'A Band Called Death' chronicles brothers' punk legacy

05:00 AM, Jun 26, 2013

The punk-rock legacy of David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney is explored in the documentary "A Band Called Death." Drafthouse Films/


Written By by Brian Truitt, USA TODAY

Death was punk before punk was alive.

The story of three rock ‘n’ roll pioneers from Detroit, who were playing fast and loud before the likes of Bad Brains and the Ramones, is finally told in the Drafthouse Films documentary A Band Called Death.

In the 1970s, African-American brothers David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney formed the garage band when Motown and R&B was all the rage in their hometown, not the “white boy music” they preferred.

Influenced by the Beatles and The Who, the Hackneys often made the neighbors aware of their presence crafting their protopunk songs — so much so that the cops were sometimes called.

There were some girls. We’d be practicing so loud that after we were done with a song, we’d hear all this loud knocking on the door. And that was them trying to get in,” Bobby Hackney recalls in the film.

They were playing in the house,” brother Earl Hackney says, “and oh man, they sent people down the street holding their heads!”

Death penned tracks such as Politicians in My Eyes and Keep on Knocking but the group’s demos and records never took off — the trio was rejected for various reasons, including for the music they were playing and the band’s name.

The doc follows the brothers’ musical journey (plus their ups, downs and tragedies), chronicles how the Internet finally gave them their big break some 35 years after they started Death and shows how their children now keep the band’s legacy strong while the youngsters also begin their own.

A Band Called Death releases in theaters Friday and is available now on iTunes, video on demand and digital download.