Michael Davis Guitarist Singer Songwriter Music Producer

February 28, 2012 by staff 

Michael Davis Guitarist Singer Songwriter Music Producer, Michael Davis, whose bass work and backing vocals helped define the MC5’s pioneering Detroit rock sound, died Friday in California. He was 68.

His wife, Angela Davis, told the Associated Press that Davis died Friday afternoon at a Chico, Calif., medical center after a month-long hospitalization for liver disease.

Davis had been diagnosed in 2005 with Hepatitis C. In a candid personal blog chronicling the ensuing health battles, Davis attributed the disease to years of heavy alcohol and drug use.

Such soul-baring storytelling was typical of Davis, who often reflected on his days of rock debauchery with a blend of good-humored self-deprecation and eloquence.

His death follows those of band mates Rob Tyner in 1991 and Fred Smith in 1994, leaving two surviving members of the MC5’s classic lineup, guitarist Wayne Kramer and drummer Dennis Thompson.

“So long, old pal,” read a Facebook posting Sunday by Kramer.

A native Detroiter, Davis played with the MC5 during the band’s heyday in the 1960s and early ’70s. The group was a fixture on the burgeoning local rock circuit, becoming house band at the Grande Ballroom as its music evolved from R&B-steeped rock ‘n’ roll into hard-grooved psychedelic rock with an edgy Detroit clangor.

Though the band’s three national albums were not commercial successes at the time, they would prove deeply influential on both the punk and metal movements that followed, still cited decades later by bands such as Nirvana and the White Stripes.

Thirty-five years after the MC5’s debut album, “Kick Out the Jams” — recorded live at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom in 1968 — Davis lucidly recalled the performance.

“I remember being aware, while it was happening, how much power I possessed in what I was doing — that I could literally project my feelings and reach everybody in the room, and how immensely powerful it felt,” he told the Free Press in 2003. “It was like a subconscious conversation, almost telepathically projecting the power of the moment to everybody in the place.”

As a bassist, Davis was “steady and solid,” said Gary Rasmussen, whose band the Up shared gigs and a residence with the MC5 in the 1960s. “There was so much flash in that band. You had Dennis Thompson and Wayne Kramer up there going crazy. They needed somebody like Michael in all that. It was a big part of that sound.”

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