Monday 5 April 2010

The Glove Fits #6 - Death

Sometimes you hear stories from the history music that just seem unreal. Lost chances and opportunities that seem so wrong, so improbable and such travesties of music justice that they beggar belief. One such story is that of the Detroit punk band Death.

Now I’m sure you’re familiar with the story of Death by now and they’re oh so long awaited mini album ...For the Whole World to See that was dropped by Drag City early last year. For me it was one of the albums of 2010 or was it one of the albums of 1975? I'm just not sure. When i first heard ...For the Whole World to See it felt like a long lost part of my punk and rock up bring had been found. Jack White, in a comment to New York Times summed it up best: “The first time the stereo played Politicians in My Eyes,’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When I was told the history of the band and what year they recorded this music, it just didn’t make sense. Ahead of punk, and ahead of their time.” But to truly understand how good this album is or was, then a bit of history is required.

Death - Freaking out

Death was formed in 1971 by three brothers, Bobby (bass, vocals), David (guitar), and Dannis (drums) Hackney. The young brothers were sat down by their father to witness The Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and, in a twist that comes straight out of the pages of rock legend, the following day, eldest brother David found a discarded guitar in an alley, the first ever punk rock band was formed or well should have been.

The band first played in African-American neighborhoods, but their music was out of step with ever increasingly rock sound. Music critic Peter Margasak retrospectively wrote of their musical direction, "The youngest of the brothers, guitarist 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." 

But despite the setbacks a record label called Groovesville picked them up and signed the brother whilst Bobby, the youngest, was still only 17 and in High School. They began recording an album at Untied Sound Recording Studios in Detroit funded, according to the Hackney brothers, by record producer Clive Davis. Unfortunately when Davis told the band that they had to change their name to something more commercial the brothers refused and in 1976 the album’s production came to a grinding halt with only the seven songs having been recorded.

The trio managed to self-release their only 7” Politicians In My Eyes with Keep On Knocking as the b-side, from their album recordings but the single received little radio play, disco ruled the airwaves then and the brothers grew discouraged with Death. They moved Vermont and over the years they released two gospel rock albums as The Fourth Movement until David grew homesick and returned to Detroit in 1992. He passed away from lung cancer in 2000. The two remaining Hackney brothers remained in Vermont and formed the reggae band Lambsbread.

But the story of how ...For the Whole World to See came in to being is just as amazing as the band’s earlier history. In 2008 Bobby’s son Juilan was at an underground punk party in San Francisco when Julian recognized his father’s voice from the Politicians In My Eyes single played at the party, (how cool was that DJ!) Juilan and one of his others brothers asked his father about Death and when he convinced Bobby to pull the master tapes out of the attic they were surprised how great the music sounded almost 30 years later. The Hackneys gave the master tapes to Drag City and the rest is history.

In 2009 Julian and his brothers formed Rough Francis, a tribute act to Death and their family, playing Death’s songs and their own tunes inspired by their parents music, a truly fitting tribute to their father’s legacy. Last year the Bobby and Dannis played Death shows with guitarist from Lambsbread, a picture of David on the stage for every performance. They also played Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest. I would given anything to be at those shows. Surely ATP could work some magic to bring them to UK shores?

When I was just a kid I was bought up on a heady mix of punk and rock, The Damned, The Clash, Jimmy Hendrick, Led Zeppelin, these were the bands that nourish my younger years and when I first Death I knew that this band should of been in that number. So of the period but utterly fresh, god knows how different my and may be your musical landscape could have been if Clive Davis had seen past the dollar signs. Of course will never know, but thank god we can enjoy Death now. 

Death - Politicians In My Eyes

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