Rock music is littered in what if’s and maybe’s, its map constantly redrawn and it artists / musicians work often re-appraised and brought in from the cold, in recent times perhaps the story of Rodriguez is the most well known. But Detroit was blessed with three other lost sons who emerging from a similar time frame would have been pretty much consigned to history where it not for their offspring and some strange quirks of fate.
Now picture the scene – someone mentions a bands name – they are – for arguments sake – Death. By name alone and without hearing anything by them – describe the images forming in your mind. Morbid, Metal, Stoner might be three that first call to mind. Now hold that thought and imagine you are in that golden year of 1974 and some band strides in clutching a handful of demos insisting they call themselves Death. Again your initial first impressions – morbid, metal, stoner race to your headspace. Your first reaction may well be ’Are you having a laugh?’ followed by concerns of how exactly your going to market them. Though you try to reason with the trio their main man just isn’t having it. Its Death and that’s that. A bright career ended in an instant.
However rather than being a what if and a maybe tale, this is in fact a true account. Enter the Hackney brothers – David, Bobby and Dannis. Three young lads in the early 60’s turned on by the Beatles they form a band playing r’n’b though soon start getting heavier having witnessed a Who show. At this point David convinces his brothers to change the band name to Death – his spin for this is to turn the negative into a positive, funded by Columbia records the band enter the studios in ’74 and cut 7 tracks of curve cruising funk boiled blues, things are looking good, Columbia know they can shift these tracks however the Death tag is an issue. No label, no funding the trio struggle on self funding a 7 inch single along the way in ’76 – it bombs. By this time soured by the experience they call it a day release two spiritual albums under a different name only to re-emerge for a brief get together as Death and then go their separate ways with David dying of lung cancer in 2000.
From this point matters start to take a strange turn with Bobby’s sons forming a band whose repertoire is threaded with Death covers – apparently they turned these up through rifling through their parents record collection. A posting of the bands self released single garners enough interest for Drag City to get involved and establish contact and subsequently releasing what would have been the bands debut album (essentially the demos recorded in ’74) and fly it under the proto punk flag – a tag so defeatist and constricting that it somewhat devalues what the band are about – followed by another set of demos and archive takes ’Spiritual, Mental, Physical’ in 2011 – alas both we’ve yet to hear in great detail. So that’s pretty much everything up to date, only it isn’t for now emerging into the light is ’III’ – another collection of out takes, demos and studio recordings that pretty much ransacks bare the 70’s vaults as well as including tracks dating back to 1980 and 1992 (here credited with two recordings from that brief reformation).
As to the tracks themselves, lets put it this way – had these been dropped on us by a new fledging band I sorely suspect we’d be blanket bombing them with fond missives and no doubt considering a career in stalking. There is literally so much going on here, musically it’s a freewheeling and fluid melting pot drawn upon elements of garage blues (the edgy and shit faced ‘Restlessness‘ with its hollowing strut clipped hot funk wiriness), funk, gospel (as on the delicately dimpled harmony haloed lazy eyed hymnal ’We are only People’ and the idly mellowed ‘Yes He’s Coming’ whose smoky easy listening purr might just loosen than phoney proto punk tagging given it sits more on the side of the Commodores and a latter career Funkadelic than it does the MC5 and psychedelia all underpinned by recurring themes of spiritualism.
As collections go rather than merely try to bleed out every last vestige of interest through the gathering together of cheapened scraps from the bottom of the barrel ‘III’ instead reveals itself to competent, clever and above all visionary.
Recorded in 1980 – opening cut ‘Introduction by David Hackney’ turns on imagining Chuck Berry rephrased through the fractured kaleidoscopic lens of a solo Syd Barrett before falling away with the onset of the killer ‘North Street’ – a staccato shocked bollock dropping sassy bastard of a cut gouged in the kind of cool funked out street swagger of Hendrix and smoked in a bliss kissed smoking soul blues haze while there’s an almost wasted lysergic out there-ness spiked amid the Pretty Things-ish boogie running through the grooves of the hiccupping stop start ‘Open Road’. Both ‘First snowball in Detroit’ and ‘We’re Gonna Make It’ wrap up the set in fine style, both pulled from the final Death sessions in 1992 – they reveal a collective mindset matured and blessed with an intricately murmured intimacy the former a reflective sultry seafaring flotilla the latter a deliciously airy prairie tinged slice of breezily uplifting kitschy homely folk blues. A fitting tribute to a lost genius and a group of brothers reclaimed by rock.