July 11, 2001 – Herman Brood was born on November 5th 1946 in Zwolle, the Netherlands. In the early years, his influences included Fats Domino and Little Richard. He always liked to paint and play piano.
He started playing the piano at age 12 and founded beat band The Moans in 1964, which would later become Long Tall Ernie and the Shakers. He also briefly played piano with Dutch premier blues band Cuby and the Blizzards, but was removed by management when the record company discovered he used drugs.
For a number of years in the late 1960, early 1970s Herman spent time in jail for dealing LSD, or moved abroad, while he had a number of short-term engagements with The Studs, the Flash & Dance Band, Vitesse.
In 1976, Brood started his own group, Herman Brood & His Wild Romance, (and started work with photographer Anton Corbijn) initially with Ferdi Karmelk on guitar, (Nina Hagen’s romantic partner and father of her daughter), Gerrit Veen (bass), Peter Walrecht (drums), and Ellen Piebes and Ria Ruiters (back vocals). They played the club and bar circuit, first in Groningen, In 1977 the band released their first album, Street.
The band now played all over the Netherlands, playing as many gigs as possible. And Herman’s drug habit became public domain: In 1977 for instance the Wild Romance played a gig in a high school in Almelo, the Christelijk Lyceum; during the break Brood was caught on the toilet taking heroin or speed (there are different reports on the type of drug, but it is a well-known story amongst former students), the rest of the concert was cancelled, and this also was the last time a rock concert took place at this school for many years.
They are still best known for their second album, Shpritsz—a play on the German word Spritze for syringe—from 1978. This album contained Brood anthems like “Dope Sucks,” “Rock & Roll Junkie,” and their first Dutch hit single, “Saturday Night.” The band went through many personnel changes over the years; the best-known formation was Freddy Cavalli (bass), Dany Lademacher (guitar) (later replaced with David Hollestelle), and Cees ‘Ani’ Meerman (drums). A frequent contributor was Bertus Borgers (saxophone).
At the time Brood’s outspoken statements in the press about sex and drug use brought him into the Dutch public arena even more than his music. He was romantically involved with the German singer Nina Hagen, with whom he appeared in the 1979 film Cha-Cha, also starring Lena Lovich. He is reputed to be the subject of Nina’s song “Herrmann Hiess Er” (English title “Herrmann Was His Name”) from the 1979 Unbehagen album, a song about a drug addict. Brood relished the media attention and became the most famous hard drug user in the Netherlands. “It is quite common for an artist to use drugs, but not for him to tell everybody. I admit that it scared me that my popularity could make people start using drugs,” he once said in an interview.
In the summer of 1979, Brood tried to enter the American market, where he toured as a support-act for The Kinks, The Cars, and Foreigner. A re-recorded version of “Saturday Night” peaked at number 35 in the Billboard Hot 100, but the big break Brood hoped for didn’t happen.
When he returned to the Netherlands in October 1979, his band had begun to fall apart, and soon his popularity went downhill. Go Nutz, the album Brood had recorded while in the States, and the movie Cha-Cha, which finally premiered in December 1979, were considered artistic failures, even though Go Nutz produced three charting singles in the Netherlands and the Cha Cha soundtrack attained platinum status. The 1980 album Wait a Minute… was a minor success, but the follow-up albums Modern Times Revive (1981) and Frisz & Sympatisz (1982) failed to make the Dutch album charts.
Brood continued to record throughout the 1980s and had a few hits—a top-10 single, “Als Je Wint” with Henny Vrienten, and a minor hit with a reggae song, “Tattoo Song,” but he spent more and more time on his art work. In 1986, he made his debute as a theatrical actor in the play called Kamikaze. 1988 proved to be another one of the most successful years in Brood’s career, featuring his appearance at the famous Pinkpop Festival, and the release of the very well-received Yada Yada (CBS – 1988), along with another hit single, Sleeping Bird. Yada Yada, produced by George Kooymans (lead guitarist for Golden Earring), was well-received, and he toured Germany with a renewed Wild Romance (which saw the return of Dany Lademacher).
In 1990, he won the BV Popprijs, one of the highest Dutch awards for popular music, and recorded Freeze with Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band and Tejano accordion player Flaco Jiménez. A live “best of” album, Saturday Night Live, appeared in 1992. His 50th birthday, in 1996, was celebrated with a show in Paradiso, Amsterdam, and the album (of duets) was released the same year.
