FILM REVIEW: A Band Called Death
I’m not gonna lie. This movie made your boy Nick Delmacy cry. Lemme clarify: Not in a tissue and snot kinda way, it was more like a misty eyed, single tear type thing. Coming from me though, that’s a big deal. That’s how great and inspirational this documentary, “A Band Called Death” , was for me to watch.
The film tells the story of three brothers from Detroit, Michigan who started what was then the first Punk Rock band ever. This was years before The Ramones would hit the scene and become music legends. Inspired by The Beatles and Alice Cooper, The Hackney brothers, Bobby, David and Dannis chose to step outside of the box and create adrenaline heavy rock music instead of slow R&B tunes. Remember this is Detroit in the 70s so the Motown sound reigned supreme at the time.
This is worth repeating. The FIRST punk rock band was started by three black brothers in a poor neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan. And the music was actually fucking amazing. How dope is that?!
The film is told from the perspective of the remaining living brothers and others who were present at the time. What makes this story so moving was the band never got recognition or even an official album release, partially because of their unusual sound but mostly because of their name: DEATH. The oldest brother in the group, David Hackney was the originator of both the band, the music and the name, so every decision was his to make. It’s revealed that at one point Clive Davis offered them a record contract on the stipulation that they change their name. Lead brother David emphatically turned the deal down, dooming the band into obscurity.
We then see the ups and down of their music lives as a result of David’s stoic positions on the band’s purpose and name. They released a independently pressed 7″ single (a song on each side of the record) but never the full album they recorded in the early 70s. The masters for these recordings were tucked away in Bobby Hackney’s dark attic for decades as the men moved on with their lives after ending the band in 1977.
Through a series of unlikely circumstance, the two energetic singles released 30 years earlier were re-discovered by rare record collectors. This began a slow avalanche of interest in the group that made them an underground urban legend of sorts. Even Band member, Bobby Hackney’s three sons were unaware of their father’s punk rock roots as he’d since moved on to making reggae music. Things began to move quickly after that as the band called DEATH was written about in a full New York Times feature, skyrocketing their exposure even more. This not only led to the original album finally getting an official release, the band was also able to tour again at large venues, with Bobby’s sons Bobby Jr, Julian and Urian serving as the opening act during the shows in their “Death” inspired rock group called “Rough Francis.”
What made this story so sad and emotional to watch was the revelation that Big Brother and Band Originator David Hackney died of lung cancer shortly before the brothers got the recognition and notoriety they deserved. “One day the world is gonna come looking for this music,” he used to say. Watching the remaining brothers tell his story, vindicating his seemingly stubborn decisions as being accurate predictions, was both moving and inspirational.
I got misty eyed not only as a brother myself with siblings who look to me to make the right decisions, but also as an artist/writer striving for recognition and a place at the proverbial table.
This film proves that if you strive for quality work that you are passionate about, even if the creative work goes against what the masses expect from you, the right people will discover it eventually. Even if you’re not into Punk or Rock music this is an excellent film and a very inspirational story.
Purchase the album, “DEATH: …For The Whole Word To See” on iTunes HERE.
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