Archive for the Flashback Category

Flashback – You may not know DEATH…but you should

Posted in Flashback with tags , , , on June 14, 2013 by heavyuberalles

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So I freely admit it – I am a music junkie. I can’t get enough. I am always searching for new music, not because of the lack of good music (there’s plenty of it, past and present), but because there’s always that one thing you haven’t heard, or the one band you have yet to discover that truly touches your soul. Every once in a while, if you are really lucky, you will come across that one band that literally knocks you back into your seat or off your feet. Those times when that musical gem makes you feel as if you’ve found an ancient scroll or buried pirate treasure.

For me, the latest band to do that is called Death.

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My friend Jon at work, after a week-long stint in New York City comes up to me on his first morning back, all excited about something. “DUDE. have you ever heard of a band called ‘Death’?” My reply was something like, “Um, yeah. Everyone has. You know. Death metal band from Florida.” It was quickly apparent that we were not talking about the same band. Not by a long shot. He tells me a brief story, and as he presses play on the cd, tells me, “This is from 1974.” What I heard next gave me chills, and just floored me. As the opening chords of “Keep on Knocking” began I was curious, tilting my head like a dog. Then the song kicked in, and WHOA. I was confused. “Who are these guys? Am I the last one to find out about them? WHY were these guys not huge?” A totally wonderful mix of Detroit rock and one of the earliest punk sounds ever recorded.

My jaw still hanging slack, he handed me the cds and said “Go. Listen, and enjoy.”

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 I did just that, and as I made my way through songs like “Rock-n-Roll Victim” and “Freakin Out,” I was in such a state of shock, I could barely function.

A revelation hit me….“THESE GUYS STARTED AMERICAN PUNK. AND MUCH THE WORLD DOESN’T KNOW WHO THEY ARE.” I listened to the 2 albums, 1975’s For The Whole World To See, and Spiritual•Mental•Physical, taken from demos that predates “For The…” I listened over and over, just in awe of what I was hearing. This was taking what MC5 and the Stooges had started, and making it their own. There was an article written by the New York Times called “This Band Was Punk Before Punk Was Punk.”

I feverishly started researching the band. I had to know their story.

Back in 1971, three brothers from Detroit- David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney – formed a funk/soul band called “Rock Fire Funk Express.” rockfirefunkexpress550 After a little bit of recording, the brothers saw The Who and Alice Cooper in concert, and everything changed.

Death was born. David came up with the new name for the band, knowing it might be controversial. Said brother Bobby, “His concept was spinning death from the negative to the positive. It was a hard sell.” It would ultimately be their undoing, with the band refusing to change its’ name causing their best shot at a deal – Clive Davis and Arista Records – to walk away. On top of that, in the ’70s, black musicians were typical not playing rock, mu ch less this new breed of burgeoning punk. bands like the Stylistic, Earth, Wind and Fire were the predominant styles of black musicians. Yet, in true punk rock form, Death did not compromise their sound for anyone or any stereotype.

The band self-recorded a single, and unsuccessfully tried to get it out to the masses. The masters were stashed away in an attic, lying in wait to unleash upon the world. After Death not taking off, the brothers formed a rock gospel band, and David Hackney passed away in 2000. Bobby and Dannis, meanwhile, formed a reggae band called Lambsbread while they were living in Vermont.

What you have just read is an extremely abridged version of the story of the Hackney brothers and Death. There is much more to the story, and I strongly encourage you to watch the documentary “A Band Called Death: The Documentary.” death-movieIt is inspiring and emotional, with the attitude amongst the family being “family first,” and “back up your brother.” It takes you through their early years, the passing of their father, and the struggles to get off the ground while being held back by their name alone.

My favorite part of the movie is when you have met Bobby Hackney’s children. The Hackneys had never told their kids about Death – they had no idea it had existed. One of Bobby’s sons was at a party, and the 45 of “Politicians in My Eyes” was playing. You feel the exhilaration along with them, as the sons discover the music that is in their bloodline, and that exhilaration is very tangible and electric.

The sons formed a band called Rough Francis (the name of David’s project before his death), and helped bring the music of Death to a modern audience. Seeing the joy and pride on Bobby’s face, watching his sons bring their music back to life, was joyous. Death has started resurfacing, with guitarist Bobbie Duncan taking over the guitar duties. They played the Orion Stage at the Orion Music and More Festival in June in their hometown of Detroit, and even got an introduction from Metallica’s Robert Trujillo (more on their Orion performance here).

If you are a fan punk rock, you are doing yourself a grave injustice if you don’t, at a minimum, give Death a listen. Listen to them, and think about how differently the history books would look. Know your roots, even if they are ones you didn’t realize were there.

Death homepage

Rough Francis on Facebook

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