photo by Tammy Hackney
Interview with bassist/vocalist Bobby Hackney and drummer Dannis Hackney of the band Death by Damon Locks (original interview ran in Time Out Chicago)
Three talented siblings, young black men in Detroit, in 1974, have a band called Death that records an album that no one has heard until now.
…For The Whole World To See is the unearthing of a previously unheard lp by a band who, unbeknownst to them, were operating at the crossroads of rock & roll and the birth of American punk music. Their ideas were youthful and honest. On these recordings you can hear the pulling at the seams… the beginning of something new.
BH: The record is being issued for the first time. It’s kind of a remarkable story. Here we were, this all black band, signed up to the black rhythm and blues production label that had no idea how to promote rock and roll and no idea how to sell it or market it. So, we were all really just taking a heavy chance. At the time there weren’t very many white producers or white record companies in Detroit that would be willing to take a risk on three black guys from the inner city playing rock and roll. We wrote these songs in 73 and we recorded them in 74 and 75 at Groovesville Productions in Detroit.
BH: We were fortunate enough to have a dad and a mom that always had all types of music. My dad used to listen to the blues station. They used to play all of the B.B. King and the Etta James, Sam Cooke and all that kind of stuff. But my mom used to listen to CKLW. CKLW was a mainstream station. You would heard a song by Motown but then after that you would hear a song by Jimmy Dean or a song by The Beach Boys. Then in 64 my dad, god bless him, he made us all sit down and watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. He had told us that this was history in the making and he wanted us to be a part of that. We didn’t understand why we were watching at the time then The Beatles came on and our jaws just dropped. They next day David found an old guitar in the alley and we pretended we were playing Beatles songs.
BH: We formed a band in 71. When we started out it was all three of us and a cousin that would visit every summer Cleveland. We were doing kinda funky stuff. Because in 68 Sly and the Family Stone, that whole explosion had hit the scene. We used to go down to the Detroit Auto show and see Bob Segar. He wasn’t Bob Segar at the time, he was Bob Segar and The Last Heard (they made Travelling Man). My mother’s boyfriend (at the time) was a security guard and he got us into all the concerts for free at places like Cobo Arena, Ford Auditorium, Olympic Station, where all the rock acts would come. That’s when we saw Iggy and The Stooges, Alice Cooper, The Who. We knew about Iggy and The Stooges and Wayne Kramer and MC5 cause they were regulars though out the whole Michigan area. When The Who came out in 1973 with Quadrophenia, that made a big impact. My brother Dave was really heavy into Hendrix, everybody was. David took note of all these great chords, power chords, that Pete Townsend was doing. David’s thing was, if you could get a guitar player that can do leads like Hendrix and chords like Pete Townsend that (to him) would be the ultimate rock guitarist. The 3 bands that made the big impact on us were the MC5, The Stooges and Grand Funk Railroad (this was before they put the keyboard in and became Grand Funk). The great thing about Detroit was the variety. We used to watch this dude who used to come out of Canada called, Robert Seymour’s Swing Time. That was like a Detroit ritual, every Saturday afternoon you had to tune into Swing Time. On Swing Time he would have a line up like Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, then he would have like The Rascals or Grand Funk then The Four Tops.
DH: That’s when we saw Ted Nugent.
BH: Ted Nugent used to come on Swing Time and do some outlandish stuff. I remember a show he had on where he had Ted Nugent and the very next act was Joe Tex. It was a real variety show. So, people in Detroit were used to a whole lot of variety.
The Black Community:
BH: People thought that we were crazy. We were in the middle of the black community. James Brown, The Motown Sound – singing groups like The Spinners, The Philadelphia Sound – Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes, Marvin Gaye, this is what the black community was tuned into. Earth Wind and Fire was the closest thing that the black community had to rock and roll. So people would be like, “You guys should play Earth Wind and Fire.” We got that so much we almost had a distain for Earth Wind and Fire. So many people wanted us to be like Earth Wind and Fire instead of Led Zeppelin. We did have fans in the black community that would tune into us, to what we were doing, rock and roll but the ones that misunderstood us far outnumbered the ones that understood us.
DH: We saw ourselves as a viable black rock act.
BH: A major influence was when Jimi Hendrix did his thing with Live At The Fillmore East with Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. We did realize that it was a novelty for us to be playing for us to be playing rock and roll music.
DH: Sometimes in the black community its fun to be a novelty and sometimes it’s not.
BH: We put out a limited edition 45 of Politicians In My Eyes/Knock On Knocking. Politicians was written in 73 and the draft was still in place. To be honest with you we were all worried we were going to get drafted too. The very next year Nixon ended the war. We wrote Politicians In My Eyes, we were on fire, just like everybody else about that Vietnam thing. A lot of those lyrics are attributed to Nixon. There were other politicians I thought about but he was the focal point.
BH: Our favorite radio stations to listen to were WWW, WRIF, WABX in Detroit. There were the three top rock and roll stations. We had some deejay connections there. They would only play us very sporadically, late at night or on one ups. There used to be a time were a guy would walk up into the deejay booth, hand him the acetate. They deejay would play it and love it and by the end of the week he had a major hit. We kinda came in at the tail end of all that. The deejays would tell us, “We love this music but you gotta get it into rotation. Then we will play it all the time.” That was the whole problem. Later we come to find out all this great rock and roll we were listing to in 75 and 76 was being pre-taped in like Dallas Texas.
BH: We went through so much rejection. So much rejection until we didn’t think anybody wanted to hear our music anymore or the type of music we were playing. Then on top of that the disco era hit. I still think of 1976 and my stomach almost gets sick. After what happened to the music. Band that we looked up to started jumping on the disco bandwagon. The only two words I remember about 1976 were the words “disco sucks.” Cause that’s what we were chanting all the time. Those were my nightmare years! For all rockers those were bad years! There were flashes of light during the whole disco thing: Fleetwood Mac, Patti Smith. They kinda eased the pain. The disco ebb was too strong. We were like “People don’t even like rock and roll anymore. They like John Travolta.” I mean John Travolta wasn’t even a musician. That’s how much respect we had for disco. We would tell other musicians, “That’s just all about John Travolta. He is not even a musician, he’s an actor.”
We weren’t trying to predate anything we were just trying to do really good rock and roll. We left Detroit in 77 (then moved to Vermont & New England) Heard little rumbling about it. We were hearing stuff about Patti Smith and The New York Dolls. But we only really heard about that through magazines that we were tuned into like Cream and Circus.
We had just kinda left Groovesville productions. Don Davis (of Groovesville) almost had us a deal with Clive Davis of CBS but Clive Davis wanted us to change the name of the band. David was having no part of that. David was the lead of the band so we followed his lead. We were young and very cocky. We felt that this music was going to get out and we knew that it was going to be big. When that (deal) soured and we were on our own, we had those limited editions but couldn’t get our 45 into rotation. The only way you would get your record into rotation was to get a record deal. We didn’t quite understand what was going on, that the music industry was changing. The whole reason for not changing the name was because we had a whole concept. David had a whole concept. David was working on an opera, a rock opera about the whole concept of death. He was going to spin it from negative to positive. We asked him why do you wanna call the album Death…For The Whole World To See. He said, “Cause nobody gets outta here alive.”