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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Mike Davis (MC5) Interview 2006

Every once in a while I was thinking I would up an interview I've done in the past.
Here's one I did with Mike Davis in 2006. He was very gracious with his time and his wife was the very helpful in securing the interview.

Prior to meeting Rob in '65, had you seen, or even heard of THE MOTOR CITY FIVE?
MD: No, I had no knowledge of them. I wasn't into rock music, pop music, whatever, because at the time my ambition was still to be a painter and I was trying to return to my studies.

At the time you were attending university, had already traveled about a bit, lived in NY, and even married. Did you initially think that you had much in common with the rest of the band?
MD: Not much. I thought of them as suburban drifters, trying to distance themselves and impress their world by being celebrity neophytes. I had taken a big chance at my own independence and I had a lot to tell about. These guys were just breaking out of Lincoln Park, Michigan.

How did the first meeting go when Rob introduced you?
MD: Great. I wasn't expecting to become a part of their world. Wayne was the most outgoing of them, more so even than Rob, and I was welcomed into the fold, but that is typical of Kramer. If Wayne deems you have something to offer that he can use, he will put you on his guest list. I had new brown Beatle boots, and I looked bohemian to top it off. I guess it was a style thing that he hadn't seen before. I wasn't like anybody else. He wanted to get a handle on it. Yet, the character that gave off the most vibe in the band was Fred. His mystique was what impressed ME. I thought the rest of them were pretty common as characters go.

I read that Rob described you as a pretty heavy dude. What do you suppose he meant by that?
MD: Ha ha…A heavy dude was someone who was bringing the hip street philosophy that became known as alternative subculture. It's just a tag, like saying someone is cool, etc.

Was it a bit of a bloodless coup when you joined the band?
MD: More or less. The only bit of fuss was Fred being put off that Wayne installed me as the new bassist without so much as asking anyone else how they felt about it. This pattern continued to be a basic part of the MC5 story. That's just the way it is. It went something like this; Wayne to Fred; "So, is he in or out"? Fred to Wayne: "Well,…I guess he's in". Meanwhile Tyner is nervously shaking his foot and puffing away on a cigarette as his career takes shape in front of his eyes. It should be said that Rob initially wanted me to be in the band. So we can blame him.

The MC5 are as well known for their political stance as the music. Can you draw parallels from Vietnam to the current situation with Iraq?
MD: A lot of people do. Certain things for sure are the same as they always have been. Like the CIA being used as a task force for a presidents' agenda somewhere in the world. It's what gives us a bad name. As a people who are concerned about what we do as a people, it gives me the shivers that the nation can stand by and watch as successive presidents corrupt our values with brutally lame policies. I know the world is most complex, but come on now, haven't we learned anything?

What do you feel is the difference with the kids then and now? Do you think the tail end of the sixties promoted a more radicalized youth culture compared to now, and if so, was that a good thing?
MD: It's this; the kids of then are the parents of the kids of now. That's about the size of it. Otherwise, kids are kids, basically. If these kids were faced with the same world as the one we had in the sixties, the reaction would be the same as then. Everything that led up to the sixties being the sixties created a powder keg socially. Now we have a new powder keg, and I'm wondering how it will play out. It's all just history anyway, isn't it? It was, as you say, a more radicalized youth culture. Unfortunately, when someone tries to perform radical behaviour nowadays, they do it like the radicals of the end of that era, the ones who led it into chaos and defeat. The better tact was to let the authorities come off as the villains, but somehow that method was abandoned in favour of aggressiveness. Problem is, that is the core of terrorism, and that's bad.

The White Panthers stance was a call for some form of unity, but do you consider that the Black Panthers had their own agenda, and viewed your rhetoric with suspicion?
MD: Ha ha. They viewed us as a joke. Those guys regarded white people in general as untrustworthy. They were sick of being abused and wanted to come off as superior to the white world that imprisoned them. If they had been really smart they could have used our camaraderie very effectively, but they couldn't manage it. The talk was turning me off.
I thought we had lost sight of the mission. I wasn't thinking we could overthrow the government. I was thinking we could turn enough people on to the MC5 message that after awhile, we would just become the government. I always thought if anything was possible, we had a chance to bring it about by staying cool instead of forcing it. I was a minority of one.

