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...For The Whole World To See 
Artist: Death 
Label: Drag City
 
What would three African-American brothers who formed a punk band in mid-'70s Detroit have to do with the history of Christian rock arcana? Plenty, surprisingly.

Bobby, Dannis and David Hackney came together as Death (no relation to the Florida extreme metal band sharing the name) in something of a contextual vacuum. The rudiments of what would become '70s punk rock were laid down by Detroiters including Iggy Pop and The MC5. And though George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic aggregation, transplanted to Detroit as well, incorporated more than a dollop of fiercely hard guitar, black guys playing rock'n'roll without R & B aspirations weren't exactly thriving throughout the nation.

The Hackneys released one blistering single in 1975, songs rife with the kind of punchy riffing and stop/start dynamics that prefigured what would come from the New York City and London club scenes a year or two later. Columbia Records executive Clive Davis, on the cusp of forming Arista Records, apparently courted the Hackeys after having heard them. Davis thought the band's name uncommercial, but Danny insisted on keeping it. So went a potentially explosive chapter in major label rock'n'roll history.     

But not before five more songs were recorded. From the name of their publishing company (Elect Music) to the concerns of songs such as "Let The World Turn" and "Where Do We Go From here," the Lord seems to be in the details of what first seem to be solely political numbers. A couple instances of extended guitar noodling indicate the influence of more jam-oriented contemporaries (or prefigures punk bands given to longer solos, like Radio Birdman and The Stranglers), but in the main, Death was breaking away from the rock of their time while subtly infiltrating it with the Rock of Ages. 

Death imploded not long thereafter. The trio, however, would move to Vermont and regroup as The 4th Movement to record two albums of more explicitly Christian psychedelicized blues rock (lovely, trippy stuff; at least the first one). The onset of the '80s saw that innovative music come to an end as well. 

David, the youngest of the three who demanded Death remain Death, died of lung cancer in 2002. Dannis and Bobby, still in Vermont, currently lead Rastafarian-leaning reggae band Lambsbread. Their sons have taken up where Death left off with a group called Rough Francis. 

Dannis has told me that the renewed buzz surrounding death (and the possibility of Drag City reissuing 4th Movement material) could result in a tour where all three bands' work is featured.    

And wouldn't that be a fairly holy blast?

Jamie Lee Rake 

 
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