Posts Tagged ‘Wayne Kramer’

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The band’s masterpiece was undoubtedly 1971’s ‘High Time’ LP. Stung by the failure of ‘Back In The USA’ and with no viable commercial future, the MC5 made it on the verge of disintegration. It’s the only MC5 record to contain individual song writing credits, but it still manages to fuse together all the disparate elements of their sound. Its wired twin-guitar assault and riotous free-jazz detonations (check out the nervy repetition of the two Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith contributions – Skunk (Sonicly Speaking)’ and ‘Over And Over’) ensured it was the one true encapsulation of the MC5 aesthetic. 

“High Time” sounds like MC5’s relative equivalent to the Velvet Underground’s “Loaded”, their last and most accessible album, but still highly idiosyncratic and full of well-written, solidly played tunes. Fred Smith’s “Sister Anne” and “Skunk (Sonically Speaking)” bookend the album with a pair of smart, solidly performed hard rockers (bolstered by fine horn charts), and Wayne Kramer’s “Poison” ranks with the best songs he brought to the band (he later revived it for his solo album The Hard Stuff). For a group that was apparently on the verge of collapse, MC5 approach this material with no small amount of skill and enthusiasm, and Geoffrey Haslam’s production gives the band a big, punchy sound that suits them better than the lean, trebly tone of Back in the USA. It’s interesting to imagine what MC5’s history might have been like if High Time had been their first or second album rather than their last.

Unfortunately, ‘High Time’ was an even bigger commercial disaster than their previous two albums. The group’s espousal of left-wing political doctrines meant that they were not only treated with intense suspicion by corporate record labels, but that their righteous rock’n’roll energy was greeted with distaste by the prevalent flower-power movement of The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane on America’s West Coast. Thirty years on, it’s only now apparent that this ultimate defeat was really victory. Unbeknown to them, they’d become one of the best rock’n’roll groups of all time.

Lenny Kaye, then writing for Rolling Stone, called the album “the first record that comes close to telling the tale of their legendary reputation and attendant charisma”. In his retrospective review, Mark Deming of AllMusic called it MC5’s most accessible album, but still highly idiosyncratic and full of well-written, solidly played tunes. While less stridently political than their other work, musically it’s as uncompromising as anything they ever put to wax and would have given them much greater opportunities to subvert America’s youth if the kids had ever had the chance to hear it.

Sadly, High Time’s 1971 release represented the end of the line for MC5. Hard drugs had entered the band members’ lives, and within a year they’d split up, drifting off into various other configurations. At least two members wound up in federal prison on drug charges, and they never did reunite before the untimely death of Rob Tyner in mid-summer 1992

MC5, 
  • Michael Davis – bass, vocals, 
  • Wayne Kramer – guitar, vocals, piano 
  • Fred “Sonic” Smith – guitar, vocals, harmonica
  • Dennis Thompson – drums, vocals 
  • Rob Tyner – vocals

Released July 6th, 1971

Back In The USA: How MC5 Invented Pop-Punk Ahead Of Schedule

The LP was no longer just a collection of songs, it had a purpose, a message – and fans triumphantly carried their favourites from party to party. Connecting rebellion with the counterculture, and blazing a trail for punk rock years ahead of schedule, were MC5, the Michigan band whose second album, “Back In The USA”, hit the shelves smack-bang at the start of the decade, on 15th January 1970.

Released a year after their frenetic proto-punk debut, “Kick Out The Jams”, Back In The USA marked a new direction for a group whose opening call-to-arms caused no small amount of controversy. A mixture of pop tunes and deep blues riffs, it found them matching their rebellious stance to catchy song writing, becoming the blueprint for something else entirely: pop-punk. The opening track is a cover of the classic hit “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard. “Let Me Try” is a ballad. “The American Ruse” attacks what the Detroit quintet saw as the hypocritical idea of freedom espoused by the US government, and “The Human Being Lawnmower” expresses opposition to the US involvement in the Vietnam War. The last song on the album, which is the title track, is a cover of Chuck Berry’s 1959 single “Back in the U.S.A.”

Every strain of this combination of punk and pop music has produced some of the most iconic party tracks in history while offering an aggressive release that skirts some of punk music’s more anti-social aspects. It’s a deadly combination, and one that MC5 lit the touch paper for with Back in The USA.  What distinguished the band was not only its fiery political content-inspired by the militaristic, anti-establishment ideology of manager John Sinclair’s White Panther Party-but the furious, free-jazz energy of the music. Guitarists Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith engaged in long exchanges that suggested Sun Ra and John Coltrane.

