalty checks supporting his heroin habit.
One day, Flea came to D.H. because the red Hot Chili Peppers were looking for a drummer. He went to the audition with borrowed drums, but got the gig. Anthony Keidis was newly sober at the time, and D.H was asked not to use around Anthony. He tried to conceal his habit, and recalls how tough it was to go on tour strung out. He said, "Going from city to city, and getting so sick. Whenever it was showtime, I would get out there and kick some ass, but the 22 hours before and after the gig were hell." Anthony took D.H. to a meeting one day, but shortly after he was kicked out of the band. After that, D.H. "went over the edge," and he remembers lots of hospital visits and rehabs and methadone clinics. He finally started getting clean in 1998.
D.H. struggled with sobriety for a while, as many of us do. The music kept him going. Finally, he called up MusiCares and they got him into a treatment center in Georgia. Since then, he started up his new band, Peligro. He also plays with the Dead Kennedys' sometimes. He has been writing his memoir, and he is in the editing process of that project.
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Image courtesy of The Fix.