Death (proto-punk band)

Death is an American rock band formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1964 by brothers Bobby (bass, vocals), David (guitar), and Dannis (drums) Hackney. The trio started out as a funk band but switched to rock after seeing a concert by The Who.[1] Seeing Alice Cooper play was also an inspiration.[2] Music critic Peter Margasak retrospectively wrote that David "pushed the group in a hard-rock direction that presaged punk, and while this certainly didn't help them find a following in the mid-70s, today it makes them look like visionaries."[2] They are seen by many people as one of the first punk bands in the world.[3] The band broke up in 1977 but reformed in 2009 when the Drag City label released their 1975 studio recordings for the first time.[4]

The three original members of Death: David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney
The three original members of Death: David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney
Background information
OriginDetroit, Michigan, United States
Years active1964 (1964)–1977, 2009–present
LabelsTryangle Records, Drag City
Associated actsRockFire Funk Express, The Fourth Movement, Lambs Bread, Rough Francis
MembersBobby Hackney Sr.
Dannis Hackney
Bobbie Duncan
Past membersDavid Hackney



In 1964, the three young Hackney brothers (David, Bobby and Dannis) were sat down by their father to witness The Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The following day, David found a discarded guitar in an alley and set about learning to play. Brothers Bobby and Dannis soon followed suit and they began playing music together. Later, the young trio purchased the best instruments money could buy with money their mother won in a settlement.[5]

The brothers practiced and recorded early demos in a room in the family home and performed their earliest gigs from their garage.[6] Originally calling themselves Rock Fire Funk Express, guitarist David convinced his brothers to change the name of the band to Death after their father died in an accident. David wanted to change the meaning of the word: "His concept was spinning death from the negative to the positive. It was a hard sell," Bobby Hackney recalled in 2010.[7]

Album recording and dissolutionEdit

In 1975, Death recorded seven songs written by David and Bobby at Detroit's United Sound Studios with engineer Jim Vitt. According to the Hackney family, Columbia Records president Clive Davis funded the recording sessions but implored the band to change its name to something more commercially palatable. When the Hackneys refused, Davis ceased his support.[8] The band only recorded seven songs instead of the planned dozen. The following year they self-released a single taken from these sessions on their label Tryangle Records. The single, "Politicians in My Eyes" b/w "Keep on Knocking," saw a run of only 500 copies.

The Hackney brothers ended the band in 1977. The brothers then moved to Burlington, Vermont and released two albums of gospel rock as The 4th Movement in the early 1980s. David moved back to Detroit in 1982, and died of lung cancer in 2000. Bobby and Dannis still reside in Vermont and lead the reggae band Lambs Bread. Dannis is currently the drummer for the Vermont-based Rock/Funk band The Aerolites.[9]


Copies of the "Politicians in My Eyes" 7", and the story of Death continued to circulate in collector's circles, with some copies going up to the cost of $800 due to their extreme rarity;[10] one source of them was Don Schwenk, a friend of the Hackneys who was originally commissioned to create the album art for the upcoming LP, and was given a box of the singles in exchange.[10] MP3s of the two songs from the single eventually found their way to Chunklet in 2008; around this time Bobby Hackney's son Julian moved to California and heard the Death songs after a recommendation of a roommate and immediately recognized his father's voice.[10] Once the news of the discovery and the story of Death began to spread, it eventually reached Drag City Records, who contacted the Hackney's about the possible release of the album, who provided the label with the original master tape: In 2009, Drag City released all seven Death songs from their 1975 United Sound sessions on CD and LP under the title ...For the Whole World to See.[10]

In the meantime, the sons of Bobby Hackney (Julian, Urian, and Bobby Jr.), wanting to get the word out more, started a band called Rough Francis (named after David's one time recording), covering the songs of Death after discovering the old recordings online. A March 2009 article in The New York Times by Mike Rubin,[11] covering one of Rough Francis' live shows and the history of Death introduced the band to an even wider audience.[10] The popularity eventually reached Mickey Leigh, who invited both bands to play Joey Ramone's birthday party.[10] In September 2009, a reformed Death played three shows with original members Bobby and Dannis Hackney, with Lambs Bread guitarist Bobbie Duncan taking the place of the late David Hackney.[12] During a 2010 performance at the Boomslang Festival in Lexington, Kentucky the band announced that Drag City would release a new album with demos and rough cuts that predate the 1975 sessions. The album Spiritual • Mental • Physical was released in January 2011.[13] In 2014, Death released their third studio album III, and in 2015 their most recent record, entitled N.E.W. was released.[14][15]


  • Bobby Hackney, Sr. - vocals, bass (1964-1977, 2009–present)
  • Bobbie Duncan - guitars (2009-present)
  • Dannis Hackney - drums (1964-1977, 2009–present)

