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MC5 Bassist Michael Davis Dead at 68

MC5 Michael Davis - P 2012
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The rock band rose to prominence from 1964 to 1972, making waves with incendiary anti-establishment lyrics and a blistering early-punk sound.

Michael Davis, the bassist of legendary rock band the MC5, has died of liver failure, his wife said Saturday. He was 68.

Davis died at Enloe Medical Center in Chico, Calif., on Friday afternoon after a month-long hospitalization for liver disease, said Angela Davis.

Born on June 5, 1943, the bassist gained attention in the MC5 and later played in a version of the group called DKT-MC5 with former MC5 members Wayne Kramer on guitar and Dennis Thompson on drums. The latter two are now the only surviving members of the classic MC5 lineup: singer Rob Tyner died in 1991 and guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, who married singer Patti Smith in 1980, in 1994.

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The original MC5 rose to prominence from 1964 to 1972, making waves with incendiary anti-establishment lyrics and a blistering early-punk sound, starting with their first album  Kick Out the Jams,  which was recorded live and released in 1969. The excellent studio albums Back in the USA  and High Time followed in 1970 and 1971 before the band imploded due to substance abuse and middling commercial success. The group soon received its due, at least in historic terms, as the the first wave of punk rock bands nearly universally cited the MC5, the New York Dolls and the Stooges as key influences. The bandmembers were active during those years -- Davis with former Stooge Ron Ashton in Destroy All Monsters, Smith in Sonic's Rendezvous Band -- but did not break out of cult status.

A series of posthumous releases of varying quality have emerged in the years since the MC5's demise, but several live recordings from the group's peak years capture it in all its raucous glory.

An active bassist and also producer, Davis was planning to be in Belgium this week recording with punk rock musician Sonny Vincent, said Davis' wife.

Davis had a scare in 2006 when he injured his back in a motorcycle accident on a Southern California freeway. He later co-founded the non-profit Music Is Revolution Foundation, dedicated to supporting music education programs in public schools.

In the last few years, Davis also returned to a love of painting, fostered when he first studied fine arts at Wayne State University in Michigan. He dropped out of the program in 1964 to play music, but started studying art again recently in Oregon and California, with the intention of finishing his bachelor's degree in fine arts.

Davis is survived by his wife, their three sons, and a daughter from a previous marriage. Memorial plans were pending, said Angela Davis.