In 1973, three young brothers in Detroit stopped playing R&B and started making punk rock in their bedroom before anyone really knew what punk was. They recorded several in-your-face singles that music mogul Clive Davis liked and wanted to release, if they would just do him the favor of changing their band name, which was Death. Guitarist David Hackney said hell no, man, and he and his brothers Bobby and Dannis walked away. The band dissolved in 1977, and the brothers moved to Vermont shortly thereafter.
Fast forward three decades, when the pioneering Death masters were rediscovered and issued by Drag City as …For the Whole World to See, one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2009. David passed away in 2000, so Bobby and Dannis, with new guitarist Bobbie Duncan, reincarnated the band and have played a handful of head-spinning shows over the past two-plus years. Now they’re beginning a new chapter, releasing their first new single since 1976, “Relief,” which you can hear first exclusively on RollingStone.com.
“The message of the song is rock & roll brings on relief,” says bassist and bandleader Bobby Hackney. “Relief from the mundane, relief from the ordinary and definitely rock & roll has always been associated with relief from work. You know, when you come to the end of the workweek, and let’s say it’s Friday morning, and you’re starting to feel that relief. I mean, who can’t relate to that?”
Death will release the song officially on February 27th, when they launch an overhaul of their website DeathFromDetroit.com and make the song available for download at CD Baby. They’ve also recently become active on Twitter (@Worldwide_Death), where they’ve been known to stress loyalty to their band name by retweeting any mention of “death,” regardless of context.
The band is also nearly finished with a full-length, hopefully out this year, which will be “a mixture of songs from the Death archive of the Seventies and new and current songs,” says Bobby. “We wanted to put [“Relief”] out first because we really wanted to give Death fans and those in the public who love us a taste of what we’re doing today, exactly who we are today, and what we sound like.”
Death hasn’t confirmed tour dates, but they are working on booking shows throughout 2012, including possible festival appearances and a stint in London. They’re also nearly finished with a documentary about the band’s rediscovery called A Band Called Death, made with filmmakers Jeff Howlett and Mark Christopher Covino.
“The Death thing really caught us,” says drummer Dannis, who says he and Bobby had to put an album with their longtime reggae band Lambsbread on hold when their old music was suddenly in the spotlight. (The two brothers turned to reggae when David moved back to Detroit in 1982 – “We were just a bass and drums when David left,” says Dannis, “and reggae is all about the bass and drums.”) But now they’re embracing the challenge of rebooting a defiant musical past.
“We have a lot of really good things going on,” says Bobby. “We’re kind of taking everything at a measured pace, but people seem to love the Death story, and I think the Death story is going to continue to unfold. We’re just telling everybody to stay tuned.”