Death is a Detroit rock band formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1971 by brothers Bobby (bass, vocals), David (guitar), and Dannis (drums) Hackney. The trio started out as a funk band but switched to rock after seeing a concert by The Who. Seeing Alice Cooper play was also an inspiration. Music critic Peter Margasak retrospectively wrote that David "pushed the group in a hard-rock direction that presaged punk, and while this certainly didn’t help them find a following in the mid-70s, today it makes them look like visionaries." They are seen in many groups as one of the first punk bands in the world. The band broke up by 1977 but reformed in 2009 when the Drag City label released their 70s demos for the first time.
In 1964, the three young Hackney brothers (David, Bobby and Dannis) were sat down by their father to witness The Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The following day, David found a discarded guitar in an alley and set about learning to play. Brothers Bobby and Dannis soon followed suit and they began playing music together.
The brothers practiced and recorded early demos in a room in the family home and performed their earliest gigs from their garage. Originally calling themselves Rock Fire Funk Express, guitarist David convinced his brothers to change the name of the band to Death. After their dad died in an accident, he tried to change the meaning of the word: "His concept was spinning death from the negative to the positive. It was a hard sell," Bobby Hackney recalled in 2010.
In 1975 at Detroit’s United Sound Studios with engineer Jim Vitti, they recorded seven songs written by David and Bobby. According to the Hackney family, Columbia Records president Clive Davis funded the recording sessions, but implored the band to change its name to something more commercially palatable than Death. When the Hackneys refused, Davis ceased his support. The band only recorded seven songs instead of the planned dozen. The following year they self-released (on their label Tryangle) a single taken from the sessions: "Politicians in My Eyes" b/w "Keep on Knocking," in a run of just 500 copies.
The Hackney brothers ended the band in 1977. The brothers then moved to Burlington, Vermont and released two albums of gospel rock as The 4th Movement in the early 1980s. David moved back to Detroit in 1982, and died of lung cancer in 2000. Bobby and Dannis still reside in Vermont and lead the reggae band Lambsbread.
In 2008 the sons of Bobby Hackney (Julian, Urian, and Bobby Jr.) started a band called Rough Francis, covering the songs of Death after discovering the old recordings online. In 2009, Drag City Records released all seven Death songs from their 1975 United Sound sessions on CD and LP under the title ...For the Whole World to See. In September 2009, a reformed Death played three shows with original members Bobby and Dannis Hackney, with Lambsbread guitarist Bobbie Duncan taking the place of the late David Hackney. In 2010, their song "Freakin' Out" was used in an episode of the television program How I Met Your Mother entitled "False Positive" (Season 6, Episode 12). In 2015, the same song was used in an episode of the television program Ash Vs. Evil Dead entitled "The Killer of Killers" (Season 1, Episode 6). During a 2010 performance at the Boomslang Festival in Lexington, Kentucky the band announced that Drag City would release a new album with demos and rough cuts that predate the 1975 sessions. The album Spiritual • Mental • Physical was released in January 2011. In 2011, their song "You're A Prisoner" was used in the film Kill the Irishman. An independent documentary film about the band titled A Band Called Death, directed by Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino, was released in 2012.
A version of "Where Do We Go From Here" with the vocals edited out is often used as bumper music during Wayne Resnick's Sunday night show on KFI AM 640. In 2015, the band's song Keep On Knocking was featured as part of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 soundtrack.
In 2014, the band's song Politicians In My Eyes was featured in the surf documentary Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La.