A story of fatherhood, punk rock, and a surprising family legacy

We talk about making music, fatherhood, and a surprising family legacy with Bobby Hackney Jr. of the punk band Rough Francis.

Leading up to Father’s Day, we’re talking to dads who continue to make and perform music even after having kids. I loved learning more about Bobby Hackney Jr’s personal story and truly amazing family history of making music. His wife Sara is a writer at Parent.co. 


 

I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about your band?

I’m in a band called Rough Francis. We’re based out of Burlington, Vermont. The band is me, my two brothers, and two close friends. We’re a punk band.

How long have you been making music?

I’ve been making music ever since I was five years old, believe it or not. When I was a kid, there were instruments all over the house. My dad and uncle were in a band called Lambsbread at the time, so they were always gigging, always practicing.

I remember one year they actually practiced up in our house in my dad’s den, which was kind of funny because it’s a really small spot, you know the office. He used to practice in the office.
Whenever they were done, I would just get behind the drums and play the drums because that was the easiest thing to get to.

Actually, I was originally a drummer. I started playing drums, and my uncle taught me some stuff. I don’t know, I just stuck with it all throughout middle school and high school.

Rough Francis has been together for about six years. Before Rough Francis, I was in a band called The Static Age. We were a post-punk new wave band. Then before that, I was in a few hardcore punk bands.

You mentioned Lambsbread. Can you talk about your family’s surprising family story with music? 

Yeah. Yeah. It all started in Liverpool, England. My father, John Lennon …

Woah! John!

Had no idea that he was a Beatle until … no. Anyway. Like I said before, growing up my dad and my uncle were in a band called Lambsbread, that was a reggae band. All through my childhood, I only knew my dad and uncle as reggae musicians.

Yeah, it’s a well known reggae band.

They did really well. My dad started the Vermont Reggae fest. They toured quite a bit. They brought a lot of big time reggae acts up to Burlington in the 80s and early 90s. That was going on, and me and my brothers naturally got into music through our father and uncle because it was already around. We grew up on reggae, so we got into that.

As I got a little older, when I was in, I don’t know, 8th or 9th grade, I started to get into skateboarding. Skateboarding opened up a whole new door musically. I was hanging out with kids who were punks. A lot of the style and culture revolved around punk rock with skateboarding. I got into it through that.

A good friend brought me to my first show at 242. My first punk show. As soon as I went to that first show, it was just a life changing moment. Felt like that was what fit me the most. I didn’t look back from there.

Most of the kids from my high school were the chuck type (editors note: rednecks). They didn’t like skateboarders or punks. A lot of the kids that I really connected with were from Burlington, and I became friends with a lot of kids who lived in Burlington, and that’s how I got into it. Hanging out with cool people in Burlington.

The whole time with your dad though, you’re still reggae guy.

Yeah. I’m just like “Yeah, I just got into it. It’s cool. Whatever.” And my brothers get into it the same way. As I get older, I’m probably in my early 30s, me and my brothers find out that our dad and uncle were in this band called Death from Detroit in the 70s. That changed a lot.

How old were you?

I was old. It was funny, because I was done with The Static Age. When my son Kiernan was born, I was not in any musical projects. I was just hanging out and stuff.

Being a dad.

Yeah. Being a dad. Then I started playing around with this cover band. This 80s cover band for a little bit. Then once that ended, me and my brothers thought it would be cool to do a Bad Brains tribute set. You know the Bad Brains, right?

Hell yeah. I love the Bad Brains.

We did a Bad Brains tribute set at 242 for Halloween. There’s a significant age gap between me and my two brothers, and this was the first time we could actually be like “Okay, cool. We can actually play some music together,” not thinking anything of our own musical history. We were just big Bad Brains fans. It went really well.

Shortly after that, my brother Julian moved to California, where he starts getting all these little snippets of what my dad and uncles did in the 70s. He started learning about the band that they were in and that they recorded some music, that there was some music out there. He ended up finding two songs on a blog.

When Julian first told me about this, I didn’t believe him. “This is bull! This is bullshit! There’s no way. They’re just reggae dudes. There’s no way that they played punk rock in the 70s.”

I heard the music, and I was just blown away. I was like “Man, I hope this is true, because this is amazing.”

Amazing.

We confronted our dad, like “Dad, okay you got to tell us some stuff! What did you guys do in 70s? Were you guys in a band?” He’s like “Yes. We were in this band called Death. It was me and your two uncles. We were a rock and roll band. People didn’t like us back then because we’re three black dudes playing this loud racket. Everybody wanted us to play funk and R&B.”

I was just like “What?!”

Yeah! Seriously.

I asked him, I was like “So, do you have any more of this music sitting anywhere?” Then he said that all their master tapes were up in the attic. All this time. He took the tapes and he transferred them over to digital for cd. I took the cd home and I listened to it and I couldn’t believe it. I was really just thoroughly blown away.

That’s an amazing revelation to find out that your dad was a real pioneer, in one of the worlds first bands that could be considered “punk,” for which he’s super respected. Meanwhile you’re playing in a punk band with your brothers. 

