WORDS: ROB KENT
Three brothers sat down one evening in their family home in Detroit, Michigan to witness four men from Liverpool, known as The Beatles, perform for the first time on the Ed Sullivan show. This viewing experience inspired the three brothers to make their own music and that’s exactly what they did. Practicing in their garage relentlessly and showing no signs of slowing down, the band was crafting songs with precision and using their family bond to unite ideas and make music that they wanted to hear.
While The Beatles, The Who and Alice Cooper were huge influences, the sound developed by the brothers was not reminiscent of the chords and melodies they heard that fateful evening on late-night TV. Punk Rock is what was being projected in that family garage and every detail about this band is punk. “Death” was the first black Punk band, forming in 1971 the band took themselves to the clubs in Detroit to promote their sound.
But nobody was ready for the Proto-sonic abrasive impact the brother’s music would make when let loose on stage in a live setting. They were playing the music they loved and fighting for their identity. Their lyrics captivated the punk movement and meant that getting called a “punk” did not mean a quest for a bloody nose ; their music provided a turning point where “punk” had been associated with change, taking a quince stance, and identifying with feelings of rage towards a political agenda on all levels.
They pushed what was expected of a band with black members in the seventies. The brothers defied limitations of what being black was
At the time it was hard to understand why three black brothers would want to make punk rock music. The band’s family, friends, and neighbors were alienated by their musical aspirations. This was not the norm. Typically it would have been the norm to approach making Funk, Blues, or pop-inspired soul in the community the brothers were growing up in. But they took their love for rock music,added the attitude and fury that comes with punk to create their own quest for acceptance and prove how skin color was not at all relevant with creating any form of music. The bravery of this band and the stance they took to support their music and vision was so strong and with an ethically motivated journey from the beginning to the end. The band showed it was possible not to be restricted- unifying many ethnicities and cultures at their shows, and projecting a powerful message to the audience at their shows in the seventies. They pushed what was expected of a band with black members in the seventies. The brothers defied limitations of what being black was.
By 1975 the band looked like they were on the verge of putting pen to paper and signing a record deal. The problem was, back then nobody wanted to sign a band called “Death”. What is more punk than telling somebody exactly what you thought of them in the name of artistic integrity? Not much. The brothers refused to sell out, kept their name, and self-released their own record. These brothers all had a creative spark that so many were threatening to extinguish. Everything about the band cost them radio play and a record deal. Disapproval plagued the group and having a united vision with personal involvement in the business side of the music industry was not achieved.
Death is proof of the creative genius from the black community ; it’s proof that like the people who made the music, it is resilient and refuses to back down.
This band was punk before the genre was even identified as such. Although their career came to an end they stuck to what they believed from the beginning to the end. The band ended in 1977 but justice was served when the demos from the seventies were released in 2009 on an actual record label to showcase the band’s fantastic music and bring their story to light.
Death’s career may sound like a tragedy of some sort. But between the lines, there is success. Black culture is so representative and played such an intrinsic role in expanding popular music of so many genres in the course of history. Death is proof of the creative genius from the black community; it’s proof that like the people who made the music, it is resilient and refuses to back down. The contribution the music gave to the world is indelible, valuable, amazing, and respectful.