- Drag City
"Ahead of punk, and ahead of their time." —Jack White to The New York Times in 2009
If a documentary about Akron duo the Black Keys seems premature—because it is—a documentary about Detroit trio Death (1971-1977) is long overdue.
Though most people wouldn't discover them until three decades after the fact, the band of (actual) brothers provides the missing link between the virtuosic rock & roll of Jimi Hendrix and the righteous hardcore of Bad Brains. In other words, they were proto-punk, just like their Motor City brethren in the MC5 and the Stooges.
If those white players incorporated jazz and blues into the mix, Death also combined genres in a way that confused listeners at the time, which seems weird in retrospect, since Detroit's Parliament-Funkadelic could also rock up a storm—and even sang about it here—but you could dance to their material.
Death, on the other hand, were capitol-letter ROCK. Not just in the proto-punk sense, but in the Ted Nugent/Alice Cooper sense, to name a couple of one-time Detroit rockers (a gig by the latter, in the wake of Love It to Death, served as a major source of inspiration). It's also worth noting that singer/bassist Bobby Hackney recalls Phil Lynott—a Thin Lizzy/Death tour would've torn shit up good.
Now, almost 40 years after they recorded their first singles, Bobby and Dannis Hackney return in A Band Called Death. In 2009, Drag City issued the singles as ...For the Whole World to See. Buy it! It's essential...especially if Chains and Black Exhaust ranks among your favorite compilations. Since then, they've started gigging again, including a stop at 2011's SXSW. Sadly, founder David Hackney missed all the delayed recognition: he succumbed to cancer in 2000.
Alas, not everyone shares my affection for the group (the trailer came to my attention via Mick Collins' Twitter stream). In this Line Out thread, a commenter claims that they were "fashionably co-opted, overrated bullshit. Nobody really listens to these guys; they just love to make sure you know that they know." Derek Erdman agreed; Travis Ritter did not. I haven't picked up the second Death collection, but the first made my 2009 top 10—and it sounds just as good today.
The world premiere of Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino's documentary, A Band Called Death, takes place at this year's LA Film Fest, which runs from June 14 - 24.