As David Chase recently stated in his film, Not Fade Away, for every band out there that “makes it,” there are thousands that never do. One such band is called “Death,” and in the documentary aptly titled, A Band Called Death (opening today), their incredible story is detailed.
Perhaps even more miraculous than most other bands, Death never played a single live performance in front of an audience and only had a handful of recorded songs. How then, did this band gain recent notoriety as not only the first black punk-rock band, but as the first punk-rockers ever?
Three brothers – Dannis, Bobby and David Hackney (David died of lung cancer in 2000) – began rocking it out in the upstairs of their downtown Detroit home in the early 70s, having received new instruments with money their mom received from an auto accident settlement. David was a visionary musician and lyricist, who guided his two brothers musically and professionally. They even caught the eye of Columbia Records president and mogul, Clive Davis, who wanted to sign them to a record deal. One catch? He wanted them to change their band name to anything, except the noncommercial moniker of Death.
The brothers refused and took to funding and distributing a self-released A/B-side recording of the singles, “Politicians in My Eyes” and “Keep on Knocking.” They made about 500 copies and handed them out locally. A few years later, they were disbanded and one would have thought that Death – at this point – would have finally been kaput.
In this documentary, musicians like Alice Cooper, Kid Rock and Henry Rollins talk about how influential Death has become. The story of how these lost recordings made the mainstream and then grew in cult popularity, is half the fun of watching the film.
It was hard not to think of the 2012 film, Searching for Sugar Man, a far more effective doc that A Band Called Death seems to imitate quite closely. Both chronicle incredible stories of how a Detroit musician (or band) rose from obscurity to popularity. Both stories are quite unbelievable, but they’re true. Having seen Sugar Man though, it was hard not to consider A Band Called Death as a lesser carbon copy.
Still, the story of Death is quite remarkable, made all the more interesting by the giant personalities of the two surviving Hackney brothers, Dannis and Bobby. This is a story about family, sticking together and defying all odds. Who wouldn’t be moved by that?
Run Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes, Not Rated
Featuring: Bobby Hackney, Dannis Hackney, Henry Rollins, Alice Cooper, Kid Rock
Directed by Mark Christopher Covino, Jeff Howlett (feature-film debuts)
Opens locally on Friday, June 28, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
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