Unlike many other pre-packaged, radio-friendly musicians today, DH Peligro, an integral part of the San Francisco and Los Angeles music scenes, has been a heavy-hitter in the formative years of punk, thrash and metal since 1978. As a former drummer for the Dead Kennedys, Red Hot Chili Peppers and S.S.I., D.H.'s diversity as a musician enables him to play anything from full-on punk rock to funky, groove-oriented jams. He’s also beat the skins during a European tour with Nailbomb (featuring members of Sepultura, Fudge Tunnel, Front-Line Assembly and Neurosis). D.H.'s forte is percussion, but he has fronted bands such as Reverend Jones and the Cool Aid Choir, Al Sharpton’s Hair, and The Hellions, and been known to thrash around with a guitar when the mood strikes him.
Since 1995, in D.H.'s latest band, Peligro, he pulls a Dave Grohl and comes out from behind the percussion as the front man with a guitar. The sky’s the limit for this man who believes anything is possible. He talked to Nighttimes.com about touring the Middle East during wartime with the reunited Dead Kennedys, his future as a Hollywood bad guy, and growing up with rural blues in your soul.
“Are we rolling?” he asks, knowing full well that he’s setting me up for something good. Every word that comes out of DH’s mouth is animated, and he laughs, teases, and uses my name like he’s known me his whole life. But when a guy has seen and lived what DH has seen, maybe he sort of does know me, and everyone—because he knows people. DH is ‘hip’ in every sense of the word.
So, the questions on everyone’s mind as DH jumps back on board with the Dead Kennedys are: are the Dead Kennedys here to stay (again)? Is Peligro still a happening project?
“At this point, the Dead Kennedys is a side project,” he says. “It really is. I’ve been doing Peligro for at least fifteen years, on and off. Even in the Dead Kennedys years, there was some form of Peligro. I had a couple different bands that when DK had time off, we’d just play and do some local gigs. It’s been going on for quite awhile. Now with the recurrence of the DKs, with us getting back together and doing some other gigs, it’s taking a back seat again. DK will do special gigs, novelty shows, and I’ll come back to Peligro.”
After a nightmare of litigation and court hassles brought on by DKs former lead singer/social commentator, Jello Biafra, one wonders if the Dead Kennedys can still pull the same punch without him. And for DH and the other guys, it’s gotta sting when some websites label the tour ‘geriatric punk’.
DH grumbles playfully. “The whole sarcasm of punk is still alive! Good! Good!” He says that most of the kids are pretty receptive, and even the skeptics end up saying to him after the show, ‘Wow. I didn’t think it was gonna be like this. I’ve changed my mind.’"
“Well, Jello Biafra’s not in the band now, but the music speaks for itself. It’s very easy to put it [the negativity re: Biafra] aside—to put anything aside—and get out there and play the stuff. It’s fun to play. It brings up memories—good and bad memories, but overall, the message of the music, the political content of the music, I would say all of that holds true today.”
And in true political DK fashion, the new Dead Kennedys played a controversial and potentially dangerous festival in Istanbul at the end of the summer. “Everybody was afraid to go, but I’m like, come on!” he laughs. “I knew it would be the experience of a lifetime to play the old DK songs there. It’s really hard for them [in Istanbul] to get that kind of music. Really hard. Israel, Turkey, anywhere in the Middle East. Some of it is straight-banned, like in the Muslim parts of the country you can not have that kind of music! Can’t have no girlie magazines. Can’t wear anything but the shroud you’re supposed to wear. For these people to really want us that bad, it’s like, who am I to have the nerve to let them down?” Needless to say, they all got on the plane and made the gig.
DH Peligro, who was once quoted as saying, ‘if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for fucking anything!’ laughs at how few bands are really out there taking risks: musically, politically, and otherwise. He says that the new Peligro disc, due out in December 2003 on Dirty Records, covers social commentary, politics and war, in the old DKs spirit.
“Even before 9/11, the record industry’s been a mess. No one wants to take a chance so…I have to take a chance! How could I be in Dead Kennedys and not be influenced by that? And yet man enough to come up with my own views. Information, wisdom, strength, experience, knowledge and hope just flows through me so—I try not to block it; I try to let it out.”
DH warns not to come to a Peligro show expecting to hear a bunch of Dead Kennedys tunes, because it ain’t gonna happen. “A lot of people come to the Peligro shows thinking we’re gonna do DK songs, but we’re not. We’re not the Dead Kennedys, nor do I claim to be or try to be. Kids come to our shows with different expectations. Some of them get let down. But the more open-minded kids are like, ‘wow!’” He draws the ‘wow’ out in a spacey, playful articulation that can only mean in-your-face, balls-to-the-walls, thrash-metal satisfaction.
Living in the artsy San Francisco film community, Peligro has been dabbling in movies for years, appearing as extras and occasionally starring in short art films. So it seemed only natural that this guy, Mr. Unstoppable, would eventually end up starring in his own action flick.
He's been tapped to play the lead in the action movie The Four Horsemen. The film is described as having the intrigue of Clear and Present Danger (Harrison Ford), the grit of Traffic (Michael Douglas), and the fast-paced action of Lethal Weapon (Mel Gibson/Danny Glover).
"I'm performing my own stunts in this movie which means I have to stick to a strict workout regimen," says Peligro. "It's tough, but unlike some of today's top action stars who depends mostly on stunt doubles to make them look good, I'm doing my own stunts and give people their monies worth."
Not wanting to give away too much just yet about the film that, if they kept to schedule, was completed at the end of September, “It’s not like an Arnold movie, but my guy is more…” he pauses to get the right words. “He’s the muscley guy in the sense that he has henchmen. He’s a big-time dealer, very powerful, very wealthy in the underworld. I’m a baaaaad guy!”
It’s hard to believe DH Peligro is all that bad, though, when he spouts inspiration and positivity like a freaking geyser. It’d almost be enough to wave him off as a New Ager, if he didn’t also live the message to the hilt: “The power, the strength, and the courage lie within yourself. Tap into it. Live each and every moment like it’s absolutely the last on the Planet Earth.”
That said, his whole life has been kind of a movie, lived to the extreme, culminating in a succession of fulfilled rock and roll dreams. From his earliest years visiting his poor Uncle Sam in rural Arkansas, among the slaughter house, the chicken coop, and the fields of butter beans, watermelon and pecan trees, DH knew that music was the one thing that made him happy. His Uncle, a blues player for the Jelly Roll Kings and Frank Frost, didn’t have much; he lived in a primitive house with an outhouse, a potbelly stove, no electricity and fish caught from the creek. But he had what little DH needed the most: music.
“He had a guitar. He had a piano. He had a drum kit and a bass. As a little kid I remember touching it, running up and touching it [his voice in a whisper], ‘oh my god it makes a sound! woah!’ That was my introduction to music.”
In his large family where several of his siblings had different fathers, DH pressed to find out who his real father was. “I always thought ‘why am I the musician in the family and all these other guys are really happy to just go and [sings] woop-de-doop-de-doo work a nine to five?” And then he discovered that his Dad was one of his Uncle’s blues playing pals. “Wow! It’s in my blood!” Mystery solved.
Full of positive spirit, an unflinching desire to live to the fullest, and perhaps a bit of street poetry, DH advises, “Don’t let your fears keep you down. What’s the worst that could happen? You could fail. But when you lay in your grave, you’ll know that you’ve uncovered, discovered, discarded, everything you wanted to do in life. We got one life here. Live it to the fullest.”