Toward the end of his life, Brood vowed to abstain from most drugs, reducing his drug use to alcohol and a daily shot of speed (“2 grams per day”). In 2001, depressed by the failure of his drug rehabilitation program and facing serious medical problems because of his prolonged drug use – doctors had actually told him he had only months to live – he committed suicide on 11 July by spectacularly jumping from the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel at the age of 54. He left a note, stating “Party on… I’ll be seeing you.”
I hope that this isn’t your first introduction to this great artist.
If you are well aware of Mr. Brood’s whacky musical career, then I’m sure the songs below will bring back some very pleasant memories of a special time and place. If you don’t know him then I hope the music below will open your world up to a really special performer.
I first discovered Herman Brood in an article in The Trouser Press. A wonderful music magazine which I greatly miss. When the assigned journalist walked into the interview room, Herman was hiding behind the door. God knows what he thought was coming to get him. It was a fascinating piece. The previous night, Brood and one of his other musicians had been calculating how many cigarettes they had smoked and how many times they had shot heroin. It was a lot. (well over 10,000, if memory serves)
Who would not be intrigued by such an eccentric character? A short time later I had the album, “Go Nutz” clutched in my very curious hands. I don’t remember where I bought it (a flea market?) but when I got it home, it was not in the best of shape. I could only play the first two or three tracks on each side of the record. The rest of the vinyl was so warped that it made the needle bounce up and down. (remember those days, boys and girls?) But I didn’t need more that a few tracks to convince me that this Achterhoek Boomtown Rat was an original. (even thought this record was considered a bit of a commercial disappointment in his own country)
Herman was a musician, a junkie, an artist and a huge, huge personality. By the end of his life, he was making a lot more money from his paintings than from his music (which was still very popular). He had also limited his drug intake to one shot of speed a day. (plus as much booze as he wished to consume)
For about 25 years Mr. Brood and his Wild Romance would visit the charts in his home country. (mostly singing in English like a lot of European bands) The songs below will either grab you or they won’t. To me, they are the epitome of rock and roll. His anonymity in this country is just another indictment on the long list of America’s cultural war crimes.
The rock and roll epilogue:
A lot of musicians die lonely and sad deaths but Herman would have none of that. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at 54. Who knows how any of us would react upon hearing that kind of news. With only a few months left to live, he trotted over to the Amsterdam Hilton and jumped off the roof.
There is a wonderful freedom in not giving a fuck and Herman had that in spades. He lived life on his terms and when life turned against him, he simply tipped his hat and said, “So long”. But he did leave us with some great music. I’ve still got that warped record and warm feeling in my heart for the man who made it.
So sit back, don’t give a fuck, and enjoy.
Soon after his suicide, Brood’s version of Paul Anka penned, Sinatra hit “My Way” spent three weeks as number one in the Dutch singles charts; the market value of his art work also increased greatly. A characteristic note is that Brood’s paintings were already targeted often by vandals during his life, while after his death they were stolen for their value. His popularity (or notoriety) was verified by the fact that his name turned out to be the strongest brand of the year 2001.
When U2 performed in the Netherlands three weeks after Brood’s suicide, they paid tribute to him at each of the three shows. They dedicated an acoustic version of Duke Ellington’s “Jump for Joy” to him, a song they never performed at any other time of their career. At the third show in Arnhem they also dedicated their own “Gone” to him and had his version of “My Way” played over the PA as outro music. In the middle of the show Bono delivered an emotional eulogy to Brood before the band performed “In a Little While”.
On 5 November 2006 the Groninger Museum opened an exposition devoted to Herman Brood’s life and work, comprising paintings, lyrics, and poetry, portraits by photographer Anton Corbijn, a collection of private pictures (from the family album), and concert photos and videos. The exhibition was on show until 28 January. It was centered on Herman’s atelier (studio) where he created most of his paintings. The atelier had been entirely re-built in the museum. During the 1990s, Herman Brood’s studio was located on the second floor of the gallery in the Spuistraat in Amsterdam and has remained untouched since his death.
In 2007 the film Wild Romance premiered in the Netherlands, a movie about Brood’s life. Brood was portrayed by Daniël Boissevain. He continues to inspire other artists: the 2007 album Bluefinger by Black Francis is based on the life and works of Brood. A tribute band called the Brood Roosters (“bread toasters”) was active in the Netherlands until they split up in early 2009. Another tribute band called Yada Yada is still active in the Netherlands, often appearing with original members of the Wild Romance (Dany Lademacher, Ramon Rambeaux) .
In 2010, the Catastrophic Theatre Company collaborated with Frank Black on a rock opera based on the Bluefinger album. The opera’s first performance, with Matt Kelly portraying Brood, was 12 November 2010 in Houston, Texas.