The US way of life, as promoted by your government, is not garnering much favour globally. What direction do you see this taking?
MD: Yo, until George Bush and his group of crusaders are removed from office, either by election or eviction, we've got a problem. Understand that presently people are just coming around to the fact that Bush-whacker is a liar, and a heartless little bully without humility. Up until now, I think the common American lunkhead was still trying to believe all this war business was justifiable. The entire thing has backfired into the faces of those whom are its promoters. What's also interesting is that the whole nation is suffering internally and is on life support. But it's different from the sixties, because no one can believe it's really happening. "You know something's happening, but you don't know what it is…do you, Mr. Jones". I can see a revolt in the making. I think Bush's days are numbered. If he can't wriggle out of the fiasco gracefully, the Democrats will retake the government by default. They aren't much better, but they are better. The big picture is always what I care about. I still think the only sane world is the rock and roll world. As long as I can play and bring the "heavy dude" message to my fans, there is hope.

While touring with DTK, did it open your eyes to the worldview regarding your countries foreign policies?
MD: Believe me, I knew what was up for some time. I did a lot of touring in Germany and Europe with The Luminarios in the late 90's prior to DKT/MC5 and got the picture right away. But remember, when you play rock and roll, you are more than an American in people's eyes. You are the carrier of the torch, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Do you feel misrepresented by your government?
MD: Absolutely.

As I've now mentioned DTK now, how was the tour, what was your personally highlights, and was there a downside?
MD: DKT is the name. For me, it was inspiring that our story, legacy, whatever you want to call it, is so globally, universally important. We went everywhere you can imagine with this show. It seemed there wasn't any place that MC5 wasn't as revered as if it were Detroit or New York or London or Tokyo. Just unilaterally too important to be overlooked and forsaken. In Russia, Croatia, Serbia, Scandinavia, Greece, Brazil, all of Europe, all of the US, the Orient, Down Under, we are known throughout the world as the brief but bright flame that changed everyone forever. More than any other band, the MC5 left a growing legacy that continues today to astonish people and inspire them. This is what I learned from touring the past couple of years. That is a great feeling for me. Working with great players who gave their all to the performances, meeting the many fans and promoters who were so unabashedly honoured to bring us to their venues, and living the life of a road warrior traveling without end to the next crowd of excited revelers. The downside is a bit more difficult to tell. There is a small conspiracy that feels the MC5 should be immersed in a jar of formaldehyde, or encased in a glass tomb for a Smithsonian exhibit. That's their problem. I'm glad we did. So there is the final chapter. The fact that we can walk away and end the tour of DKT/MC5 is not as much a downside as it is an upside, in my opinion. I feel free to go on a new quest, without the leftover incompleteness that was formerly the case. We did it, it's over, let's move on. The MC5 was only one stage in my career. In a sense, the tour of DKT/MC5 was a healing experience all around, both personally and professionally. I thought of Fred Smith often. I thought of Rob Tyner often. I didn't write the script, just the songs. I only played my part. By the time we ended the tour in Los Angeles at UCLA's Royce Hall, I was not digging the animal that DKT had become. It was more like KKK, and it felt like time to get out again.

I was at the Glasgow show (Garage) and was blown away with the energy. Was it tough keeping it going? (Shameless fanboy question)
MD: Not really. It's what we do. The MC5 is all about the energy. It's not tough for me. I revel in it. In fact I felt sort of held back...

On that night in particular there were two other big name bands playing in Glasgow, Velvet Revolver and another I can't recall at the moment. I was worried that there would have been a poor turnout for DTK, yet it was a sell out with the majority of the crowd being under thirty. Did the age of the crowd, and the success of the shows come as a surprise for you?
MD: Velvet Revolver isn't doing anything particularly new or inspiring. If you are looking for something to ring your bell, the MC5 is your huckleberry. I never noticed the age of any crowd. They are pretty equal to me in that they all come expecting what we deliver. I don't regard them as young or old or any of that. I don't care if they are all grandpas and grandmas. I wouldn't be surprised if whole families showed up. The spirit of what we are is in the music we play; it knows no age.