It’s funny because at the time nobody heard it or knew about it. It was a more of a discovery. They would have been a huge influence if people heard them or liked them back then.

It’s funny how they’re getting the retroactive respect based on the respect that they didn’t get when they first started. It’s pretty wild.

(Note: readers should watch the documentary “A Band Called Death“)

It’s amazing. It’s a scenario where a person falls in love with something and pursues it and becomes really good at it, only to discover that their father did it a generation before them. 

Exactly. That answered a lot of question for me, personally. That’s what made our band Rough Francis so important. After learning about all that. We actually started the band officially after we found out about Death.

The Bad Brains thing was just kind of the fun little project. Once we found out about Death, that’s when we sat down and we made the decision to actually do a band. It just felt so perfect.

It’s a killer band; Rough Francis is definitely one of the rising bands on the scene. I also think that a band of three brothers who are black playing loud full-on punk rock music in a northern town in New England is surprising for people. 

It’s pretty funny. I step back sometimes and I’m like “Man, that is pretty interesting.” If I was just somebody who lived here and didn’t know about it, and then saw that, I would be like “Wow. Very interesting.”

You mentioned that you weren’t playing music when your son was born about a decade ago.  How has being a dad affected making and performing music for you? A lot of people stop pursuing seriously after becoming a parent. What’s allowed you to continue playing and touring? 

The reason why Rough Francis came together in the first place is because of family. This is the first band I’ve ever been in that’s been more family oriented, and family always comes first.

It’s just like a natural progression. It’s most inspiring for me to be with my own family, and think of things to do with the band. They’re both intertwined. I guess we wouldn’t have found out about any of this if we didn’t hang out. If I wasn’t hanging out with my brothers and finding this out, I wouldn’t have known about it.

I was just hanging out with Sara and Kiernan at the time, and we’re all just always together. That’s where it came from. Just being with family a lot. That’s just a big part of it.

Another thing is, I’ve been on many tours and I’ve been in a lot of bands, a lot of sleepless nights. I feel like being on the road and touring a lot has helped me become a parent, because I’m conditioned to lose sleep sometimes.

It’s kind of like those late night drives that you have to do. Sometimes being at home could be the same thing.

Interesting – I never thought of that!

Especially when your kids are sick.

Did any other band members have kids? Any other dads in the band?

Yeah. Yeah. My brother Urian is about to have a kid soon.

Congratulations!

I’ve played music with people who have kids.  You always find camaraderie with other musicians, but when it’s a parent musician, it’s even better. It’s like “Yeah man! We didn’t get paid enough for that gig! Blah blah blah.”

And it’s like “Yeah and when I got home, my kids woke me up at 6 o’ clock in the morning after I got home at…”

I always talk to Eric and Amanda about this kind of stuff. It’s like you stay up all night playing a gig, you get home, but you know your ass is getting up at 6 o’ clock in the morning to make pancakes. They don’t care. The kids don’t care. They don’t care what you did the night before. If you’re around, you’re their servant, pretty much.

Ha – so true. What effect has it had on your kids to see you playing and making music? Does Kiernan remember a time when you weren’t playing?

I’m not sure. Actually, when he was probably around 3 or 4, that’s when I was playing with that cover band. We used to bring him to shows and stuff, and we bring the kids to shows whenever we can. I think Josie, my three-year old daughter, she’s the one that’s really been paying attention.

Whenever she’s at a show, she’ll do soundcheck with us. She’s really into singing. She’s got a whole bunch of instruments at home. She likes listening to our music too. She’ll put on her 7 inch and sing along to it, which is really cool. Same thing with Kiernan. It’s kind of funny when I’m telling the kids to quiet down, but they’re screaming my own songs at me.

I can’t tell them to stop. I’m like “Okay, I guess … You’re singing one of my songs. That’s kind of cool.”

It is very cool. Do you have instruments laying around your house?

Yeah. We do. We have a chimalong, we have a guitar, we have a ukulele, accordion, kazoo, bunch of drums. There’s always stuff to play all over the house. That’s the way it was for me growing up. There was always something to make noise. Usually it was just to annoy everybody else, but one day … It’s funny because you go through the, you want to just annoy people, and then you’re like “Actually, maybe I should just learn how to play this thing.”

Exactly. Any advice to other parents? Dads in particular, but really both parents, about keeping music alive even after becoming a parent?

Well, actually another thing that I forgot to touch on, which is really cool, is we all listen to records together or we listen to music together. We have a record player right in our living room, and it’s really cool that the kids pick out records and they listen to them.

I feel like in this day in age, kids don’t really know how to listen to a record. They’re always jumping from song to song on Spotify or on Itunes, but if you have a record, you pretty much have to commit to it and just let it finish.

Listening to a record like you would watch a movie is a great family bonding experience.

All right. Thanks Bobby! 

Is that it?

That’s it! It’s 20 minutes. That’s good. One side an LP.

Perfect.