A Band Called Death

They show up early in Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino’s film: yet more of the bombed-out-building drive-bys that apparently are de rigueur for documentaries set in Detroit. But as Searching for Sugar Man showed us, combing that city’s ruins for cultural castoffs sometimes turns up a great find. A Band Called Death reiterates the point, reintroducing the long-disbanded punk progenitors who once happened to be a power trio of black minister’s kids sawing hard against the mid-’70s Motown grain. Meet the brothers Hackney: bassist Bobby, drummer Dannis, and driving force David — guitarist, lyricist, lovable mystic kook. David was the one who who’d livened up their childhood squirt-gun fights with piss, and made prank phone calls as an echo-effected Martian, and figured if he could just learn to play chords like Townshend and lead like Hendrix, he’d become the ideal guitarist. David was the one who’d died young, but not without letting his brothers know that after he’d gone the world would come looking for their music. So it did. His absence as the others reminisce is as palpable as the searing force of the Death sound, which elder brother Earl, not in the band, recalls with a guffaw as “white-boy music.” Years after Bobby and Dannis became the rhythm section of the Vermont reggae outfit Lambsbread, some of Death’s old 7-inches started circulating underground; at a San Francisco party, Bobby’s son heard the single and recognized his father’s voice. The rest is still becoming history: Death lives!