Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Documenting the band called ‘Death’

Before there was ever Punk rock, there was Death. Three African-American brothers from Detroit, Michigan living in the 70’s, in light of the mo-town music era around them, sprouted fast-paced, in-your-face rock’n’roll with a spiritual base and inspiration to identify themselves to the whole world. Many early bands like The Stooges, The Clash, and The Ramones may be associated as the foundations for punk and the inspirations for the dozens of bands to later pass on punk, but that just overlooks the entirety of Death, and for over thirty years Death has been hidden from us all.

A band who set such a remarkable statement for themselves in expressing their ambition to play what they want and how they want, even if it meant not being recognized, and that is the truest punk spirit any band could have.

Over thirty years have gone by with the band Death remaining unknown, and finally they are shone upon us. Dannis, Bobby, and David Hackney, three brothers who, despite living in a town listening to Aretha Franklin, Earth, Wind & Fire, etc., kick out jams hard and heavy. Playing music considered to be “white boy music” of that time, the band faced countless obstacles which made it impossible for them to ever get the musical recognition they deserve.

However their spiritual guidance, particularly in band leader and oldest brother David, led them to now influence a new generation and express a historical account of prejudice aging out and punk rock rising up to be heard.

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I heard a simple synopsis of the bands’ story: “Three black brothers playing punk rock in the 70’s in a mo-town area with the name ‘Death’”. That was just about all I needed to hear to know a great piece of music history was at my disposal.

I watched the band’s documentary ‘A Band Called Death’ and I simply just wanted to spread the word on Death’s presence. Death is surely a band any punk fan ought to acknowledge.

Death faced so much criticism, on a count of being African-American and playing “white people music”, playing heavy/fast music where no one would listen, and for especially being named ‘Death’. Band leader/guitarist David Hackney was an amazing overall musician and visionary. He stood out with his music to make his statement about “life’s biggest trip”, and the power of rock’n’roll.

David is astounding inspiration, and really deserves commemoration for his work while he was still with us. David passed on not too long ago in 2000, but his legacy had just begun, predicting the fate of Death’s stance and rising familiarity saying it will come once he passed away, and it did just months afterward.

David Hackney stood out as a prophet. He was so spiritually driven to make music, it was more of his calling than anything else, believing in signs from God that he was watching over the band, and starting his journey from the loss of his father which prompted everything Death would embellish. Hackney really inspired me, and all I could think from his devotion and euphoric integrity is that there’s much more to music than just sounds.

Music will always be available to us, but the harder it is to find it, the more we find ourselves enjoying everything that comes with it. “The true rock’n’roll is what they don’t play on the radio”, as David Hackney himself once said.   Death released one album filled with their recordings titled “…For the Whole World to See”, and that title alone reaches out to those willing to listen, and that willingness starts at the heart of the rock’n’roll attitude we all embrace.

Songs like “Keep on Knockin’”, “Freakin’ Out”, and “Politicians in my Eyes” all express their punk vibe, with smooth vocals, tenacious drumming, and down to earth almost funky bass lines that come together with classic rock guitar work so powerfully it creates an early punk vision. Bobby and Dannis made the ultimate in rhythm, fusing funk elements in singing and bass, and hard hitting rock’n’roll in guitar playing and drumming to make a style all their own.

If there’s anything to take from here, it’s to just spread Death. Such a talented group with an even more inspiring story, Death has a presence in musical history that ought to be admired.

Punk fans go out and watch the documentary, listen to their tracks, do whatever you have to do, the Hackney brothers deserve what they’ve worked for- a primal stance as a game-changing rock band whose career defines integrity, perseverance and spirituality so perfectly. Death defines punk, and rock’n’roll better than countless other bands because if there’s anything I’ve learned from their story, it’s that Death is real.

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