After joining the short-lived Washington, D.C. band State of Alert in 1980, Rollins fronted the Californian hardcore punk band Black Flag from 1981 until 1986. Following the band's breakup, Rollins soon established the record label and publishing company 2.13.61 to release his spoken word albums, as well as forming the Rollins Band, which toured with a number of lineups until 2003 and during 2006.
Since Black Flag, Rollins has embarked on projects covering a variety of media. He has hosted numerous radio shows, such as The Henry Rollins Show and Harmony In My Head, television shows, such as MTV's 120 Minutes and Jackass, along with roles in several films. Rollins has also campaigned for human rights in the United States, promoting gay rights in particular, and tours overseas with the United Service Organizations to entertain American troops.
According to Garfield, military school helped him to develop a sense of discipline and a strong work ethic. It was at Bullis that he began writing; his early literary efforts were mainly short stories about "blowing up my school and murdering all the teachers." Despite the relative affluence of Glover Park, for Garfield "it was a very rough up-bringing in a lot of other ways. I accumulated a lot of rage by the time I was seventeen or eighteen." Much of the rage came from problems at home.
In late 1980, the Washington punk band The Extorts lost their frontman Lyle Preslar to Minor Threat. Garfield joined the rest of the band to form State of Alert, and became its frontman and vocalist. He put words to the band's five songs and wrote several more. S.O.A. recorded their sole EP, No Policy, and released it in 1981 on MacKaye's Dischord Records. S.O.A. disbanded after a total of nine concerts and one EP. Garfield had enjoyed being the band's frontman, and had earned a reputation for fighting in shows. He later said: "I was like nineteen and a young man all full of steam [...] Loved to get in the dust-ups." By this time, Garfield had become the manager of the Georgetown Häagen-Dazs ice cream store; his steady employment had helped to finance the S.O.A. EP.
Unbeknownst to Garfield, Cadena wanted to switch to guitar, and the band was looking for a new vocalist. The band was impressed with Garfield's singing and stage demeanor, and the next day, after a semi-formal audition, they asked him to become their permanent vocalist. Despite some doubts, he accepted, in part because of MacKaye's encouragement. His high level of energy and intense personality suited the band's style, but Garfield's diverse tastes in music were a key factor in his being selected as singer; Black Flag's founder Greg Ginn was growing restless creatively and wanted a singer who was willing to move beyond simple, three-chord punk.
After joining Black Flag in 1981, Garfield quit his job at Häagen-Dazs, sold his car, and moved to . Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Garfield got the Black Flag logo tattooed on his left biceps and changed his surname to Rollins, a surname he and MacKaye had used as teenagers. Rollins was in a different environment in Los Angeles; the police soon realized he was a member of Black Flag and he was hassled as a result. Rollins later said "That really scared me. It freaked me out that an adult would do that. [...] My little eyes were opened big time.
Before concerts, as the rest of band tuned up, Rollins would stride about the stage dressed only in a pair of black shorts, grinding his teeth; to focus before the show he would squeeze a pool ball. His stage persona impressed several critics; after a 1982 show in , Sub Pop critic Calvin Johnson wrote: "Henry was incredible. Pacing back and forth, lunging, lurching, growling; it was all real, the most intense emotional experiences I have ever seen.
By 1983, Rollins' stage persona was increasingly alienating him from the rest of Black Flag. During a show in England, Rollins assaulted a member of the audience; Ginn later scolded Rollins, calling him a "macho asshole. A legal dispute with Unicorn Records held up further Black Flag releases until 1984, and Ginn was slowing the band's tempo down so that they would remain innovative. In August 1983 guitarist Dez Cadena had left the group; a stalemate lingered between Dukowski and Ginn, who wanted Dukowski to leave, before Rollins fired Dukowski outright. 1984's heavy metal music-influenced My War featured Rollins screaming and wailing throughout many of the songs; the band's members also grew their hair to confuse the band's hardcore punk audience.
Black Flag's change in musical style and appearance alienated many of their original fans, who focused their displeasure on Rollins by punching him in the mouth, stabbing him with pens or scratching him with their nails, among other methods. He often fought back, dragging audience members on stage and assaulting them. Rollins became increasingly alienated from the audience; in his tour diary, Rollins wrote "When they spit at me, when they grab at me, they aren't hurting me. When I push out and mangle the flesh of another, it's falling so short of what I really want to do to them. During the Unicorn legal dispute, Rollins had started a weight-lifting program, and by their 1984 tours, he had become visibly well-built; journalist Michael Azerrad later commented that "his powerful physique was a metaphor for the impregnable emotional shield he was developing around himself." Rollins has since replied that "no, the training was just basically a way to push myself", suggesting that Azerrad "needed to get in touch with his inner homosexual".
Before Black Flag broke up in August 1986, Rollins had already toured as a solo spoken word artist. He released two solo records in 1987, Hot Animal Machine, a collaboration with guitarist Chris Haskett, and Drive by Shooting, recorded as "Henrietta Collins and the Wifebeating Childhaters"; Rollins also released his second spoken word album, Big Ugly Mouth in the same year. Along with Haskett, Rollins soon added Andrew Weiss and Sim Cain, both former members of Ginn's side-project Gone, and called the new group Rollins Band. The band toured relentlessly, and their 1987 debut album, Life Time, was quickly followed by the outtakes and live collection Do It. The band continued to tour throughout 1988; 1989 marked the release of another Rollins Band album, Hard Volume. Another live album, Turned On, and another spoken word release, Live at McCabe's, followed in 1990.
