So now, when you dig deeper into that new information you found and you luck out on an amazing and inspirational story that has created that artist or album that is that rare gem, well for me….NOTHING tops that. Enter the recently released music documentary of the Incredible, Infectious story of A Band Called Death about the first all-black punk band created long before the likes of Bad Brains, The Ramones, and other major punk rock royalty. This 2013 film was directed Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino and has been a smash success across film festivals and movie theatres this year.
The story of A Band Called Death begins in the early 1970s in Detroit, MI in a black middle-class household with the 3 core members, all brothers – David, Dannis, and Bobby Hackney. The three brothers were allowed, with the full support of their parents, to purchase music instruments and started practicing in an upstairs bedroom of their house. They started as a funk-rock fusion band called Rock Fire Funk Express, but later turned to more harder-edged material after the tragic passing of the boys’ father. David, the grouper leader/guitarist/songwriter, had the original concept soon thereafter of calling the group Death.
David Hackney, leader/guitarist/songwriter, in the studio recording the Death album.
Dannis Hackney (top) on drums and Bobby Hackney, Sr. (bottom) the bass player for Death.
The story continues from there with the boys, as Death, recording 7 songs at Detroit’s United Sound Studios and pressing 500 copies of their 45” single from these tunes with the AMAZING “Politicians In My Eyes” on the A-side with “Keep On Knockin’” on the B-side. This garnered the group the attention of certain record labels but eventually Death was turned down by all of them. The group carried on regardless but eventually disbanded in 1977 and relocated up to Burlington, Vermont. They tried a new avenue of music in a fusion of Gospel, Rock, and Funk with the group The 4th Movement. This group and their music were received very poorly at the time in the early 1980’s so they disbanded this as well and eventually David Hackney moved back down Detroit. This left the other 2 brothers to begin a new group, a Reggae band called Lambsbread, that’s still active to this day.
A picture of the original, legendary Death 45” record.
Now, fast forward 30-some years and include all that changes within the family, namely the passing of brother David from lung cancer in 2000, and the group is “rediscovered” when in 2008, the sons of Bobby Hackney, Sr. start a band having NEVER known their Dad and uncles had this old punk rock band (!) called Rough Francis that’s a cover band paying tribute to their Dad and 2 uncles original music. This eventually leads to Drag City Records putting out/re-releasing Death’s original material for the album “For The Whole World To See…” in 2009. From there, the two remaining brothers from Death (Bobby, Sr. and Dannis) recruit their Reggae band’s guitarist, Bobbie Duncan, to fill in for David and having reformed, success finally begins for a reunited Death.
Death in 2013 – Bobbie Duncan (on L), Bobbie Hackney, Sr. (middle), and Dannis Hackney (on R).
If ever there was a case of how forward thinking artistry combined with complete integrity met to showcase an Incredible Rise-From-The-Ashes (or dusty crates in an attic!) Survival Story – THIS IS IT!!! Through out this movie, with it’s highest points of inspiration and it’s lowest points of sadness, one thing remains – how family, and none the less, good people in general who genuinely care about one another, stand by one another through thick and thin. As anti-punk rock as this statement might sound (haha!), it simply CANNOT be overlooked and nor NOT be felt watching this movie and it’s story unfold. The Hackney brothers and their surrounding family and friends will certainly inspire anyone who watches this movie, musician or not, as you get drawn deeper into A Band Called Death.
*Writer’s Note - I just watched this on Netflix Instant Cue as the film has now made its way to several movie-streaming services. Check this website here for more information about the movie and where you can see or stream it, and see links to where to buy Death’s music and other merchandise as well!
Here’s the trailer to the film: