Michael Davis: Bassist with the influential and incendiary MC5

 

The bass guitarist Michael Davis was a member of the incendiary and influential Detroit band the MC5 between 1965 and 1972. Alongside their Detroit friends and contemporaries the Stooges and New York's Velvet Underground, the MC5 formed the holy trinity of late '60s groups who lit the long, slow, simmering fuse of punk rock and inspired the Ramones, Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine and the White Stripes. The MC5 didn't just make hard-edged, highly-charged music; they were managed by the activist John Sinclair, aligned themselves with the Black Panthers and attracted the attention of the FBI. Kick Out The Jams, their seminal debut recorded live at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit in October 1968, and the title track, briefly made the album and single charts in the US when issued on Jac Holzman's Elektra the following year.

Yet the group were never likely to emulate the success of label-mates The Doors. They took some of Sinclair's White Panther Party 10-point programme – notably the "Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock 'n' roll, dope and fucking in the streets" – too literally and, after their mentor was jailed for 10 years for the possession of two marijuana joints in 1969, became "completely uncontrollable," their guitarist Wayne Kramer told me when I interviewed him, Davis and the MC5's drummer Dennis Thompson in London in 2005. "We burned everybody down that we tried to do business with in America. We'd miss gigs, we'd be too high to play and we had a really bad reputation."

The MC5 released two more albums, Back In The USA and High Time, on Atlantic, before Davis was kicked out a few days after missing a gig at the LSE in 1972. "We were really excited about playing there, we'd heard about the Rolling Stones and the LSE, and it was only the third time we'd visited Britain," said the bassist, who was battling heroin addiction. "But I got busted at the airport with works in my bag. A week later, the other guys kicked me out."

The group limped on with Steve Moorhouse and then Derek Hughes on bass, and pirate radio pioneer Ronan O'Rahilly as manager, but broke up after a disastrous appearance at the Wembley Stadium Rock'n'Roll Show in London in August 1972, and a poorly-attended homecoming at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit on New Year's Eve 1972.

The deaths in the 1990s of their charismatic lead singer Rob Tyner and maverick guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, seemed to prevent any possibility of an MC5 revival despite the group's standing in the rock pantheon. However, Davis, Kramer and Thompson reunited in 2003 as DKT/MC5 with a revolving cast of guitarists and vocalists – including The Damned's Dave Vanian, Lemmy of Motörhead and Handsome Dick Manitoba of The Dictators.

Born in Detroit in 1943, Michael Davis was the son of Yugoslavian and Irish immigrants. In the 1950s his father forbade him to listen to rock'n'roll but the resourceful youngster tuned in to the radio when his parents were out. After graduating from high school in 1961, he studied fine arts at Michigan's Wayne State University. Inspired by Bob Dylan, he dropped out with the intention of becoming a folk musician, and began singing while accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica. During a short-lived first marriage he lived in Florida and New York before returning to Detroit, where he met the other members of the embryonic MC5.

In the mid-'60s, their garage-band repertoire consisted of Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Kinks and Them covers, but under Sinclair's guidance they began incorporating free jazz elements and moving into the realms of agitprop. Davis was less enamoured of the improvisational and confrontational approach than his band-mates but recognised the power of the Kick Out The Jams live recording. "I remember being aware, while it was happening, how much power I possessed in what I was doing," he explained. "I could literally project my feelings and reach everybody in the room, and how immensely powerful it felt. "

Davis contributed to the bulk of the writing for Kick Out The Jams and Back In The USA, the album produced by future Bruce Springsteen associate Jon Landau in 1970. By the following year's High Time, the MC5 had eschewed the collective songwriting method and, by his own admission, Davis had fallen into "a pattern of substance abuse" that would lead to his exit from the band and an eventual jail term in the 1970s.

He subsequently joined Destroy All Monsters, which also featured the Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, and issued three singles on the British independent label Cherry Red. In the 1990s he moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he played with Blood Orange and Rich Hopkins & The Luminarios. Over the last four decades, he had returned to painting and produced abstract works inspired by his love of the desert. Following a motorbike crash in Los Angeles in May 2006 he set up The Music Is Revolution Foundation, a non-profit organisation aiming to raise funds and awareness and promote the cultural and therapeutic qualities of music in schools. He died of liver failure.

"The MC5 was a phenomenon, maybe a social phenomenon in a way," he said. "We were a product of the times. The whole explosion of British bands and different styles and the melding of rhythm and blues and rock'n'roll and pop art and mod ... It was like being sent into a laboratory of ideas, time to experiment. Everything you did was ground-breaking work, because rock'n'roll was so young back then."

Michael Davis, bassist, songwriter and artist: born Detroit 5 June 1943; twice married (three sons, one daughter); died Chico, California 17 February 2012.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform