DAVIS FROM THE MC5
Interview by Eric Lorey
From the mid-60's to the early
the Motor City 5 rampaged through the musical world like a locomotive
gone wild. Their blistering assault of ideas and music, their
freshness, substance, and drive have never been equalled. Throughout
the 60's, the MC5 carried a pure momentum, a mix of jazz and primal
screams, of soul and intensity, of the blues and of guns going off. The
5 were, quite simply, THE rock band of their generation. Refusing
presuppositions and limitations, they took rock & roll to its
-- they embodied the toughness of industrial Detroit and the rage of
the '67 riots which burned it down. But their music was also a
celebration. The cry of the 5 was one of a magical mass-understanding
of the times, archetypical noises revealed through kids in the city,
all over America, in the middle of a time when America was staring
itself straight in the face. Michael Davis, behind the bass guitar,
stood in the center of all this as it happened. A likeable man with
strong ideas, Mike has seen a lot since those years. END TIMES was
fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Mike over a few beers, to
hear some of his thoughts about the MC5 and about music today.
What do you think is the biggest
difference between kids
that go to see shows now and the kids who went to see your shows in the
late sixties, early seventies?
difference is that the kids now know
and back then no one knew anything, nothing had ever been done. No one
knew what was going to happen, but now kids are jaded, I think.
what kinds of kids were they, like, hippies or what?
No, no. Just like a
kid today, any kid, an idiot, that
know what he or she is going to do, no difference there. The difference
is that all that stuff has been done already, and they've seen all
think those kids had more dreams, or optimism...
They had no dreams.
They were just as ignorant yesterday
they are today, the same level of vulnerability. And if we talk about
them as a mass, show-biz rules them. We were show-biz, but our show-biz
was more than anyone expected from humans...
STONE had you listed as one of the loudest bands ever.
Oh, I don't think
that shit matters, do you? The amount
amplifiers you have on stage doesn't matter, we were loud, Ron Asheton
(Stooges) played loud, ... it's not loudness, it's brilliance, like,
obnoxious brilliance. We had two guitar players that were obnoxious;
with Ron Asheton there was only one. And these two were like the
cutting edge. Think, in 1967 or whatever, how many guitar players came
down the road, and played everything, as compared to how many guitar
players came down the road in 1985? We're talking about thousands of
guitar players, that didn't just master the techniques, but
them into some new limit of sound, I mean that stuff was just raw.
Do you think that what the 5 or the
Stooges were trying to
do back then is any different from what underground bands today, or
say five years ago. ... like when the bands around here started, like
the Necros and stuff, they really drew on you guys as a big
influence... you were tied in with the Weathermen or something, is
there any difference, or is it the same thing?
it was always just rock & roll to me, but yeah, we were tied in
all that, from Weathermen to the Necros. When we first started we were
all kids. I wasn't a kid, I was the old person in the band, but they
were kids, so I was a kid with them. But we were trying to be a
success, we had our bands that we liked, our heroes, but we were less
encumbered. Now so many people have come along, its like, who cares
what anyone is doing? I've heard everything. I've got all these records
here, and I'm sick of it all, but at one time it represented something
raw. But now we're talking about 1986, there's nothing raw but here
now. No new ideas, nobody saying there's something you haven't seen
What was the shows like then, were they
similar to shows that you and I have seen over the past ten years? What
were they like?
and energy. We didn't even know what was going to happen, but we knew
it was going to be good. We couldn't wait to go out there. When we
first came on we had this whole bank of tunes that we did where we knew
these tunes went this way, we each had these parts, it started here,
and ended here; but that was only 25% of what we did. And all the rest
of it we made up right there. So we knew, whatever happened, even if it
sucked, to the people watching it would be something they'd never seen
before. we knew that we were making this stuff up, so when we went out
there, here's the audience, and they're like a bunch of play-doh. They
came out here with five bucks in their pocket and they had no idea what
was going to happen. Like, "what's the MC5? We're gonna see this band
and cavort with our friends," but they didnt know that when we came
onstage we had something planned for them, and it wasn't anything they
knew about beforehand. Not only were we going to make everything up on
the spot, but we might have a scene, a happening. We may have
prerecorded a tape, like "GO TO YOUR SHELTERS NOW," seriously, like the
bombs were on their way or the riot's happening... we'd play with them.
They came here to get a show, so we give them a show, plus some added
thing, some blood pressure, some shock value. And we'd make up music on
the spot. That's actually why John Sinclair liked us, because we made
things up all the time, and he was a jazz guy. So when he saw that we
weren't bullshit, that we were just coming out of our heads with it, he
said, "you guys are alright."
