A Band Called Death

The Other Side of the Camera * Conversations with Directors

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    icon Sep 12, 2013
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Discover Punk Rock before it became cool. Discover a band called “Death,” three Detroit brothers who, in their bedroom in the early 1970s, would begin a movement before its time, only to be prematurely discarded in the age of Disco. This absorbing documentary follows the life, death, and re-emergence of the first “black” Punk band, perhaps the first Punk band period. Featuring commentary from Alice Cooper and Henry Rollins.
Here's what co-producer and co-director Mark Christopher Covino had to say about this little known slice of revolutionary American music. 
Review: How did you go about pulling this film together and what was it about this group that you feel truly distinguishes them from the pantheon of groups that we associate with Punk Rock?
Covino: My co-director Jeff had known Bobby Hackney Sr and Dannis Hackney for 20 years, but as their Reggae band Lambsbread. Then one day Bobby Hackney Jr asked Jeff to come check out him and his brothers tribute band to their fathers band. Thinking that he was going to hear Reggae music, Jeff was completely blown away when he heard DEATH for the first time. He immediately knew he had to document this story, so he recruited me, a seasoned documentary filmmaker.  Getting the dudes and their family to open up to the cameras was easy, but talking about David Hackney's dark years as an alcoholic took some time to get to. But yeah, the main crew was basically just Jeff and I, and when we needed help I would recruit my local film production friends for free. I owe a lot to them. Eventually we ended up getting producers and an editor, but not once did we ever meet with them. They all lived in Cali, Jeff and I in Vermont. We had to communicate through emails and phone conversations to edit the movie. Weirdest experience I ever had making a film.     
Now I'm no music expert. Jeff's the music guy and I'm the film guy. That said, for me what sets DEATH apart from other groups associated with Punk Rock is that they were players, they practiced their instruments long and hard, and you can tell through their music. As Wayne Kramersaid in his interview they were "formidable musicians, much unlike the rest of the Punk Rock movement which was less about playing and more about spirit and partying". 
Review: Punk Rock is usually associated with the British & New York & West Coast scenes circa 1976, so what do you feel are the key factors & reasons that 'Death' failed to break into the world consciousness in a similar fashion - is it because they were based out of Detroit and were lone voices in the forest?  Was it a matter of timing and being ahead of their time?  The Stooges and MC5 surfaced in the early 70s as well, so in researching and pulling the film together, what are your thoughts and impressions on these topics?
Covino: This is always an interesting topic. I think the main reason that Death failed is because no one ever heard of them. They only ever played back yard shows, which never really went over well in the part of town they lived in. No one wanted their 7" back then, most record stores probably threw em away and radio stations played it at odd hours. I keep going back to him, but as Wayne Kramer said in his interview, "If they just played the Grande Ballroom they would have been embraced". I think it was simply a matter of being in the wrong part of town at the right time. 
It's important to note that our intension was never to say Death we're the first Punk band, even though our marketing can seem misleading to some. The band doesn't even consider themselves Punk. To them it was just Hard Driving Rock N Roll music, inspired by their favorite bands,The Stooges, The MC5, The Who, The Beatles, Alice Cooper, etc. If you ask Bobby Hackney Sr about being called Punk he'd say- "If you call someone a Punk in 1974 Detroit, you'd get a bloody nose". If they have to be labeled, I guess you could say they were Proto Punk, but I like to think of them as something in between Proto Punk and Punk. What about a mixture of Rock and Punk, RUNK!... Yeah, I'll go with that...     

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