Sunday, March 29, 2009

Guest Post: Stark Online

To begin, I must state that I am no expert on the chronology of punk music. Outside of the heavy hitters (The Jam, Clash, Stooges etc...), I can't really say I listen to all that much early punk rock. Yet, this reissue of Death's lost 1973 record ...For the Whole World to See is blowing my fucking mind.
I'm sure someone out there can recite to me a litany of bands that Death either drew from or influenced, but I feel no compulsion to do that here. There are, of course, elements of punk fundamentals on this album: speed, punchy bass and simple chord structures; but there is something so transcendental about this record that it ceases to be of a certain era or a certain genre.

The songs are visceral and moving, and the lyrical content is poignant and meaningful. There is even a freaking drum solo on the track "Let the World Turn."

These three brothers from Detroit (Dannis, Bobby and David Hackney) somehow nailed it, and we thank Drag City for getting this back out there.
Our new friend from Other Music, Mikey (I think that's his name) has even been so inspired as to start a facebook page for the record.
Join up, and buy the record - I'm talking like, within the next hour.

posted by StarkNY
Thank you Stark!

Guest Post: Alex Hornsby

The brothers Hackney started making music together in 1971. Like many African-American musicians playing in Detroit in the 1970s the agenda was funk & soul a la Stax & Motown. This changed after seeing Iggy And The Stooges live.

We started listening to more rock, stuff like Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin. When the Who's Quadrophenia came out, David (Eldest Hackney and guitar player) became convinced that nothing was more important than rock and roll. In 1974, we put together a demo tape with the most rocking name we could think of: DEATH.
Someone at Columbia heard the demo and wanted to sign them right up. One condition: the name had to go. To cut a long story short, they didn't change their name or get signed.
Death became a reggae band and the demos gathered dust for 30 years.So the legend goes the demos were discovered by one of the band's kids - himself a drummer in rock band. He was pretty blown away by his reggae-playing old man's raucous band of yore. Mp3s starting multiplying.
Word of mouth picked up pace and now Drag City are releasing the 8 song album.I thought it was going to be some kind of Minger Mike situation when I was first put onto this.
But hearing is believing. And even if it is some sort of JT Leroy-style put-on, I'm fine with it because this record is MEGA.
Thanks Alex!

Saturday, March 28, 2009


DEATH 1974

ON an evening in late February at a club called the Monkey House, there was a family reunion of sorts. As the band Rough Francis roared through a set of anthemic punk rock, Bobby Hackney leaned against the bar and beamed. Three of his sons — Bobby Jr., Julian and Urian — are in Rough Francis, but his smile wasn’t just about parental pride. It was about authorship too. Most of the songs Rough Francis played were written by Bobby Sr. and his brothers David and Dannis during their days in the mid-1970s as a Detroit power trio called Death.

Rough Francis "Freakin Out"

The group’s music has been almost completely unheard since the band stopped performing more than three decades ago. But after all the years of silence, Death’s moment has finally arrived. It comes, however, nearly a decade too late for its founder and leader, David Hackney, who died of lung cancer in 2000. “David was convinced more than any of us that we were doing something totally revolutionary,” said Bobby Sr., 52.

The brothers Dannis (left) and Bobby Hackney.

Forgotten except by the most fervent punk rock record collectors — the band’s self-released 1976 single recently traded hands for the equivalent of $800 — Death would likely have remained lost in obscurity if not for the discovery last year of a 1974 demo tape in Bobby Sr.’s attic. Released last month by Drag City Records as “... For the Whole World to See,” Death’s newly unearthed recordings reveal a remarkable missing link between the high-energy hard rock of Detroit bands like the Stooges and MC5 from the late 1960s and early ’70s and the high-velocity assault of punk from its breakthrough years of 1976 and ’77. Death’s songs “Politicians in My Eyes,” “Keep On Knocking” and “Freakin Out” are scorching blasts of feral ur-punk, making the brothers unwitting artistic kin to their punk-pioneer contemporaries the Ramones, in New York; Rocket From the Tombs, in Cleveland; and the Saints, in Brisbane, Australia. They also preceded Bad Brains, the most celebrated African-American punk band, by almost five years.

