A band called Death. It’s certainly a shocking name – even now in a era where shock value has a lifespan of about the time it takes to click Next. When something shocks us, which rarely happens, we’re astonished for a second, then we disseminate information about it via social media and then, moments later, we decide it’s passé. If that name stirred you up, even a bit, you can imagine the reaction to it in the early 1970s when its members, three black brothers hailing from Detroit, tried to disseminate their proto-punk music, at a time when Mowtown reigned supreme.
Death’s prophetic pre-punk sound coupled with their startling band name made signing a record deal difficult in the ’70s, but also made them a treasure worth unearthing now. The documentary, A Band Called Death, produced by Good Will Hunting‘s Scott Mosier, takes a look at the band’s development from its establishment in the early ’70s, its silent and forgotten years, to its present-day revival as an actively performing band. At the beginning and end of the feature, testimonials of the band’s importance in punk rock history are given by everyone from Kid Rock to Mickey Leigh, Joey Ramone’s brother. Much of the reason these rock icons are able to do this is thanks to bassist Bobby Hackney’s son, Julian, who helped to spread the word about the band and prodded it into the limelight it had never rightfully gotten. The Younger Hackneys, Julian, Bobby Jr. and Urian, formed a band soon after, Rough Francis, which plays many of Death’s anthems, reviving the youthful energy Death had had when they first started practicing in the spare bedroom in the Hackney family home.
Dannis and Bobby Hackney were overwhelmed with the attention their early music was receiving more than 30 years after the band had disassembled. Even with the re-release of the band’s LP [Death]. . . For The Whole World to See by Drag City Records, it was bittersweet. The band’s front man and Dannis and Bobby’s older brother, David, was not there to share it with them. David, who had passed away due to lung cancer long before any rumblings of a revival could be sensed, had come up with and convinced his fraternal bandmates of the name in the early ’70s. Soon after the boys’ father, a Baptist minister, had passed away, David decided to use the name Death and persuaded the brothers never to change it despite the contract woes it inspired. He said, “One day the world’s going to come looking for this music.”
A Band Called Death runs until August 22 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.
For more on the film, visit abandcalleddeath.com.