A Band Called Death Offers a True Punk Rock Story Everyone Should See
Bobby, Dannis, and David Hackney – three brothers from Detroit – formed Death, a band with a story like no other. Attitude, sound, spirit – this band had punk rock soul before punk knew itself. The film A Band Called Death tells their story, one that should be seen and shared.
Watching the film, A Band Called Death, you will witness the creation of Death, this proto-punk band from the early 70s comprised of brothers whose parents allowed them space to create raw, energetic sounds that annoyed the neighbors time and time again. David, the middle child, is explained as the leader and for the most part the creative mastermind of all things Death. It is his understanding of death that gives the band its name and describes the experience as “the ultimate trip.” His foresight and creativity are the centerpiece of the entire documentary. He knew about the power of underground music before Hilly Kristal ever thought of giving it a home stating at one point in the film “real rock and roll wasn’t played on the radio.” With David, the band always stuck by their identity, their soul, including their name which no one in the record business appreciated.
You see, Death recorded 500 45s with the songs “Keep on Knocking” & “Politicians in My Eyes” on it. They tossed it around to various record studios throughout the world who wouldn’t touch the thing due to the name of the band. Finally, Clive Davis (President of Arista Records) says he will give them a deal if they changed their name. The answer was “no.” Behind closed doors both Bobby and Dannis wanted to take the deal, David was the one who denied it and as he puts it, “Give them the title, give them everything else.” The courage to me is outstanding. To stay true to yourself when a deal like that has presented itself – that’s punk.
Dannis, Bobby, and David took the records and left. From 1975-80, they received countless rejections. The black trio playing rock would eventually stop making an effort with Death moving on to form new bands with and without each other. The masters would remain in a box due to a request by David to Bobby who wanted him to keep them stating “The world’s gonna come looking [for these.]” David died shortly after the request of Lung Cancer.
Eight years after Dave’s death, the 45s become a collector’s item. Played at an event that showcases records it is heard then spread by the same question all of us have said from one time or another – “Have you heard this band?” And who would hear this question from an attendee of said party? None other than the son of Bobby who never knew his dad was in a band called Death.
Once again, the fortune teller – David- knew the “world’s gonna come looking.” There is this spiritual tone to the entire movie that somehow all of this, the rejection and eventual acknowledgment of the band years after its creation was predetermined. I’m not particularly religious. Seeing this story made me ponder, though. The fact that David had some idea, somehow, of the impact his work would have on the world is mesmerizing to think about.
What kind of impact? Well, On February 17, 2009, the full album titled For the Whole World to See from the tapes left by David is finally released by Drag City 35 years after they were originally recorded. If that doesn’t give you chills, Rough Francis, made up of the sons and friends from the original band Death, decide to play the songs live for the first time in over three decades. This leads to Bobby and Dannis’ decision to reform the band Death and hit the road themselves. The film ends with footage from the tour and in each shot is a photo of David somewhere on stage. Death had finally made it without its soul creator, David.
To see this unbelievable punk rock story for yourself, watch the 2012 A Band Called Death directed by Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett.
Before I go, I saw that Rough Francis still tours. You can check out their Facebook page for tour dates at facebook.com/roughfrancis. And for those who’ve never heard the album For the Whole World to See I’ve left the playlist below. Turn it up, swine.