A Band Called Death: The Punk Rock Fairy Tale That Almost Went Untold

Death in the 21st century: guitarist Bobbie Duncan, bassist and singer Bobby Hackney, and drummer Dannis Hackney. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired
Death in the 21st century: guitarist Bobbie Duncan, bassist and singer Bobby Hackney, and drummer Dannis Hackney. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

From Wired:

The story of A Band Called Death starts in Detroit, back in the early 1970s. The Hackney brothers (David, Bobby, and Dannis) grew up in a black middle-class household. The three formed a band and started practicing in an upstairs room of their house with the full support — and, presumably, infinite patience — of their parents. At first, they were a funk-rock fusion outfit, but the brothers switched to harder-edged material after David, the guitarist and primary songwriter, started becoming exposed to the punk rock and metal bands in the vibrant Detroit music scene. Soon, they had a unique sound and, as a group of three black brothers playing aggro punk years before Bad Brains made it big, a pretty solid marketing hook. The major labels came calling.

Of course, it never came to be. The film depicts some delicious flirtations with stardom, and I won’t spoil them here. Needless to say, the reel of tape containing Death’s debut release ended up stashed in a box in an attic, and the band’s music was only pressed on a few hundred records.

Fast forward roughly 30 years. Bobby and Dannis have moved to Vermont, and David has recently passed away from cancer. An old friend of the brothers gives a handful of those dusty 45s to an independent record store. They wind up as MP3s on a web forum, then get posted to a few prominent music blogs. One of Bobby’s sons stumbles across the MP3s on the web and recognizes his uncle’s voice. He asks his dad, “Hey, were you guys in a punk band in the ’70s?”

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