Life after death – A Band Called Death review

A Band Called Death

By Simon Miraudo
November 29, 2013

The search for Sugar Man produced bountiful rewards (including an Oscar). Now, which forgotten musical artist can follow in the footsteps of folkster Rodriguez – or Canadian metal heads Anvil, before him – to receive a resurrection thanks to some enterprising documentarians? Directors Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett make a good case for proto-punks Death with their doco, A Band Called Death.

Comprised of brothers Bobby, Dannis, and David Hackney, Death recorded a series of songs in 1974 that were basically buried when Columbia Records’ president Clive Davis objected to their band’s name. (That they were also an all-black collective playing religious punk did no further favours for their “brand.”) Some forty-years later, Bobby and Dannis head back to their hometown in Detroit, where they reminisce about their humble beginnings, fondly recalling the lessons of their Baptist preacher dad and their mother’s encouragement of their very noisy hobby, as well as the untimely death of David. Bobby, reflecting on their failed career, quotes one of his father’s maxims: “Try your best in life to keep your promise to God and give God time enough to keep His promise to you.” In A Band Called Death, the Hackneys see God fulfilling his end of the bargain, albeit belatedly, when their music becomes an underground sensation in the 21st century.

A Band Called Death

To bolster their argument that Death were The Ramones before The Ramones were even The Ramones, Covino and Howlett get Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins, Questlove, Kid Rock, and Elijah Wood (yes, Elijah Wood) all on camera to rave about their talents. Numerous other fans and industry types chime in too, but nothing’s more convincing than the music itself. Like Searching for Sugar ManA Band Called Death succeeds most by implanting numerous earworms that will likely stay with you long after the film comes to an end. (In this instance, they’re not hummable ditties, but rather dark-disco stompers.)

The surviving Hackney brothers are amusing, fiercely funny subjects, with a clear-eyed understanding of where they went right and where they went wrong. (Their relationship to their late brother David is particularly fascinating; them jointly conflicted and inspired by his stubbornness.) Open and revealing, they are fine tour guides through a slice of music history forgotten for too long, and, thanks to A Band Called Death, forgotten no longer.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews.

A Band Called Death plays the RTRFM Gimme Some Truth Festival December 1, 2013.

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