Then, beginning in 2008, something interesting happened. “Politicians in My Eyes,” a single the band self-released in 1974, started to make the rounds amongst influential tastemakers like Questlove, and Bobby's sons, Julian, Urian and Bobby Jr., launched a Death cover band called Rough Francis. A New York Times profile followed as well as a record deal with Drag City. In 2013 the brothers' story was beautifully told in the documentary “A Band Called Death,” which screens free at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at Reggie’s Music Joint.
In some ways, 2014 is shaping up to be an even bigger year for the trio (family friend Bobbie Duncan stepped in for the late David Hackney). The group just put the finishing touches on a new album, which is expected out on Drag City next year, and it recently hit the road for a tour that stops at Reggie's Rock Club on New Year's Eve.
Reached at home in Vermont, the musicians discussed the events that fueled Death's earliest songs, the difficulty of watching their lives unfold onscreen and David's eerie premonition of success.
You first picked up instruments after watching the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” but you said you didn't get serious about the band until the late '60s. What changed?
Bobby Hackney: 1968 was the real year we turned into music, and maybe it was just the healing we needed at the time. We had the Vietnam War and leaders getting assassinated, like Bobby Kennedy and President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. We saw music as an escape, and like everybody else we wanted to escape from all the turmoil that was going on in America
People have described your music as punk before punk existed. Did you realize at the time you were on to something different?
Dannis Hackney: We just thought we were playing good music. We didn’t think of it as punk music because those were the early days, and if you went around calling people punks you got a bloody nose, man. Punk hadn’t been coined yet.
Bobby Hackney: We always called it hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll.
Dannis Hackney: The one thing we all knew unequivocally was there was no other black band in Detroit playing that kind of music [laughs].