1991 saw the Rollins Band sign a distribution deal with Imago Records and appear at the Lollapalooza festival; both improved the band's presence. However, in December 1991, Rollins and his best friend Joe Cole were accosted by gunmen outside Rollins' home. Cole was murdered by a gunshot to the head, but Rollins escaped without injury. Although traumatized by Cole's death, Rollins continued to release new material; the spoken-word album Human Butt appeared in 1992 on his own record label, 2.13.61. The Rollins Band released The End of Silence, Rollins' first charting album.
The following year, Rollins released a spoken-word double album, The Boxed Life. The Rollins Band embarked upon the End of Silence tour; bassist Weiss was fired towards its end and replaced by funk and jazz bassist Melvin Gibbs. According to critic Steve Huey, 1994 was Rollins' "breakout year". The Rollins Band appeared at Woodstock 94 and released Weight, which ranked on the Billboard Top 40. Rollins released Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag, a double-disc set of him reading from his Black Flag tour diary of the same name; he won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording as a result. Rollins was named 1994's "Man of the Year" by the American men's magazine Details and became a contributing columnist to the magazine. With the increased exposure, Rollins made several appearances on American music channels MTV and VH1 around this time, and made his Hollywood film debut in 1994 in The Chase playing a police officer.
In 1995, the Rollins Band's record label, Imago Records, declared itself bankrupt. Rollins began focusing on his spoken word career. He released Everything, a recording of a chapter of his book Eye Scream with free jazz backing, in 1996. He continued to appear in various films, including Heat, Johnny Mnemonic and Lost Highway. The Rollins Band signed to Dreamworks Records in 1997 and soon released Come in and Burn, but it did not receive as much critical acclaim as their previous material. Rollins continued to release spoken-word book readings, releasing Black Coffee Blues in the same year. 1998 saw Rollins released Think Tank, his first set of non-book-related spoken material in five years.
In 2007 Rollins performed vocals in the reformed Ruts.
By 1998, Rollins felt that the relationship with his backing band had run its course, and the line-up disbanded. He had produced a Los Angeles hard rock band called Mother Superior, and invited them to form a new incarnation of the Rollins Band. Their first album Get Some Go Again, was released two years later. The Rollins Band released several more albums, including 2001's Nice and 2003's Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three. After 2003, the band became inactive as Rollins focused on radio and television work.
In both incarnations of the Rollins Band, Rollins combined spoken word with his traditional vocal style in songs such as "Liar" (the song begins with a one minute spoken diatribe by Rollins), as well as barking his way through songs (such as "Tearing" and "Starve") and employing the loud-quiet dynamic. Rolling Stone's Anthony DeCurtis names Rollins a "screeching hate machine" and his "hallmark" as "the sheets-of-sound assault".
Rollins appeared on the 1996 studio album Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel Present Highball with the Devil, narrating "Delicate Tendrils". Rollins also appeared in the 1993 Tool album, Undertow. He and Tool front man, Maynard James Keenan, performed the vocals in the song "Bottom".
In 2001, Rollins appeared as the uncredited host of "Night Visions", a short-lived horror anthology series. Rollins was a co-host of the television program Full Metal Challenge on TLC from 2002 to 2003. Rollins was a host of film review programme Henry's Film Corner on the Independent Film Channel, before presenting the weekly The Henry Rollins Show on the channel. He has made a number of cameo appearances in television series such as MTV's Jackass and an episode of Californication, where he played himself hosting a radio show. In 2006, Rollins appeared in a documentary series by VH1 and The Sundance Channel called The Drug Years.Also featured in" Batman Beyond's Return of the Joker"
Rollins put the show on a short hiatus to undertake a spoken-word tour in early 2005. Rollins posted playlists and commentary on-line; these lists were expanded with more information and published in book form as Fanatic! through 2.13.61 in November 2005. In late 2005, Rollins announced the show's return and began the first episode by playing the show's namesake Buzzcocks song. As of 2008, the show continues each week despite Rollins' constant touring with new pre-recorded shows between live broadcasts.
In 2007 Rollins published "Fanatic! Vol. 2" through 2.13.61.
Some feature length movies Henry Rollins has appeared in include:
Rollins has become an outspoken human rights activist, most vocally for gay rights, while deriding any suggestion that he himself is gay. On his 1998 spoken word album Think Tank the straight ally declared: "If I was gay, there would be no closet. You would never see the closet I came out of. Why? Because I'd have burned it for kindling by the time I was twelve ... If I was gay, at this stage of the game — age 37, aging alternative icon — I'd be taking out ads." Rollins frequently speaks out on social justice on his spoken word tours and promotes equality, regardless of sexuality. He was the host of the WedRock benefit concert, which raised money for a pro-gay-marriage organization.
During the 2003 Iraq War, he started touring with the United Service Organizations to entertain troops overseas while remaining against the war. Rollins caused a stir at a base in Kyrgyzstan when he told the crowd: "Your commander would never lie to you. That's the vice president's job. He has also been active in the campaign to free the "West Memphis Three" — three young men that many believe were wrongly convicted of murder. Rollins appears with Public Enemy frontman Chuck D on the Black Flag song "Rise Above" on the benefit album Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three; the first time Rollins had performed Black Flag's material since 1986.
|"Kick Out The Jams"||Bad Brains||Pump Up The Volume Soundtrack.||1990|
|"Let There Be Rock"||Hard-Ons||1991|
|"Wild America"||Iggy Pop||American Caesar||1993|
|"Sexual Military Dynamics"||Mike Watt||Ball-Hog or Tugboat?||1995|
|"T-4 Strain"||Goldie||Spawn: The Soundtrack||1997|
|"War"||Bone Thugs & Harmony & Edwin Star||Small Soldiers Original Motion Picture Soundtrack||1998|
|"Laughing Man (In The Devil Mask)"||Tony Iommi||Iommi||2000|
|"I can't get behind that"||William Shatner||Has Been||2004|