Saturday, July 7, 2012
Because of a chance meeting with a director, I ended up catching a highly entertaining documentary titled "A Band Called Death".
The filmmakers chronicle the phenomenal tale about three band members (brothers) who caused quite a musical stir on the concert circuit over thirty years ago with a punk rock sound that they conjured up two years prior to the one “The Ramones” became famous for later.
The Band known as “Death” was quite an oddity at the time; after all, the musicians were all Afro-American males playing punk!
“We were ridiculed because at the time everybody in our community was listening to the Philadelphia sound, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Isley Brothers,” Bobby Hackney recalled for the record.
“People thought we were doing some weird stuff. We were pretty aggressive about playing rock ’n’ roll because there were so many voices around us trying to get us to abandon it.”
But, the big stumbling block for the punk rock group was their name.
“Who wants to go to a concert to groove to a band that calls themselves Death,” cried bookers and concert promoters alike.
Even Clive Davis – the man with the midas touch (and a legend in his own time) – was baffled by the group’s reluctance to change it when asked.
“He offered us a $20,000.00 contract. That was a lot of money at the time. And, we needed it,” one of the brothers wailed to an interviewer documenting the events.
Even so, they turned the visionary record producer down flat.
One of the Hackney brothers – the creative force behind the band – had a premonition that “Death” would ultimately be a success one fine day. But, only if they remained true to themselves.
Unfortunately, Death wouldn’t “make it” ‘til after his own demise, he forewarned.
When their brother died of cancer years later, the Hackney boys packed away the music in the attic (where it sat for umpteen years unheard by music-lovers) and continued to struggle to make ends meet.
But, sure enough – true to form – the band and the music became resurrected decades later in a round-about fatalistic way. The band’s music – once lost – was uncovered by ecstatic music enthusiasts who began to rave far-and-wide about Death's remarkable hard-driving punk sound.
In fact, it wasn't until a record collector stumbled across one of their singles (Politicians in my Eyes) that the Band called "Death" truly came into their own.
Suddenly, there was a buzz around the circuit as music connoisseurs - not only took a widespread interest in the novel band - but were also inclined to snatch up singles at auction on the Internet for a whopping $800.00 a pop.
“I sure wish I had a stack of those records today,” one of the surviving Hackney boys chuckled to the director in one of their one-on-one interviews.
Meanwhile, young kids were getting caught up in the phenomenon, too.
At after-hours clubs, would-be punks starting turning out in droves at raves in a sort-of tribal ritual, to exalt the olden-golden-goodies.
Originally, the directors (Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino) planned to tell the "Dead's" story in a straightforward traditional way with a narrator stringing together all the events in chronological order.
“Once the interviews with the Band Members began, we realized we had so much more to gain by having the Hackneys tell their own stories their own way on camera,” Howlett explained as we chatted each other up in the filmmakers lounge at the LA Film Festival recently.
In addition to being captivated by the charismatic band members, I was particularly wowed by the rich production values on screen, as well.
And, the music was truly awesome!
Filmgoers will be delighted, too, when surprise guests from the film and music industries are spotlighted during the course of the film singing "Death's" praises.
Although the flick is a bit long - and at times self indulgent - the documentary is vastly entertaining.
Catch it if you can!