R.I.P. Michael Davis of the MC5

Now there’s only two left.


MC5, circa 1969: Fred Smith, Wayne Kramer, Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson and Michael Davis // Getty Images


Ted Nugent

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”

“Ramblin’ Rose”


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.

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6 replies »

  1. What does Ted Nugent have to do with this other than he was from Detroit?

    And lets not forget also a founding member of Destroy All Monsters died recently — Mike Kelley, also a cutting-edge artist who did the artwork for Sonic Youth’s Dirty album and collaborated with fellow artist Paul McCarthy…

  2. The MC5.

    The tart down the street was a groupie. One grey day along the Detroit River, she began to tell stories. She was instructed to pull off Sonic’s boots…

    People want to get near fame. It’s like touching immortality.

    And then the guys slowly go to the grave. One by one. I remember the initial surge of the MC5. I got fake ID to get into the Grande Ballroom. The show was darkly fantastic
    with dangerous undertones. I liked, rather than loved, how everything was sculpted. The show. The music. The mystique.

    I have a theory about a thin line that separates working-class Whites. My dad owned his own meat-market, and I did as much physical work as any assembly-line worker. But
    I had an personal investment in the business, and no blind hatred for “The Man”. Consequently my funk, anger and suicidal ecstacies were tempered by more than low-bourgoise manners. I had a real family estate to preserve.

    In Detroit terms, that family business was like a Cadillac or SS 396 Chevelle. It was more than a means to eat, as a trophy car was more than a means to get around. I think guys who’re looking for work to love often start bands and/or go into art. But that becomes very, very tricky, because there is a contest to be the most raw and unmannered creator. I don’t think that The 5 suffered from affectation. They weren’t acting wild. They were wild. Such is their tragic glory.

  3. Thanks for asking’ LJP…

    I reposted “RIP Michael Davis” on my blog, with quite a bit of personal elaboration. What makes it relevant to Attack the System is more than The 5’s revolutionary thrust. Coming from The 5’s neighborhood, I understand their political and artistic gestation.

    Detroit remains a peculiar place. There are new pioneers taking advantage of the pitifully low-cost of property. More interesting, are White Detroiters who never left. I’m not talking about cops and firemen who must live in the city. I’m talking about artists who stay, often raise kids, and form their own tight communities. They are lefties but nonetheless an excellent breed of survivalists. Tightly networked with lots of jealous pride.

    One develops a certain esprit de corps living in Detroit. I miss it. And I haven’t found anything close to friendly replacements, hearty characters, on the Radical Traditionalist Right. Instinct tells me, though, that Andrew Yeoman of the Bay Anarchists is a first-rate guy. We’ve never met. But he’s from Detroit, and so I sense that he works with all races, in trying circumstances, while holding his center.

  4. I had problems with Yeoman. I think many of his positions are a bit loonball for me, especially his protest against the movie Machete, which he expected me to support on Facebook. But the last straw was his burning-the-Koran scheme — now I don’t agree with Islam myself but this is Neocon-like behavior that revolts me. Methinks he’s a bit “You’re either for us or against us”… I’ll just stick with Keith Preston and Troy Southgate, thankyou…

    Anyhow, I’ll definitely take a look at your blog… Is it more music oriented or is it just politics?

  5. I’m from a few blocks away from the 5. Lincoln Park Mi. I knew them well. They played at my high school. I had their records. The first punk band. The older we get, we get. Groundbreaking noise to lead the ages. Jerome was also in a band in Trenton, making the same noises. Detroit not only had Motown but a rock movement that shook the world. Long live rock. Long live the 5.

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