aBobby Hackney Jr. believes it was his destiny to form a rock band with his younger brothers Julian and Urian. They even did a set at a party once, performing covers of Bad Brains songs. “That was actually the first time we played music together,” says Hackney, 36, on the phone from his Burlington, Vt., home. “It was a Halloween show, and we decided to be the Bad Brains for Halloween.”
They would later learn that performing rock music is in their blood. When some old recordings surfaced online in 2008, the boys discovered that their father, Bobby Hackney Sr., and his siblings once formed a punk band called Death.
“Once we found out about Death and everything, that’s when we really sat down and decided to seriously start a thing,” says Hackney. “When we first heard the music, we were blown away and everything. The thing was, nobody else knew about the music quite yet. I mean, there were the record collectors and all the people that knew about it. But, for us, it was completely new and new to pretty much everybody else.”
The story of Death is triumphant, yet bittersweet. The elder Bobby and his brothers Dannis and David (who died of lung cancer in 2000) recorded a few songs in the ’70s before calling it quits, ultimately self-releasing a 45 that would become a hot find for record collectors three decades later. In 2009, Drag City Records took the rest of those songs and released them as an album, “… For the Whole World to See.” This newfound interest prompted the remaining Hackney brothers to reform Death and start doing shows. Their story was also the subject of a 2012 documentary, “A Band Called Death.”
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Before Death’s long-overdue debut dropped, the young Hackneys formed a Death cover band called Rough Francis (which was a pseudonym their late uncle used). “We started off covering Death songs for the first couple of shows,” says Hackney, who sings lead while Julian plays guitar and Urian is on drums. “And then, after that, my dad and my uncle, they realized that they could have a successful career doing the Death stuff. So, once they picked that up, that’s when we started writing on our own.”
Eventually, the Vermont-based Rough Francis became its own hard-rock entity, as the boys (along with guitarist Paul Comegno and bassist Steve Williams) began composing tunes. They released a four-song EP in 2010, “Introducing Rough Francis.” But it wasn’t until last year that they went full-length and dropped “Maximum Soul Power.”
Hackney has found that it hasn’t been difficult to step out of the shadow of their protopunk elders, since not a lot of people are aware of Death’s shadow to begin with. “Well, it’s weird because you would think that anywhere we go, people would be like, ‘Omigod, those are the kids of Death!’” he says. “But, for the most part, we’re just another band out there doing it. A few people know.
“We get a mix of people. We get people who know who we are from the movie. We got some people who are just there because they heard other things about us that don’t have anything to do with the movie. But it’s really funny because it just depends on where we are. Sometimes, we get people that are just really into it and know everything. And there are people who think we’re a Death cover band, which is kind of funny.”
What’s even more amusing is that while Rough Francis is on the road doing their thing (they’ll make a stop at Kings on Thursday), Death is also out there doing shows, promoting “N.E.W.,” their recently released, long-awaited album of new material. Hackney couldn’t be prouder that his old man and his uncle are finally getting their due and becoming the rock stars they should’ve been a long time ago.
“It’s awesome,” he says. “We both support each other, you know… We’ll sometimes cover Death songs. And it’s the same thing with Death. When they go out, they always mention us.”
It’s nice to know that, when it all comes down to it, both Rough Francis and Death continue to keep it all in the family.
Who: Rough Francis, with the Manimals and Dim Delights
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Kings, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh
Info: 919-833-1091 or kingsbarcade.com