Flash forward to this coming weekend at The Fun Fun Fest in Austin where DEATH will be playing live and MCB has a video interview lined up tomorrow.
Three decades later, Bobby’s oldest son Bobby Jr. of the band Rough Francis, found Death’s underground cortege on the west coast, and told Bobby Sr. about it. Songs like “Freakin Out” and “Keep on Knocking” reached cult status for rockers n rollers. Fans of of Bad Brains, The Stooges and the MC5 loved Death.
Before David passed away from lung cancer in 2000, he had a premonition that the band would become famous one day. He believed what they did was revolutionary. The night before he died he handed Bobby some master tapes from the archive, ‘Bob, you’ve got to keep all this stuff,” he said. “The world’s going to come looking for it one day, and when the world comes looking for it, I’ll know that you’ll have it.”
Bobby and Dannis made good on their oldest brother’s word, this time with guitarist Bobby Duncan. They picked up where they started, in Detroit. Today's a day to witness the rebirth of Death.
MCB: How was it to be back on the road and to play in Detroit after all these years?
Bobby Hackney: It was awesome, really amazing. We felt we could have stayed on stage forever.
MCB: How did that performance compare to shows you’ve played in the past?
BH: Detroit was first real showcase for Death except for garage shows in the 70’s, which were pretty wild. It was just a real good vibe.
MCB: How was it to tour with your sons?
BH: Definitely amazing.
MCB: Explain how your kids discovered Death's underground audience and brought it to your attention.
BH: They were out west in San Francisco. Bobby (Jr.) was the catalyst in bringing it to the forefront. It was sort of a ‘dad, why didn’t you tell me’ type of moment. We never really played too much of our music for them, maybe they heard it once or twice on a 45 but we never went through the whole ABC’s of Death.
MCB: What was it was like being a black punk rock band in Detroit in the 70’s?
BH: Well, we were in the middle of the black community in the early 70’s. The music at the time was Earth Wind & Fire, The Isley Brothers, of course Motown and various other things in the black community. The music my brothers and I played was the kind you only heard across the water in Windsor, Ann Arbor or the suburbs. The more we went in and out of the studio (United Sound in Detroit) to record, our sound became better and more refined. Though we were loud, we started to sound really good in the neighborhood and some people started playing rock records. We like to think we educated some people in the neighborhood.
MCB: Columbia records expressed interest in signing you in 1975 with the condition you change the name ‘Death’ and you and your brothers said no. You said that David told them ‘hell no.’ What were your intentions when you named it?
BH: Back in the 70’s everybody understood ‘death’ differently. David’s concept was that death is a door that no matter where you are or who you are, we all have this door that’s looming and have to deal with one day. He believed that the door wasn’t as bleak as people thought it was, that it led to a different, deeper place. He was a deeply spiritual person.
MCB: Strange that all three brothers were musically gifted.
BH: My mom and dad were very influential. My dad was a Baptist minister who loved the blues. He would play all the Chess records, Muddy, Etta, Chuck Berry. My mom loved music too and sung a little in the choir. She liked to line us up like a little singing group. As other brothers got older, older brother Earl started buying Motown early 60’s and bringing 45’s in the house. And my mom listened to CKLW, so we’d be at the breakfast table listening to Big Bad John, Jimmy Dean and James Brown. We were exposed to a melting pot of music. The late 60’s 70’s had so much rich music all around.
Me and my two brothers had a few lessons, but were mostly self-taught. We lived around some old blues guys and mentors. David used to go see one old blues guy.
MCB: What was David's role in the family and in the band?
BH: Well, David sort of ‘yanked’ the guitarist position from me. My mom bought me my first guitar for Christmas in 1959. It was a green and black B.B. King replica, a really nice guitar. Because of sibling rivalry or whatever, he actually took over my guitar and sold it to a pawnshop. After we fought about that, I bought a bass and then David started playing the guitar. I guess you could say I conceded the guitar part to him.
When he was young he would sit and play for hours and hours. There were a lot of times he would be playing when I left for school at 8 am and when I came back he would still be playing. No amp, just him.
Listening to the archives was really emotional. David would take a song and play it for like 30, 35 minutes. He was really devoted as a guitar player and as a songwriter. He said he always heard music in his head and it kind of tormented him. He was sort of a genius who had all these different things going on in his head with music. He was writing operas about spinning death from negative from positive.
David is the status of a prophet to us. He predicted that what is happening now would come to pass. He knew this music would be heard by the world. And he has reaffirmed my belief that there’s way, way more than what we experience here on earth.
MCB: Talk about your past bands, Rock Fire Funk Express and Lambsbread.
BH: Rock Fire Funk Express was our first band before Death and Lambsbread was the last band we had before Death returned. After Death, Dave got homesick and went back to Detroit, leaving me and Dannis with bass and drums, with a vocal. We happened upon reggae through local music scene in Vermont where drum and bass are deeply respected and appreciated; and we began to explore Reggae. Lambsbread became one of most known reggae bands throughout New England.
Rock Fire Funk Express was rock and funk, a cross between War and Sly & the Family Stone. It was me, Dannis, David and our cousin Anthony. Anthony was from Cleveland and could only come up for summers. That got a little old so we ended up being a three piece. We went to a lot of live shows, began exploring rock and roll and then became Death.
MCB: You’re clear in your message that music transcends race.
BH: When Death started in 1973, we weren’t like “we’re gonna’ create a black rock band.” To us rock and roll is a universal message. The system was the enemy, not race. Vietnam and things that kept us from being a part from one people. That’s what Monterey, Woodstock and Newport were all about, bringing people together and creating awareness of the universal. It’s what rock n roll was founded on.
**Look out for demo tapes and recordings from the archive, including some releases from the days of Rock Fire Funk Express.
“You’ll be hearing a little more