As word of his Feb. 17 death spread, musical colleagues remembered MC5 bassist Michael Davis of the MC5 as a key ingredient in the group’s “Kick Out the Jams” chemistry that combined ferocity with creative ambition, creating a template for punk rock during the late 60s.
“Michael was a major force in shaping the sound and attitude of Detroit’s foremost band of the 1960s and beyond,” said Dick Wagner, whose bands the Frost and Ursa Major hailed from the same southeast Michigan scene. “The MC5 was a Detroit music leader and scene-maker, and Michael Davis played his role as foundational driving force as the band’s bass player. His place in rock history is firmly held.”
Wayne Kramer, the MC5’s guitarist, said that, “Michael and I experienced so much together over our nearly fifty years of friendship. We shared great adventures when we were young and even had a few when we grew up. Despite life’s twists and turns, and there were many, we maintained our connection. “I loved him dearly and told him so the last time we spoke.”
|“Kick Out the Jams”
Ted Nugent, whose Amboy Dukes tread the same territory, noted that, “The MC5 were such a powerful musical/spirit force to reckon with, and so very influential to all who witnessed their might, that it is a sad day when half of their incredible rhythm section is gone. Michael was a dedicated musician and a good man. In our Motor City musical wind, he will always be alive and kickin’ out the jams.”
Davis, 68, died in Chico, Calif., after being hospitalized during the past month with liver disease. His wife, Angela, announced his death on Feb. 18. He’s the third member of the MC5 to pass away, following singer Rob Tyner in 1991 and guitarist Fred Smith in 1994.
Davis was studying fine arts at Wayne State University when he dropped out of school to join the MC5, replacing the group’s original bassist Pat Burrows. He played on all three of the group’s albums and stayed with the band until it ended in 1972. He took part in a 1992 tribute concert to Tyner in Detroit and was part of the DKT/MC5 with Kramer and drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson as well as guest musicians.
“It was always like a huge fantasy that there would be another day in the sun,” Davis said when the group began touring in 2004. We’ve been sitting on the sidelines watching the legendary status of the MC5 grow over the decades.
Now it’s not a fantasy anymore. The call is out. People want to see the real deal, and they want the MC5, or what’s left of it, to show up in their town and play.
“I’m just happy to carry on the thing that I started.”
Between the MC5 and DKT/MC5, Thompson played in the bands Detroit All Monsters and, after moving to Arizona, in Blood Orange and Rich Hopkins & Luminarios. He also worked as a producer and, after surviving a May 2006 motorcycle accident in Los Angeles, set up the Music Is Revolution Foundation support public school music programs. He had also returned to painting in recent years.
“(The MC5) really was a band, so everyone contributed — Michael as much as anyone else,” said Scott Morgan, who led the Rationals and once lived at Davis’ house in Detroit. “He was a really solid bass player and a totally good guy.”
Destroy All Monsters frontwoman Niagra says Davis was recruited for that band by the late Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton. Davis, according to Niagra, “was sly and funny, rock ‘n’ roll savvy and witty with lots of energy. A true Gemini….But like most musicians, he wasn’t really a tough. It was a convenient pose, a test and a game. He was suave and charming, a drifter and a grifter. He was always gentlemanly to me.”
Niagra adds that Davis “used to put his amp on like 10 just for practice. The guys made me tell him to turn down. He made them nervous.”
Davis also played in Sillies leader Scott Campbell’s band during the late 80s, and Campbell remembered that “Mike’s abilities as a bassist barely scratched the surface in the MC5…Mike was the one guy I knew and played with who could dance around the fundamental of a chord and never lose sight of the actual melody. He could complicate the hell out of a bass line, and it always worked in the context of the song.”
Iggy Pop, whose Stooges paired with the MC5 as the twin titans of the Michigan rock scene at that time, posted a simple “R.I.P. Brother” on his Facebook page, while Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, drummer for Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and the Rockets, wrote “We had many good times on the road together. You were part of the Detroit Music Scene and all the World knows it. Much love. God bless you.” The Romantics’ Mike Skill addressed his Facebook note to the MC5 in general, noting that “you guys were a huge influence…I grew up with your music…Thank you.”
David Draiman, frontman of the hard rock band Disturbed, was among the scores of fans who posted Twitter messages about Davis’ passing.
Davis is survived by his wife, their three sons and a daughter from a previous marriage. Funeral and memorial plans have not yet been announced.