Past membersEdit

  • David Hackney - guitars (1964-1977, died 2000)


As RockFire Funk ExpressEdit

  • "People Save the World"/"RockFire Funk Express" 7" single (Recorded 1973, released 2011 by Third Man Records)

As DeathEdit

  • "Politicians In My Eyes" b/w "Keep on Knocking" 7" (Recorded 1975, released 1976 by Tryangle Records, reissued 2013 by Drafthouse Films)
  • ...For the Whole World to See (Recorded 1975, released 2009 by Drag City)
  • Spiritual • Mental • Physical (Recorded 1974–76, released 2011 by Drag City)
  • III (Recorded 1975–1992, released 2014 by Drag City)
  • "Relief" online single (2012, CD Baby)[16]
  • Raw demo recording of "Politicians In My Eyes" (Recorded 1974, released online by Drafthouse Films, 2013)
  • N.E.W. (Release Date: April 21, 2015 by TryAngle Records)

As The 4th MovementEdit

  • The 4th Movement LP (1980)
  • Totally LP (1982)


Popular cultureEdit

In 2010, their song "Freakin' Out" was used in an episode of the television program How I Met Your Mother entitled "False Positive" (Season 6, Episode 12),[17] as well as the Ash Vs. Evil Dead episode "The Killer of Killers" (Season 1, Episode 6).[18]

In 2011, their song "You're A Prisoner" was used in the film Kill the Irishman.[19]

An independent documentary film about the band titled A Band Called Death, directed by Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino, was released in 2012.[1]

In 2014, the band's song "Politicians In My Eyes", was featured in the surf documentary Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La.[20]

A version of "Where Do We Go From Here" with the vocals edited out is often used as bumper music during Wayne Resnick's Sunday night show on KFI AM 640. In 2015, the band's song Keep On Knocking was featured as part of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 soundtrack.[21]

In 2018, the band's song "Politicians In My Eyes", was featured as the theme song for season two of Gimlet Media's podcast Crimetown.[22]

The song "Politicians In My Eyes" was featured in the movie Native Son. The rare record single was also a plot point during the film.

The songs "Politicians In My Eyes" and "Keep On Knocking" were both featured in Season 4, Episode 13 of Children's Hospital in 2012.


  1. ^ a b Fennessy, Kathy (16 May 2012). "LineOut: A Band Called Death: The Documentary". The Stranger. Index Newspapers, LLC. Archived from the original on 22 July 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b Margasak, Peter. "Short Takes on Recent Reissues". Chicago REader. Sun-Times Media, LLC. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  3. ^ Lange, Maggie. "Detroit, Punk, and A Band Called Death". Archived from the original on 12 April 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-12.
  4. ^ Bolles, Dan (6 October 2010). "The Breakout: Reunited and revitalized, Death keep on knocking". Seven Days. Da Capo Publishing, Inc. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  5. ^ Rao, Mallika (28 June 2013). "The Incredible Story Of The First Punk Band". HuffPost. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  6. ^ ...For the Whole World to See liner notes.
  7. ^ Thompson, Stephen (17 March 2010). "Death: A '70s Rock Trailblazer, Reborn". NPR. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
  8. ^ Bliss, Abi (9 February 2009). "The Detroit band that never sold out". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  9. ^ Powers, Nicole (6 May 2009). "The Hackney Brothers: Death". SuicideGirls. Retrieved 6 May 2009.
  10. ^ a b c d e f A Band Called Death. 2015.
  11. ^ Rubin, Mike (12 March 2009m). "This Band Was Punk Before Punk Was Punk". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Holdship, Bill (23 September 2009). "Death becomes them". Detroit Metro Times. Archived from the original on 27 May 2012. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
  13. ^ Jurek, Thom (25 January 2011). "Spiritual Mental Physical - Death : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  14. ^ Lacy, Eric (22 April 2014). "Spiritual Mental Physical - Death : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  15. ^ Lacy, Eric (6 February 2015). "Detroit rock pioneers Death to release N.E.W. on own label; hear 'Look At Your Life' song". Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  16. ^ Nagy, Evie (24 February 2012). "Exclusive: Stream 'Relief,' Death's First New Single Since 1976". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  17. ^ ""How I Met Your Mother" False Positive (2010)".
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ ""Kill the Irishman" Soundtracks". Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  20. ^ Strange Rumblings in Shangri-LA (TV Movie 2014) - IMDb, retrieved 4 December 2020
  21. ^ Makuch, Eddie (15 August 2015). "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5's Full Soundtrack Revealed". Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  22. ^ "Crimetown Season 2 Trailer by Gimlet Media". Retrieved 27 November 2018.

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