Still Kicking Out The Jams: MC5’s Michael Davis

MC5“Right now… right now… I think it’s time to… KICK OUT THE JAMS MOTHERFUCKER!” begins one of the most incendiary tracks of all time, from the debut of MC5, a Detroit band who, whilst not widely feted in their time, are now recognised for their unique inventiveness and influence, especially within the American Punk movement.

Originally the band were together for just eight years, from 1964 until 1972, when they caved in under the pressure of their individual drug habits. Bassist Michael Davis was the first to leave the band, but I’m surprised when he tells me the scene of his departure. “I missed a gig at the LSE, and they kicked me out. We were really excited about playing there, we’d heard about the Stones playing the LSE, and it was only the third time we’d ever visited Britain. But I got busted at the airport with works in my bag, and I had to get a later flight to London. By the time I got there I’d missed the gig and the other guys kicked me out.”

Original members Rob Tyner and Fred Smith both died in the 90s, and Davis and Kramer had an unusual reunion in prison. Davis tells me “I was serving time for drug offences, and Wayne sent me this letter, saying that he was facing similar charges, and asking for my advice. I told him to say that he was serious about rehabilitation, and he was then sent to the same prison as me.”

However, it wasn’t until 2003 that Davis would play live with Kramer and Thompson again. “The reunion actually came about because of Levi’s. They were launching a new range of clothes inspired by that era, by the punk attitude, and apparently their marketing people told them that the band that best represented that music was the MC5. Can you believe that? So put out a line of t-shirts featuring old MC5 artwork, and they invited the three of us to play together again. There’s a British link again here, because our first gig was at the 100 Club. We really enjoyed it, so we toured after that, under the name DKT.”

The MC5 were famed for their overtly political lyrics, and their campaigning stance. I ask Davis whether he still thinks that music can change the world. “Absolutely, I think it’s the most nonviolent thing you can do, to be creative, and to play music together with other people. That’s why I set up a charity, musicisrevolution, to get more money for schools to have live music classes, to give more kids the chance to play instruments together.”

One of MC5’s most famous political moments came when they played for over eight hours at the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, but at the time no-one could have guessed at the carnage which was to follow. “I don’t know if I was in a Marijuana world or something, but when we were loading up the van, it just felt like going to play any other show. We just thought, we’re going to play for a load of political campaigners, and the Democratic convention just happens to be on at the same time – that’s why we’re meeting there, y’know? We weren’t prepared for what happened. We were playing to this field full of people, and we just saw the back of the crowd start to go crazy as the police closed in, and everyone start to surge forward. That wasn’t even the worst riot of the day. It was later in the evening that the police really started kicking the shit out of people.”

Originally published in the LSE’s The Beaver, 28 November 2006.