Death (proto-punk band)

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The three original members: David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney
The three original members: David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney
Background information
OriginDetroit, Michigan, U.S.
Years active
  • 1971 (1971)–1977
  • 2009–present
MembersBobby Hackney Sr.
Dannis Hackney
Bobbie Duncan
Past membersDavid Hackney

Death is an American rock band formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1971 by brothers Bobby (bass, vocals), David (guitar), and Dannis Hackney (drums, percussion).

The trio initially started as a funk group but quickly switched their style to rock after seeing concerts by the Who and Alice Cooper.[2][3] 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" – David himself having been called "the visionary of the group".[2][4] Many people often recognize them as one of the first punk rock bands.[5] The band broke up in 1977, but unexpected interest in their music resulted in independent record label Drag City releasing their unreleased recordings from 1975 in 2009, and the band reforming.[6]


Formation (1964-1975)[edit]

In 1964, the three young Hackney brothers (David, Bobby and Dannis) watched the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show with their father. The following day, David found a discarded guitar in an alley and used it to start learning to play. Brothers Bobby and Dannis soon followed suit and they began playing music together. Later, the young trio purchased the best instruments that they could afford with the money that their mother won in a settlement.[7]

The brothers practiced and recorded early demos in a room in the family home and performed their earliest gigs from their garage.[8] Forming in 1971 and originally calling themselves Rock Fire Funk Express, guitarist David convinced his brothers to change the band's name to Death in 1974 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.[9] The name distinguished them from other all-black bands; their musical style, an innovation on an already evident musical approach in Detroit, further demarcated Death, "no doubt" the first all-black punk band and perhaps the first punk band in general.[4][10]

Album recording and dissolution (1975-1977)[edit]

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.[11] Bobby and Dannis were tentative about this decision, ultimately prioritizing the brotherly relationship.[10] 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.[citation needed] The single "Politicians in My Eyes" b/w "Keep On Knocking" saw a run of only 500 copies.[4]

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 Lambsbread. Dannis is currently the drummer for the Vermont-based rock/funk band The Aerolites.[12]

Rediscovery and reformation (2009-present)[edit]

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;[13] 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.[13] 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.[13] Once the news of the discovery and the story of Death began to spread, it eventually reached Drag City Records, who contacted the Hackneys 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.[13]

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 a nickname occasionally used by their uncle David), covering the songs of Death after discovering the old recordings online. A March 2009 article in The New York Times by Mike Rubin,[14] covering one of Rough Francis' live shows and the history of Death introduced the band to an even wider audience.[13] The popularity eventually reached Mickey Leigh, who invited both bands to play Joey Ramone's birthday party.[13] In September 2009, a reformed Death played three shows with original members Bobby and Dannis Hackney, with Lambsbread guitarist Bobbie Duncan taking the place of the late David Hackney.[15] 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.[16] In 2014, Death released their third studio album III, and in 2015 their most recent record, entitled N.E.W. was released.[17][18]


David was integral to the band's style, that of mysticism and "eccentric spirituality".[10]


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

Past members[edit]

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


As RockFire Funk Express[edit]

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

As Death[edit]

  • "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)[19]
  • Raw demo recording of "Politicians in My Eyes" (recorded 1974, released online by Drafthouse Films, 2013)
  • N.E.W. (released 2015 by TryAngle Records)

As the 4th Movement[edit]

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


Popular culture[edit]

