There’s a moment in the middle of A Band Called Death where David Hackney’s widow starts describing her late husband and his connection to music, and it’s clear from the waver in her voice and the tears welling up in her eyes that she loved this man, his music and his vision. Wholly and completely. That’s exactly what’s at the center of this wonderful documentary: love. The brotherly love of three black kids from urban Detroit hell-bent on forging their own sound, the love of a mother willing to let her boys raise such a ruckus in her house, and ultimately the love of the music.
The story is simple, and yet it’s so much more than what a simple summation can ever hope to provide: three kids, rock and roll, and dreams. David Hackney (pictured), the group’s spiritual leader, and his brothers Dannis and Bobby crafted what can only be considered proto-punk in the legendary United Sounds studios in Detroit, but had a helluva a time getting A&R people and labels to accept the band’s name: Death. Throw in a relocation to New England, some changes in musical direction, and ultimately the prophetic words David had for his brothers upon handing over Death’s original master tapes for safekeeping, some 25 years after their recording: “When I’m gone, people are gonna come looking for this music.”
And how right he was. After his passing in the early 2000s, people did come looking. Slowly, but surely, an Internet buzz grew about this unknown punk band from Detroit, one that pre-dated the Ramones and whose sound was even more raw, more aggressive, and faster. Their sole 45 was now selling for hundreds on eBay, and thus the eventual phone call from Drag City Records, with an interest in re-issuing Death’s unrealized album for the world to hear.
It’s an amazing journey, and an even more amazing collection of songs that the masses can now enjoy. The film is now available on-demand and on DVD and Blu-ray. We highly recommend it.
- A BAND CALLED DEATH
- Directed by Mark Christopher Covino & Jeff Howlett
- Drafthouse Films
- 98 Minutes