Bobby Hackney: Motor City Madness, Reanimated - BassPlayer.com

Bobby Hackney: Motor City Madness, Reanimated

Less than two minutes into the eye-openinG 2012 rockumentary A Band Called Death, guitarist Vernon Reid pretty much sums up what everyone else has been thinking about the Detroit-based power trio whose long-lost debut, ...For the Whole World to See, turned history on its head when it was rediscovered and released in 2009, nearly 35 years after the fact.
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Less than two minutes into the eye-openinG 2012 rockumentary A Band Called Death, guitarist Vernon Reid pretty much sums up what everyone else has been thinking about the Detroit-based power trio whose long-lost debut, ...For the Whole World to See, turned history on its head when it was rediscovered and released in 2009, nearly 35 years after the fact. In Reid’s unvarnished estimation, “They’re the unknown soldiers of rock!”

That’s a badge that Bobby Hackney, bassist and lead singer, wears with pride. “It’s amazing,” he marvels. “Back in 1974, we were three black brothers on the east side of Detroit, trying to play rock & roll, and no one understood what we were doing. People looked at us funny, record companies rejected us—I mean, for me and my brother Dannis, all the recognition we’re getting now is very emotional. It’s also surreal, because we never thought anybody would ever hear this music, let alone appreciate it and love it, you know?”

The long strange trip started in the late ’60s, when Bobby got his first Teisco guitar from a Sears catalog; his brother David quickly commandeered and then pawned it. “When I finally got the money together, I went into the pawn shop, and this beautiful red bass caught my eye,” Hackney recalls with a laugh. “It was a Gibson knockoff, but I was just drawn to that thing. So instead of putting a down payment on my guitar, I put it on the bass.”

With David on guitar and Dannis on drums, Bobby drew inspiration from other bass-playing singers—Paul McCartney and Jermaine Jackson in particular. Being a Detroit native, he was also keenly aware of Motown and the city’s vibrant rock scene, and took cues from James Jamerson, Grand Funk Railroad’s Mel Schacher, the MC5’s Michael Davis, and rock heavyweights like John Paul Jones, John Entwistle, and Roger Glover, all of whom regularly came through town on tour.

Thanks to Glover, Hackney set his sights on the Rickenbacker 4001, which became his go-to bass, along with a ’72 Fender Precision, when the newly minted Death trio first started recording in 1974. Death III [Drag City] is the latest disc to document the band’s unusual and visionary creative arc; turning on a dime from dirt-fueled garage protopunk (“North Street”) to liquid psychedelia (“We Are Only People”), the brothers play together with one mind. Bobby can dig buzzsaw-deep or lay back, relaxed and melodic, with his close-to-the-bridge two-fingered stroke. “If you look on the back of our Spiritual Mental Physical album, you can see my Acoustic amp. Sometimes I used an Ampeg SVT, but I liked the Acoustic because it really threw the sound. It was smooth and not so thud-heavy, with harmonics that came out better than the Ampeg. Plus, it went really well with the Rickenbacker.”

Relegated to the fringes without a record deal, Death persevered until 1981, when the band changed its name to the 4th Movement and took up a gospel-rock sound. When David Hackney died in 2000, the two remaining brothers were convinced the band’s legacy had died with him. “Then Drag City and the whole world came knocking,” Bobby says. “We’ve got all these tapes and everything, so we get a chance now to complete David’s dream.” Now reconstituted—perhaps reanimated is more apt—with guitarist Bobbie Duncan, Death was recently back on the road for a West Coast swing, with more dates planned throughout 2014. Now recognized as the unofficial godfathers of punk rock (before the Ramones, and years before the term “punk” came into vogue), Hackney and the band are soaking up the attention with renewed fervor. “Everything that you see us doing today, it’s just as if we picked up where we left off in 1975. David and I wrote a wealth of songs that never even made it to the studio. I mean, we wrote songs with a fever. We worked on it day in and day out, and David was almost 24/7, you know? It blows our minds sometimes, how much we did and have left to do, and that’s why we’re so committed to finishing this chapter.”

INFO

EQUIP

Basses Late-model Rickenbacker 4001, Fender American Deluxe Precision; in 1975, ’74 Rickenbacker 4001, ’72 Fender Precision
Amps 2 Acoustic B600H heads & 2 B810 8x10 cabinets; in 1975, Acoustic 370 head & 301 cabinet
Strings GHS Bass Boomers

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CD Review: Death "N.E.W."

Another early-’70s adopter of the Rickenbacker 4001, Death’s frontman and bassist Bobby Hackney soaked up the sound of rock’s heavyweights (Entwistle and Glover especially) and channeled it into his band’s signature Detroit punkpsych onslaught.