In 1964, the three young Hackney brothers (David, Bobby and Dannis) were sat down by their father to witness The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The following day, David found a discarded guitar in an alley and set about learning to play. Brothers Bobby and Dannis soon followed suit and they began playing music together.
The brothers, who had spent previous summers banging out soul and funk jams, began to gravitate toward the deafening assault of bands like Black Sabbath, MC5, Alice Cooper, and the Stooges, resulting in a volatile live set and demo that found favor with Detroit's burgeoning underground rock scene.
The brothers practiced and recorded early demos in a room in the family home and performed their earliest gigs from their garage. Originally calling themselves Rock Fire Funk Express, guitarist David convinced his brothers to change the name of the band to Death. “His concept was spinning death from the negative to the positive. It was a hard sell,” Bobby Hackney recalled in 2010.
Producer Don Davis (Funkadelic) was called in to helm the band's debut studio sessions, which unearthed a raw, nervy collection of classic rock-tinged, politically charged punk singles. The songs eventually caught the ear of Columbia Records guru Clive Davis, who wanted to change the band's name to something more forgiving than Death.
David refused to budge, causing a rift in the group that led to all three siblings retreating to New England to stay with their half-brother (along with Davis ceasing his support). The band only recorded seven songs instead of the planned dozen. The following year they self-released (on their label Tryangle) a single taken from the sessions: “Politicians in My Eyes” b/w “Keep on Knocking,” in a run of just 500 copies. What was initially devised as a brief getaway turned into decades, and the brothers went their separate ways.
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.
In 2008 the sons of Bobby Hackney (Julian, Urian, and Bobby Jr.) started a band called Rough Francis, covering the songs of Death after discovering the old recordings online. In 2009, Drag City released …For the Whole World to See, which collected all seven of the band's singles.
Death reunited for a series of shows in 2010 and also played the South by Southwest Music Festival that year. In early 2011, Drag City, with help from Death's members, released a collection of demos and outtakes from the For the Whole World to See sessions entitled Spiritual Metal Physical. Another set of archival recordings entitled Death III was issued in 2014.
The recordings were compiled from tapes recorded between 1975 and 1990 and featured some of the final sessions recorded by David Hackney, who died in 2000 from lung cancer.
Death surprised everyone in 2015 with N.E.W. Death, an album of brand new material featuring replacement guitarist Bobbie Duncan.
- In 2011, their song “You're A Prisoner” was used in the film Kill the Irishman.
- An independent documentary film about the band titled A Band Called Death, directed by Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino, was released in 2012.
- In 2014, the band's song “Politicians In My Eyes”, was featured in the surf documentary Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La and as the theme song for season two of Gimlet Media's podcast Crimetown.
- The song “Politicians In My Eyes” was also featured in the movie Native Son. The rare record single was also a plot point during the film.