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Life after Death: Remembering the grand elders of punk

Julian Hackney didn’t realize he was shaping the history of punk rock when he Google searched his father’s band after hearing them at a friend’s party.
Hackney ended up unveiling a hidden legacy left by his father, Bobby Sr, and his band mates, who played punk rock before the word was even invented and The Ramones were still in high school.

In 1974, Bobby Sr, his brothers Dannis and David and Bobbie Duncan were blowing up and deeply confusing house parties in Detroit as the band Death. Their confrontational sound starkly contrasted the popular music of the day. It was the heyday of Earth, Wind, & Fire and ABBA, but Death’s aggressive tempos, scream-a-long choruses and spontaneous songwriting at once excited and unsettled listeners.

After recording a few singles, Death attracted the attention of Columbia Records’ seminal record producer Clive Davis who gave them a 12 song record deal. Though he was impressed by what he heard, he insisted that their name wasn’t commercially palatable and had to be changed.

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In what is arguably the most punk-rock move of all time, David Hackney refused to change their name and insisted that death could be a positive concept. Davis passed and there were only seven songs completed for the record.

Death faded into obscurity and the Hackney brothers moved to Vermont and started a gospel group named The 4th Movement. David died of lung cancer in 2000 and never saw his grand vision of the band come to fruition. The remaining members of Death never spoke of their brief history until they discovered the only singles they released, “Politicians in My Eyes” with “Keep on Knocking, were selling for $400 on eBay.

After discovering their music through Internet buzz record collector Robert Cole Manis found the band and put them in contact with Drag City Records. In 2009, 34 years after Clive Davis deemed them unmarketable, Drag City released their seven-song collection as “…For The Whole World To See” to a warm reception.

Musicians like Jack White and critics hailed the un-earthed masterpiece as the brother of Iggy Pop’s splitting intensity and the father of The Ramones’ lightning- paced four chord thrashing.

Death now tours regularly and was the subject of the acclaimed 2012 documentary, “A Band Called Death.”

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Sure, it was punk rock for Iggy Pop to stage dive for the first time, it was punk rock for Henry Rollins to incite fistfights with the crowd, it was punk rock for G.G. Allin to vomit all over eager fans. However, no punk icon followed their vision so fervidly that it drove them into obscurity for over 30 years like Death did.

After decades of trusting in their vision in spite of very real doubts, Death was given their proper revival. The grand elders of punk are finally unleashed on the earth, ready to revive one of the first, and last, authentic spirits left in punk rock.

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