A Band Called Death – a great story of punk’s forgotten past


I’m a sucker for an underdog story. When I heard about the documentary A Band Called Death, I was intrigued enough to track down the movie. I found it available for 10$ on the iTunes Store (US only I think), but the movie is actually touring (and will be in Montreal in October) so it can be seen in theaters if you’re lucky.

The movie is about three black brothers in Detroit in the early seventies you formed a band (called Death, not to be confused with the death metal band of the same name). The unusual thing is that they were influenced by bands like The Who and Alice Cooper (as they call it “White boy  music”) while the black community in Detroit was ruled by the Motown Sound. Their hard edged music recalls the MC5 and Bad Brains, and foreshadows punk before punk existed (they recorded 7 tracks for an album in 1974, 2 years before the first Ramones album). They were offered a record deal by mogul Clive Davis, on condition that they change their name, because he feared no one would be interested in a band with such a name. They refused, and Davis dropped them. Their only release was a 45 of Politicians in My Eyes for which 500 copies were pressed.

The movie then goes on to detail how faith and happenstance got their music re-discovered in 2009, and the forgotten master tapes were found and used to finally release …For the Whole World to See, their only album.

The movie is a great story of brotherhood, dedication and serendipity, and of the human spirit. The twist and turns the album had to take to finally come out are amazing, and you’re left wondering if Death could have changed the face of punk (their music was certainly good enough. Keep on Knocking is classic 70’s guitar rock!) I highly recommend this movie, whether or not you like punk music.

The album on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/…for-the-whole-world-to-see/id303817016

Death on Wikipedia.

The official website.


Jean-Frederic Vachon
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  • Matt Syverson , July 20, 2013 @ 12:09 am

    I wouldn’t call that first track, “Keep on Knockin'” Ramones-style punk. To me, it’s a post-modern take on Jimi Hendrix, almost like the Knack or something, but from the hood. Words elude me… Thanks for posting this!

    • jfvachon , July 20, 2013 @ 8:01 am

      Hi Matt,

      You’re right, that track isn’t punk at all; it’s classic guitar rock. I feel that if the album had been released, it would have featured on endless K-Tel compilations! 😉

      Their music is all over the place, and to be honest I think the movie over sells the punk connection (I guess I did too) but there are flashes that foreshadow punk for sure. Just not fully formed.

  • […] A Band Called Death An heart warming documentary about 3 brothers who formed a band in the early 70′s and started writing songs. Their music owed a lot to the era’s Detroit rock sound, but also ventured where few had gone before and to a certain extent laid the foundations of punk rock. While on the verge of being signed by Clive Davis, they were asked to change their name but they refused, torpedoing their shot at stardom. Their music was forgotten (much like Rodriguez, another Detroit musician from the early 70′s that time forgot until a documentary, Searching for Sugarman, brought him back to the spotlight) until the Internet and dumb luck got it out again, 40 years later. Read my review here. […]

  • […] Check out the documentaries Searching for Sugarman (about Mexican American singer Rodriguez) and A Band Called Death about a proto punk band, well, called […]

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