To know D.H. Peligro is to like him. The St. Louis native with the warm voice has an infectious smile and the sort of easygoing vibe that's incredibly easy to be around. He's also dripping in humility; there's nothing about Peligro that instantly betrays the fact that he has a more-than-impressive punk rock pedigree.
Peligro, 58, is the drummer with Bay Area punk legends The Dead Kennedys, as he has been since their 1981 EP In God We Trust. Incendiary debut album Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is the only DKs album Peligro isn't on, though very soon after joining the band, he made those early tracks his own.
Peligro was convinced to journey to San Francisco from St. Louis by a friend who wanted him to join his band. When Peligro arrived, he found himself comfortable in his new surroundings, with an eclectic array of people everywhere he looked.
“I loved the city and the way it was set up,” he says. “When we didn't have a place to stay, we would go to all the gay hangouts and wonder why there were no girls in there. I was 17, and I didn't understand. They would dose me with loads of acid and the city looked even better. I got a van and a job, and I was living in the van in an alley.”
Peligro ended up joining a local punk band called SSI, and that band would occasionally open for The Dead Kennedys.
“I was working at a gay bondage hotel, and The Dead Kennedys would come on the radio,” Peligro says. “I really liked them, and they were in heavy rotation. The drummer had left and I was willing, so I auditioned. The rest is history.”
At that point, there were very few black people in punk bands, Bad Brains being a notable exception. Peligro says that in San Francisco he received very little grief. But touring was a different matter.
“You go down South, you go across the Midwest, then people were thinking that it was music for white people, or I was the janitor or security or something,” he recalls. “You got to experience the racism firsthand, because everybody wasn't as open-minded as they were in San Francisco. It's a bit more open and accepted today, but there's still pockets of people who want to use punk rock to create hate music. That angers me to no end.”
The Dead Kennedys broke up in 1986 and, in '88, Peligro relocated to Los Angeles (where he still resides) and briefly joined The Red Hot Chili Peppers. That didn't last long, although he did co-write three songs on the Mother's Milk album. He played in a bunch of other bands and then, in 2001, The Dead Kennedys re-formed with singer Brandon Cruz.
The DKs still tour (Ron “Skip” Greer now has the mic), and the drummer also has his own band simply called Peligro.
“I'm still doing Peligro, and we're recording some new stuff at the moment,” he says. “DKs got some stuff coming up in the summer. We'll probably go to Europe and do some festivals over there.”
Peligro has written a script based on a book he wrote, and he's looking to do a series. “It's about all the stuff you don't hear about from African-American punk rockers. Music would take me to places I wouldn't normally go, and it's fine while you were onstage but when you got off, they'd get drunk and call you all kinds of names.”