Ian Mackaye and Michael Davis
Photo by Mark Wakabayashi
above : Dennis Thompson,1969
right : Wayne Kramer,1969
Photos by Jon Hildebrandt
Did you guys play with the Stooges,
were you pals with them? What about your memorable shows?
I remember the Stooges' first gig, at the Grande Ballroom. Iggy was in
whiteface, which was outrageous at the time. They took the stage, and
they were natural as a band, had a natural sound. They sounded
jungle-good. Iggy fit perfectly as a lead singer....
The first big
show we ever did was the Masonic Temple with Hendrix, and that blew me
away because of the sound onstage. The amps were twenty feet behind us,
and the audience was way out there; the spacial differences just blew
me away. Like, at the Grande your amps are six feet behind you and the
sound just hits you in the back of the head. But at the Masonic it was
like the amps were in a different room, and the people were way out
there so you'd wonder how could they hear this. This was before there
was P.A. phantasmagoria and stuff. And the sound comes to your ears
instead of smacking you in the back.
We were really disappointed with
Jimi, tough. We thought before Hendrix that no one was doing what we
were doing. And then when Hendrix came out we thought, like "he's onto
it." But we saw him play and it seemed like just so much pomp, and not
a lot of what we regarded as true great guitar playing.
was in France last year, and the record stores there have all your
albums and all kinds of weird MC5 stuff. Like, there's this legend
surrounding the 5 and the Stooges that's really alive today in France
and Germany, from what i've seen. .... Do you think the five deserve
all this recognition, the cult status?
Yes, and the way
I would like it to be remembered is exactly the way it's going, that's
fine with me. I like it. Even tough no one was there, and the real
worth of the thing will never be known, unless you talk to someone who
was there and can say, "I never saw anything like that before or
since." Otherwise there's only the people who actually saw it, it was
almost a magical thing. Because the band itself, we were not a
polished, professional type of band, obviously. In our recording career
we started with just ragged playing... and by the third album we sounded
like we were a band. But before all that was when all the really good
things were. A lot of the things we considered our good original songs
we made up every time we played because we possibly couldn't decide the
way it was supposed to be anyway. And that was a lot of what the magic
was, that we just took off. And as it turned out, there was enough good
things there that people went crazy watching the band. I can remember a
few shows that I could have dug being in the audience.
Like, what I
thought you'd ask me, Eric, is what the fuck is music, anyway. I'm so,
not distraught I just don't care anymore. I just go to the library and
get classical tapes. Because whatever is happening in music today,
there is no genuine raw, gut-level ANYTHING musically. When I was a kid
I could be pleased so easily. Del Shannon could please me. And now,
there isn't even anything up to that or Gene Pitney's level. And even
back then he was a jerk. But what do you have now? You've got nothing
but varnish. I can't believe it, everything is just prescription music.
What's the real story with the
"motherfucker" version of "Kick Out The Jams"? I've heard so many
deal was that we had a verbal agreement that saying "motherfucker"
really wasn't a consequential part of our message at all -- I mean, we
could have said anything, "motherfucker" or "dogs and cats" -- but that
was what we wanted to say. And it was like, "Ok, no problem." But as
soon as it looked like we could be commercially successful, they yanked
it. The actual story is that it would be "motherfucker" on the album,
but the single would go out -- this was the plan -- as "brothers and
sisters." And we recorded these versions of it, and all the sudden the
guy who controlled the RKO stations in the country knew, or discovered,
that we had this obscene version of the song. So then he said "single
-- off the charts!" We were on the RKO playlist for "Kick Out The
Jams," which would have made us really big-time, and the guy, I can't
remember his name, found out about it and black-balled us. And Elektra
chickened out. That's what got John Sinclair all huffed up, and then
the whole Hudson's thing happened, with John saying to kick down the
doors of Hudson's if they won't carry the record. But he was incensed,
and didn't have his strategy together.
When you look back at the sixties, like
the revolution, Viet Nam, the ideals, do you think it was worthwhile?
I wish everything that was happening
then was happening now.
So you think the future of music is
think "dim" is a pretty optimistic assessment. I think everyone now is
trying to do what the MC5 was trying to do, but they just can't do it.
We had the best chance, I think it was because of who we were as five
individuals. Because I loved every one of those guys. I don't think
anyone's got that much now.
by Eric Lorey