“Are y’all ready for Death?” Such went the call from the opening band, referring to the headliners. That it would come out as such a sobering question of mortality may have been one of the reasons the band named Death never became the stars they might have 40 years ago.
The sound of Death (not to be confused with the ‘80s Orlando metal band with the same uncommercial name) predated the Black Rock Coalition by a decade, but the trio of Detroit brothers conjured up a hard rock sound of bluntness and soul. From the town of MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges, here was a straight ahead band playing the kind of rock Hendrix was hinting at in the Band of Gypsies five years earlier—a Detroit sound quite different from that came from Motown which had only recently fled to Los Angeles. Still, the brothers Hackney—particularly its guitarist David—refused to compromise on the name. Record companies had contracts ready for them if only they’d change it. But they were adamant on keeping the name.
So aside from a couple of local singles that now fetch hundreds of dollars, the band went unknown until Drag City looked them up, acquired the master tapes, and issued an album in 2008 that held up quite well to a new generation. There followed one of those movies about another long-lost act making a comeback, in the tradition of Searching for Sugar Man (about another Detroit active about the same time, Sixto Rodriguez, who was unaware of his legions of fans in South Africa) or the one about the obscure metal band Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
A Band Called Death came out in 2013 and its director is still connected to the band; he introduced the show Saturday at the Black Cat in Washington, DC, an event significant enough to give the film a new, upbeat ending.