A Band Called Death Review
Way down in Motor City while Iggy Pop was rocking with The Stooges and MC5 was kicking out the jams, three brothers were inventing hardcore punk ahead of it’s time in A Band Called Death.
This family portrait directed by Jeff Howlett and Mark Christopher Covino, courtesy of Tim League’s Drafthouse Films doesn’t go the route of exploring underground punk gigs and the roots of underground rock. They have chosen to explore the family unit and dynamic of artistic exploration in a city dominated by Motown and General Motors, taking us on a journey with Dannis and Bobby Hackney down memory lane with their visionary brother David from exploring funk in Rock Fire Funk Express to discovering The Who and shifting to balls to the wall, break neck rock n’ roll! It’s a punk rock Cinderella story as we find the brothers shifting to a new sound that drives their neighbors to the wall with their “white boy music” blaring from their amplifiers. After the passing of their father who introduced them to watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, David has a moment of clarity and reveals his revelation to his fellow siblings. Death wasn’t exactly the easiest name to sell people on, especially in the early seventies’ but they knew that you had to “back up your brother” as their family motto stated.
Howlett and Covino take us on an emotional rollercoaster as we encounter all the highs and lows along with the Hackney brothers. Proving how influental their music has become, we are treated to interviews from Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins, Questlove, Elijah Wood representing his label Simian Records and the ex-frontman for Dead Kennedys Jello Biafra. Only getting to record some demos and pressing their own 45, David decides to steps away from Death as their brothers wait long and patiently for their brother to return. After remaining loyal for years they decide to form a reggae project against David’s wishes and things begin to tragically spiral away from the potentially great rock movement that was theirs for the taking. Shortly before lung cancer took David to an early grave he passed along the master tapes at his brother’s wedding. He prophetically told them how their music is destined to be found and captivate whoever may find the treasures they recorded. Flash forward to the offspring of Dannis and Bobby, we see how their music is being played at underground clubs and their records are being sold on eBay for as much as $800. The kids decide to reignite their family torch by putting together a tribute band called Rough Francis, named after the alias that David was fond of using. Much like The Story Of Anvil and Searching For Sugarman, this story has a great payoff and can be inspiring for anyone who doesn’t have faith in getting fruits for their labor.
There is a life lesson focused on here such as going against the grain and sticking to your principals might not be the easy road but has the bigger payoff later. However I feel that we are really meant to be an honorary guest in the Hackney family and be a part of the strife and triumphs that this close family experiences and shares. The best feeling that I obtained was imagining where this outfit would have evolved and stayed relevant if they stuck together long enough to play with The Ramones or the Sex Pistols, however all is definitely not lost thanks to this captivating documentary that should turn any music fan with a good ear on to some great music and touch their hearts.