“Before Bad Brains, The Sex Pistols or even The Ramones, there was a band called Death.” That is the tagline for Jeff Howlett’s documentary about three teenage brothers who formed a punk band in the early 1970’s before punk really rooted itself in American culture. The documentary premiered at Carrollton’s Cultural Arts Center Friday, Sept. 12.
A Band Called Death, directed by Howlett, tells the journey of Dannis, Bobby and David Hackney as they are establishing their band, Death, in the early 70’s of Detroit. During a time when Motown was mainstream, and the community was not ready for punk rock. With heavy influence from bands such as The Who and Alice Cooper, Death unsuccessfully attempted to get their name out in the music world. Through interviews with professionals, family and old footage, the film also focused on the brotherly bond of the group, their family and how their faith played a part in this bittersweet journey.
Howlett was introduced to Dannis and Bobby Hackney Sr. 20 years ago at a music festival. Howlett was attending the festival with his band, and the Hackney’s attended with their band, Lambsbread.
In 2008, Howlett was approached by Bobby Hackney Jr. to come check out their band. They were performing Death’s music.
“They were playing this music I had never heard before, and I was just completely blown away by what I was hearing.” Howlett said. “That was my first experience with Death.”
After hearing Death, Howlett knew there was something special about them. What started out as an idea for a music video slowly blossomed into a documentary.
“We had a general idea, but once we started digging around we started finding a lot more information about the guys,” he said.
At the time, Howlett was finishing up film school but was ready to make the time for this new project. Howlett grew up listening to punk rock and that was one more reason to tell this story about Death.
Creating a relationship with the Hackney family was not challenge while filming the documentary.
“Human connection is the most important key element,” he said.
When he started the process of interviews he slowly discovered that not only would this documentary be about music, but also family and their spiritual connection with music. During the whole process, being with the family was Howlett’s favorite part.
“Just seeing what’s happening with the family has been amazing,” he said. “It’s just amazing to see the love of the Hackney family.”
When asked about how the audience can relate to the film, he said, “You don’t have to be a fan of music. It’s also about family and individuality.”