I'm sure you have been asked a thousand times, but how does it feel playing the songs without Rob and Fred?
MD: I really wish they could have been there. I remember when Fred and I lived in the upstairs attic of an old house in Detroit. We would dream about being big stars and having an ice box full of Coca Colas or beer or whatever, and how we stumbled around with our attitudes and dreams and suffered through outrageous disappointments. Here I was, some 38 years later, living the glory of those dreams without him. I almost cry thinking of it. We meant a lot to each other, I don't care what anybody else says about it. All these people who claim to have made the MC5 what it was are blowing their own trumpets. It takes a big commitment to have a real band. You bond for the whole trip, not just awhile. You become "one".

I thought Nicke Royale was outstanding. Do you think you will work with him again, and is there any further plans for DTK?
MD: I think yes. I would like to work with Nicke. He and The Hellacopters have been great boosters of Detroit style music. As far as DKT goes, I'm comfortable to put it to bed until another public demand is made to bring back MC5 a-go-go. So, no there aren't any plans at this time.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you left MC5 in '71. Was it a difficult decision, and how did it come about?
MD: The decision was made without my participation. Much like the way in which I was brought in, my departure was brought about behind the scenes. By that time, we were no longer functioning as a real band. Tyner was slightly desperate to keep on going because he was getting the business at home about the lifestyle that had taken us over. Tyners' big kick was weed, coffee, cigarettes, fat chicks, and beer. He was kind of a lightweight compared to the rest of us. Kramer, Thompson, and me were addicts. Smith was a user, but not to the point of being strung out, at least not as I recall. 1971 was the last year we were a band. Sinclair had done everything in his power to deride us in print, calling us all sorts of names and trying to instigate anti-MC5 sentiment. As we attempted to forge our way into the business on a professional level, critical errors were made. We had no management to speak of, only Dee Anthony, a high profile New York pro who did Stevie Winwood and a host of English rock bands. He was our record company guy, so management wasn't his bag - he was on the label's side. We were listening to but not accepting offers presented to us by prospective real managers. We were burning down the forests as we went along. I was caught in a trap, unable to pull myself out, sinking further and further away from the connection we had started in 1966. In my disappointment I turned to dope as a way to avoid all the crap. When I got to England late enough to miss the first gig of an anaemic tour, Kramer made the push to get rid of me. My behaviour didn't convince any of the others this was a bad move. I am one of the only two people to ever be kicked out of The MC5 for being a drug addict. The pot was calling the kettle black here. It was just a desperate move by desperate people. I was relieved beyond description. The weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.

If it hadn't disintegrated, do you think a continuation would have been detrimental to the bands' legacy. I suppose what I'm asking is, is it better to burn out, than fade away?
MD: It wasn't burn out. It was crash and burn. I think the rest of them got caught in the ghost yard and never could get over it personally. Actually by me being terminated, I was spared the trauma of the end. I've been virtually free of MC5 jet lag over the years. Others may have not been so fortunate.

