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Film Review: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of ‘A Band Called Death’

a band called death

By Afroxander

Years ago, the history of Punk music was altered forever when music collectors discovered (and in some cases, rediscovered) a long-forgotten Punk band from Detroit, Michigan. The band’s name was Death and featured three brothers who were unable to release their debut album, “…For The Whole World To See,” save for a few hundred 45″ singles, thanks to numerous obstacles including prejudice. What were three African-American brothers doing playing “white boy music” during R&B’s heyday? Filmmakers Jeff Howlet and Mark Covino answer that question in their documentary A Band Called Death.

Brothers Dannis (drums), Bobby (bass/vocals), and David Hackney (guitar) fell in love with Rock n’ Roll after watching The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show at the behest of their musically-inclined parents. That moment gave birth to the Rock Fire Funk Express who dropped the Funk completely for Rock after Danny got his hands on a record by The Who and decided he wanted to be the musical lovechild of Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix.

In the spring of ’74, the band was reborn as Death, named, by David, in memory of their father who was killed by a drunk driver just days earlier while driving his apprentice to the hospital. Thus began the continuous cycle of birth-death-rebirth of Death shown on the screen via interviews with Dannis and Bobby (David died from lung cancer in 2000) as well as various family members, business associates from label Groovesville Productions, and record collectors and musicians including Henry Rollins, Alice Cooper, and Questlove.

Death died in the late 70s after the trio was unable to secure a record deal. They became Christian Rock group The 4th Movement before that group died as well and Dannis and Bobby continued without David on their Reggae project Lambsbread. David, knowing he was nearing his own death, gave Bobby the Death master tapes and told him “the world’s going to come looking for this music one day.”

His unwavering faith in his and his brothers’s music paid off in 2008 when musician/cratedigger/label owner Ben Blackwell got his hands on an original Death 45″. The two songs on the single eventually made their way onto music blog Chunklet where Bobby’s son Julian discovered his father’s and uncle’s music for the first time. The rebirth of Death was imminent.

The beauty of Howlet and Covino’s documentary is how it focuses on the lives of the Hackneys and less on their effect and place in the world of music. The Hackneys are, simply put, music-loving dudes who were born to spread joy with music and still do whether as a reincarnated version of Death or via their sons/nephews in Rough Francis (named after their uncle David’s last musical project). And though their brother David passed on many years ago, he is reborn through Death or, as he once called it, “the ultimate trip.”

three and a half stars

Cast: Bobby Hackney, David Hackney, Dannis Hackney
Director: Mark Christopher Covino, Jeff Howlett
Runtime: 96 minutes
Genre: Documentary