September 29, 2023

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D. H. Peligro, Dead Kennedys Drummer, Dies at 63

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D.H. Peligro, Dead Kennedys longtime drummer, has died. The band confirmed the news on Instagram, writing, “Dead Kennedys’ drummer D.H. Peligro (Darren Henley) passed away in his Los Angeles home yesterday, October 28th. Police on the scene stated that he died from trauma to the head caused by an accidental fall. Arrangements are pending and will be announced in the coming days. We ask that you respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time. Thank you for your thoughts and words of comfort.” Peligro was 63 years old.

Born Darren Henley on July 9, 1959 in St. Louis, Missouri, Peligro began learning how to play the drums at a young age. During junior high, he fell in love with rock music in particular thanks to KISS, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and Black Sabbath. He moved to San Francisco as a teenager and lived on the streets in a van, where he was introduced to artists like Television, the Ramones, Devo, and the Go-Gos. Once he met the members of S.S.I. and joined the band, he felt like a new world opened up to him. “They told me about thrift store shopping and clubs and punk gear,” Peligro later recounted in an interview. “It was actually quite exciting, when I think about that time, because people were accepted. It was my first introduction to gay people and different-colored hair and mohawks and people just living free, like everyday was Halloween!” He became a fixture of both the San Francisco and Los Angeles music scenes while playing with S.S.I., most notably for melding his drumming style to blend punk rock, hardcore, metal, and reggae. 

Dead Kennedys formed in June 1978 in San Francisco with singer Jello Biafra, guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride, and drummer Bruce “Ted” Slesinger. After recording their first demos, Dead Kennedys released their debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables in 1980. Slesinger left the band that following year to pursue an architecture career, and D. H. Peligro stepped in to replace him on drums after earning the admiration of Biafra at S.S.I. live shows. Peligro quickly helped Dead Kennedys evolve into a more steadfast hardcore punk sound, utilizing an aggressive, relentless drumming style that would go on to help influence the wave of crossover thrash that followed. “I just pushed as hard as I could push,” said Peligro. “I’d get a little guff from Ray because he wanted me to slow down a bit, but I just kept going and I kept that pace up. Everybody got used to it.”

Peligro made his recorded debut with Dead Kennedys on the 1981 EP In God We Trust, Inc., which includes their iconic hit “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and famously marked the band’s first of many references railing against Ronald Reagan. Peligro’s hardcore drumming style continued in a modified form on the band’s sophomore album, 1982’s Plastic Surgery Disasters, and on through their next string of records: 1985’s Frankenchrist, 1986’s Bedtime for Democracy, and the 1987 compilation album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death. 

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