How did the DTK idea come about? Who approached who?
MD: My but you are getting into all the restricted areas, aren't you? I wanted to call the band Renegade Party, but someone thought we needed to be recognized as the MC5 without calling it the MC5. So it came down to using our initials as the band name along side MC5
so that the audiences knew exactly what they were getting. Who did what first is a can of worms. I'd rather not even talk about it. It's a lot of explaining this and that, and everyone wants to be credited with the good stuff and no one wants any part of the bad. A short time after Gary Grimshaw and Becky Tyner authorized the use of the mark on t-shirts for Levis, my manager was tipped off and stepped in to negotiate on behalf of Dennis and me because when Levis learned that Grimshaw does not have authority to license use of the MC5 mark, they wanted approval from all of the surviving band members and the estate of Fred Smith too. All I know is that then I got a call on my cell phone from an English guy who proposed the idea of getting together with the other former original members of the MC5 and coming to England for a one-off performance. He asked if I thought that it had any possibility of succeeding. I told him that from my standpoint it was very exciting and I would jump at the chance to play with my former mates. I couldn't speak for the others, but told him he should go for it and that he would need help. I referred him to my manager, who picked up the ball from there, and eventually got the whole thing rolling in spite of a hoard of conflicts that developed at the beginning. No one has ever given Angela any credit for pulling the band back together when there were personalities and demands from all corners. Well, she did it! (While I am giving credit where credit is due, Margaret Saadi Kramer thought to film the show at the 100 Club and produced Sonic Revolution; A Celebration of the Music of the MC5. She and Angela have worked very closely and very hard to do a lot of repair work where old and new MC5 business are concerned and move it all forward in a businesslike and ethical way. The members of the MC5, the families of the survivors, and a lot of other people have all benefited a great deal from their work.)

Was there a moment when you thought "What the hell am I doing"?
MD: I always knew what I was doing. It was the curtain call of a lifetime.

It might be a cliché, but was the reaction from the fans worldwide something that made it all worthwhile?
MD: You know, it meant so much to get it from the people themselves, not the press or the book writers. The real folks that go out and buy it and collect it, and listen to it every day for that one more new thing they hadn't heard before. You guys mattered! You guys made this a better place. If only Fred and Rob could have heard those crowds cheer for them…maybe they did.

Obviously all the guest singers were exceptional, or they wouldn't be doing it, but did any stand out and just blow you away?
MD: I thought they were all great, but one guy was stratospheric by himself. I wasn't completely sure what he was doing half the time, until I saw the playback of The Craig Kilborn Show. He was out front doing a sync baritone octave vocal with Mark Arm on Kick Out The Jams, and I realized what he brought to the sound was uniquely his own interpretation of that song. His name is Evan Dando. The press derided his presence with the band from even before day one, but for me he was a true original. That's something I value above most everything else. That's just a personal favourite moment.

You have had a varied career, MC5, Destroy all monsters and Lumarios, what's next?
MD: A lot more than ever before. Angela and I own and operate Svengirly Music, Inc., an artist management, music publishing and merchandising company for punk and garage bands. Among others we manage a great band from L.A. called The Lords of Altamont. We have a killer record just out right now in the U.S. and in Europe called Lords Have Mercy. I most likely will join the Lords on tour in Europe sometime in February. We are playing SXSW after the tour. Then I'm off to Italy to produce a great band called OJM. We also have been working on a photo book project and will travel to Japan for an exhibition related to that. That's the immediate schedule. A bunch on the horizon, things are coming along nicely.

In closing, if you had to give a personal mission statement for 2006, what would it be?
MD: I'm in the midst of treatment for Hep C. Treatment is also going very well. I've left the old ways of drunk and disorderly behaviour behind for a relatively calm life as a healthy being. The healing process is slow by some standards, but I can feel improvements on a variety of levels. My goal is to reclaim my health and physical strength. My goal is to fulfil the promise of youth eternal. My goal is to unite a rock and roll culture into a self-aware meaningful society. Most of all my mission is to take good care of my happy family. Also to give strength and love to others and hope for the best outcome. It's never to late to bring it all back home.


  1. Looking for some more stuff of Bittley Black and the Next..........can't find some usefull info

    Only Best of Mabuhay......

    I quess there must be more of them

    Nice blog, like it very much

  2. Thank you Topper.
    I'll see what I can find out about Bittley Black and the Next, but best bet would be to ask Kenny of Days of our youth blogspot. He knows his onions about the San Fran scene.
    I have a friend Sarah who used to go to Mabuahy so I'll ask her and see if she remembers them.

  3. Just found out some stuff.
    Brittley was the drummer of San Fran punk band Crime. Sadly he has passed away, but here is a myspace page dedicated to him.

  4. ah.......thanx for searching around.

    I'll check his page