Jack White of the White Stripes, who was raised in Detroit, said in an e-mail message: “The first time the stereo played ‘Politicians in My Eyes,’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When I was told the history of the band and what year they recorded this music, it just didn’t make sense. Ahead of punk, and ahead of their time.”

The teenage Hackney brothers started playing R&B in their parents’ garage in the early ’70s but switched to hard rock in 1973, after seeing an Alice Cooper show. Dannis played drums, Bobby played bass and sang, and David wrote the songs and contributed propulsive guitar work, derived from studying Pete Townshend’s power-chord wrist technique. Their musicianship tightened when their mother allowed them to replace their bedroom furniture with mikes and amps as long as they practiced for three hours every afternoon. “From 3 to 6,” said Dannis, 54, “we just blew up the neighborhood.”

Death began playing at cabarets and garage parties on Detroit’s predominantly African-American east side, but were met with reactions ranging from confusion to derision. “We were ridiculed because at the time everybody in our community was listening to the Philadelphia sound, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Isley Brothers,” Bobby said. “People thought we were doing some weird stuff. We were pretty aggressive about playing rock ’n’ roll because there were so many voices around us trying to get us to abandon it.”

When the band was ready to record, David chose a studio by pinning the Yellow Pages listings to the wall and throwing a dart; it landed on Groovesville Productions, a company owned by Don Davis, a successful producer for Stax Records. Groovesville signed the band, and in 1974 it began work at United Sound Recording Studios in Detroit, where it shared space with Funkadelic, the Dramatics and Gladys Knight. At the time David was 21, Dannis was 19 and Bobby, still a student at Southeastern High School, was 17.

“They were just so impressive, and the sound was just so big for three guys,” said Brian Spears, who was director of publishing at Groovesville and oversaw their sessions. “I knew those kids were great, but trying to break a black group into rock ’n’ roll was just tough during that time.”

The apparent nihilism of the name Death was also out of step with the times. “Nobody could get past the name,” Mr. Spears said. “It seemed to be a real detriment. When you said the name of the group to anybody, it was like, ‘Man, why you calling the group Death?’ ”

The Hackneys said Mr. Davis brought a tape of Death to a meeting in New York with the record executive Clive Davis. Afterward Don Davis told the brothers that Clive Davis had liked the recordings but not the band’s name; there could be no deal unless they changed it. “That’s when my brother David got a little angry,” Dannis said. “He told Don Davis to tell Clive Davis, ‘Hell no!’ ”

Part of the reason David refused was because he was writing a rock opera about death that portrayed it in a positive light, Bobby Sr. said. “He strongly believed that we could get a contract with another record label,” he added. “We were young and cocky, but David was the cockiest of us all.”

Read More Here

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

February 9th, 1964 in Detroit Earl Hackney sat down his three sons: David age 12, Dannis (pronounced dennis) age 10, and Bobby age 8 in front of the tv set and told them they were witnessing something special.

The Beatles were playing on the Ed Sullivan Show, and David, entranced, sat 6” from the screen wide-eyed, while the other two sat equally mesmerized.

The very next day, David found a guitar in the alley, took it home, and taught himself how to play. By 1970, the brothers had started their first band and begun playing garage shows. they played funk/r&b, influenced by the motown sounds coming out of their east Detroit neighborhood.

They practiced relentlessly and home recorded often. In early 1973, the brothers went to the Michigan Palace and saw a performance of Iggy and the Stooges. from that day forward David moved the band into the direction of rock n’ roll, feeling it was a better fit for them.

David wrote the music and Bobby the lyrics. Their songs became more political and the power trio seemed complete. The band named themselves DEATH.

With more garage shows and a demo under their belt, David opened up the yellow pages to recording studios and threw a dart. The dart landed on Groovesville productions, a label owned and operated by Don Davis. Davis, impressed with the band, brought the demo to the attention of Clive Davis of Columbia records.

Clive gave DEATH an advance and contracts were drawn to begin recording a 12 song album. after recording the first 7 songs, Clive insisted that the band change their name before the album was completed. David and his brothers refused, causing Columbia and Groovesville to back out of the deal. However, with their received advance, DEATH leaked out 500 copies of a 45 on their own Tryangle records in 1976 which was distributed at garage shows for free.. nothing more was heard...

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