  • In 2010, their song "Freakin' Out" was used in an episode of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother entitled "False Positive" (season 6, episode 12),[20] as well as the Ash vs. Evil Dead episode "The Killer of Killers" (season 1, episode 6).[21]
  • The song “Politicians in My Eyes” was used in Season 7, Episode 5 ("Bottoms Up") of the HBO Series Entourage in 2010.
  • In 2011, their song "You're a Prisoner" was used in the film Kill the Irishman.[22]
  • An independent documentary film about the band titled A Band Called Death, directed by Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino, was released in 2012.[3]
  • The songs "Politicians in My Eyes" and "Keep On Knocking" were both featured in season 4, episode 13 of Childrens Hospital in 2012.
  • In 2014, the band's song "Politicians in My Eyes" was featured in the surf documentary Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La.[23]
  • 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 video game soundtrack.[24]
  • 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.[25]
  • The song "Politicians in My Eyes" was featured in the 2019 movie Native Son. The rare record single was also a plot point during the film.
  • The song "Freakin Out" was featured in the 2022 stop-motion horror comedy movie Wendell and Wild.[26]
  • "Keep On Knocking" was included in the soundtrack for the 2022 film, Jackass Forever.[27]


  1. ^ "Death - Biography, Albums, Streaming Links - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Margasak, Peter. "Short Takes on Recent Reissues". Chicago REader. Sun-Times Media, LLC. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Fennessy, Kathy (May 16, 2012). "LineOut: A Band Called Death: The Documentary". The Stranger. Index Newspapers, LLC. Archived from the original on July 22, 2015. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Rapport, Evan (2020). Damaged : Musicality and Race in Early American Punk. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 253–254. ISBN 978-1-4968-3126-2. OCLC 1253399548.
  5. ^ Lange, Maggie. "Detroit, Punk, and A Band Called Death". Archived from the original on April 12, 2015. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  6. ^ Bolles, Dan (October 6, 2010). "The Breakout: Reunited and revitalized, Death keep on knocking". Seven Days. Da Capo Publishing, Inc. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  7. ^ Rao, Mallika (June 28, 2013). "The Incredible Story Of The First Punk Band". HuffPost. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  8. ^ ...For the Whole World to See liner notes.
  9. ^ Thompson, Stephen (March 17, 2010). "Death: A '70s Rock Trailblazer, Reborn". NPR. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  10. ^ a b c Keough, Peter (July 27, 2013). "A matter of life and Death". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on July 16, 2013. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  11. ^ Bliss, Abi (February 9, 2009). "The Detroit band that never sold out". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
  12. ^ Powers, Nicole (May 6, 2009). "The Hackney Brothers: Death". SuicideGirls. Retrieved May 6, 2009.
  13. ^ a b c d e f A Band Called Death. 2015.
  14. ^ Rubin, Mike (March 12, 2009m). "This Band Was Punk Before Punk Was Punk". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Holdship, Bill (September 23, 2009). "Death becomes them". Detroit Metro Times. Archived from the original on May 27, 2012. Retrieved October 15, 2009.
  16. ^ Jurek, Thom (January 25, 2011). "Spiritual Mental Physical – Death : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved July 5, 2013.
  17. ^ Lacy, Eric (April 22, 2014). "Spiritual Mental Physical – Death : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  18. ^ Lacy, Eric (February 6, 2015). "Detroit rock pioneers Death to release N.E.W. on own label; hear 'Look At Your Life' song". Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  19. ^ Nagy, Evie (February 24, 2012). "Exclusive: Stream 'Relief,' Death's First New Single Since 1976". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  20. ^ ""How I Met Your Mother" False Positive (2010)".
  21. ^ "The Musical Relevance of the Starz original series 'Ash Vs. Evil Dead'". Archived from the original on September 26, 2019. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  22. ^ ""Kill the Irishman" Soundtracks". Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  23. ^ Strange Rumblings in Shangri-LA (TV Movie 2014) – IMDb, retrieved December 4, 2020
  24. ^ Makuch, Eddie (August 15, 2015). "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5's Full Soundtrack Revealed". Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  25. ^ "Crimetown Season 2 Trailer by Gimlet Media". Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  26. ^ Watson, Elijah C. (October 31, 2022). "The 'Wendell & Wild' Soundtrack Is A Crash Course For Getting Into Black Rock And Punk Music". Retrieved November 1, 2022.
  27. ^ Jackass Forever (2022) - Soundtracks - IMDb, retrieved February 23, 2023

External links[edit]