Where Kick Out The Jams was a fast, messy live album that felt experimental while heralding the punk scene to come, Back In The USA was immaculately recorded, with a tight production suggesting how much rehearsal time must have went into creating it. They hadn’t let go of their revolutionary aesthetic, they’d just acquired the musicianship to match. With short, memorable riffs and a greater use of vocal harmonies, Back In The USA showed the world that a radio-friendly rebellion could be a great recipe for success. With lyrics that combined themes of partying with those of finding confidence as a teenager, it captured the spirit of youth in revolt, while the use of pronouns in the lyrics ignited a feeling that the album was written for the listener alone.

Producer Jon Landau doubtless had a hand in the band’s new direction. A former music critic who would go on to work with Bruce Springsteen, Landau had a natural instinct for pop-rock; dissatisfied with psychedelia’s lack of focus, he was drawn to MC5’s raucous energy, helping them channel it into a bluesy, catchy bubblegum-pop record that rolled party and rebellion into one. 

The problem was: the audience. MC5 had already announced themselves as punk trailblazers almost a decade ahead of schedule. Their turn towards a cleaner, more mainstream sound turned off a fanbase interested in revolt over record sales, peaking at No.137 in the US – over 100 places lower than Kick Out The Jams. Long-term, however, Back In The USA opened up a world of airplay and mainstream acceptance, if not for the group (who split in 1972, after the release of their third album, “High Time”), then for anyone willing to combine anarchy and danceable pop music in the years that followed.

The MC5 also happened to be making some of the greatest rock’n’roll music ever committed to tape. Post-Elektra, the band managed to record two raucous LPs for Atlantic. The first, ‘Back In The USA’, is often considered to be their weakest – and while it suffers both from a dearth of political focus and a thin, edgy sound (it was recorded by rock critic Jon Landau, who’d never produced a record before), its concise, commercially skewed sound was a profound influence on punk groups like The Clash, while songs such as ‘The Human Being Lawnmower’ offered a radical rewiring of the old bubblegum rock blueprint.

Though the album was viewed as a flop early on by most fans, and lacked the commercial success of their previous release, it would later be considered highly important due to the album’s absolute projection of MC5’s core sound and earliest influences.

In hindsight, MC5 were greatly ahead of their time in terms of both the radical changes they made to their sound and template they laid for a whole new musical genre. The group have been nominated – and overlooked – for entry into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on numerous occasions, but their true reward is that the collective consciousness of the pop-culture-loving world now know them as this: punk pioneers who became something so much more – a band that showed the way for forging aggressive catharsis with infectious pop music.

MC5 
  • Rob Tyner – vocals
  • Wayne Kramer – guitar, vocals on first & third chorus of “Back in the USA”, guitar solos on “Tutti Frutti”, “Teenage Lust” and “Looking at You”
  • Fred “Sonic” Smith – guitar, guitar solo on “The American Ruse”, lead vocals on “Shakin’ Street” and second chorus of “Back in the USA”
  • Michael Davis – bass
  • Dennis Thompson – drums

Johnny Thunders & Wayne KramerJohnny Thunders & Wayne KramerJohnny Thunders & Wayne KramerFreudlp076

The New York Dolls & MC5 guitarists collaboration! with Wayne Kramer, It’s the first time on vinyl; in a limited edition in dark red & dark yellow coloured vinyl, on 2xLP with five bonus ‘Live at Max’s’ tracks only previously available on bootleg. Johnny Thunders & Wayne Kramer’s ‘Gang War’ In 1979, Johnny Thunders, renowned band Heartbreakers and New York Dolls guitarist, teamed up with Wayne Kramer, also legendary guitarist of Detroit’s seminal MC5, to form ‘Gang War’, an alliance that lasted the best part of a year. Although Gang War released no records and without a label – at the time they were an underground act; in retrospect the collaboration is looked on as a ‘rock fantasy’ supergroup.

These live recordings bear testimony to this unique partnership between two celebrated rock guitar icons. Gang War came about shortly after Johnny released his ‘So Alone’ album, and Wayne was not long out of jail after serving two years of a sentence of four years for a coke bust. Arriving in Detroit with the Heartbreakers, Johnny met his teenage idol Wayne who jammed with them at the gig. Johnny stayed on, moving his family to Michigan and pledging his future to Gang War. They toured regularly and recorded a couple of demos with a view to getting a deal, but although there was great interest, after eight or nine months they split. On these recordings, both contribute lead vocals and guitars on Thunders and the Dolls tracks such as London Boys, Endless Party and M.I.A.; songs familiar from Kramer and MC5 such as Ramblin’ Rose and Hey Thanks, and fascinating cover versions such as These Boots Are Made For Walking and The Harder They Come.

Together with the between-track repartee they also demonstrate the difference between the two – as Wayne Kramer has said: “Music is important to me and I value the honour, the opportunity, to be an important musician. Johnny, on the other hand didn’t consider himself a musician. He considered himself an entertainer.”

MC5 were one of the most radical bands of the ’60s. Their first album, the live Kick Out the Jams, committed some of the most energetic and aggressive performances of any musicians to record. The band, which formed in Detroit in 1964, influenced how everything from punk to metal to hard rock has sounded over the past half-century. For that alone, they deserve a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Their live album Kick Out the Jams opens with singer Rob Tyner encouraging the audience to join the “revolution.” Even if the revolution didn’t happen while they played,  the band meant what it said. The members all had ties to the White Panther Party (their “manager,” John Sinclair, was a founding member) and performed concerts in protest of the Vietnam War. They even played at the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

While MC5 may not have been the first band to say the word “fuck” on an album, they definitely used it most effectively. The song “Kick Out the Jams” starts with a rallying cry by Rob Tyner to “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” Those famous words complement the relentless proto-punk assault found on the rest of the album.

MC5’s first studio album, 1970’s Back in the USA, predicted the affection for late-‘50s and early ’60s rock ‘n’ roll that punk groups like the Ramones celebrated years later. The 11-song album is only 28 minutes long (this was 1970, a time when 28 minutes would have been about normal for one track by other underground artists) and features short covers of Chuck Berry and Little Richard songs. Their live performances were even closer to punk; onstage, the band encouraged audiences to join them in political protest, all the while creating some of the most abrasive music of its time. Many punk bands cite them as an influence. Guitarist Wayne Kramer’s drug charges are even mentioned in the Clash’s “Jail Guitar Doors.”

Aside from his vocal talents, singer Rob Tyner was known for his awesome hair. Tyner had one of the largest afros in 1969. When coupled with the eclectic fashion of the late ’60s, all the members created a strong image on and off stage.

More than 50 years later, the group’s surviving members (guitarist Wayne Kramer and drummer Dennis Thompson) continue to perform. The band has reunited a few times, though each reunion had been cut short by the death of a member. Kramer, along with British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, worked together on the Jail Guitar Doors Initiative — named after the Clash song that referenced Kramer — which provides instruments to inmates. In 2018, Kramer spearheaded the MC50 tour that included members of Soundgarden and Fugazi, among others.

MC5 – (Motor City 5) Motorcity is burning 1969

MC5 only released three albums, but they were ferocious, adventurous, and confrontational enough to secure the group’s place as one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll bands ever. Singer Rob Tyner, guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith, bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson came together as the MC5 in 1965. The band performed for several years before making its first record. This year is the 50th anniversary of the recording of the band’s incendiary debut, Kick Out The Jams, which was recorded live over two nights at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom in October 1968.

To celebrate, MC5 release Total Assault: 50th Anniversary Collection, a limited-edition boxed set that features all three of the band’s albums pressed on coloured vinyl. It includes Kick Out The Jams (red vinyl), Back In The USA (white vinyl) and High Time (blue vinyl). The albums come in sleeves that faithfully re-create the original releases, including gatefolds for Kick Out The Jams and High Times. All three are housed in a hard slipcase with new art and previously unseen photographs by world renowned photographer Raeanne Rubenstein. The music on Total Assault shows why the MC5 is held is such high regard today with indelible tracks like Kick Out The Jams, Human Being Lawnmower and Sister Anne.

The set also includes a new essay by Creem magazine founding editor/writer and Uncut contributor Jaan Uhelszki, who writes: “Turned loose on a bare stage, the MC5 were among the most awe-inspiring perpetrators of sheer bombast and rock and roll brinkmanship alive… They tore through the stuff they heard on the radio with a fierce intensity that transcended the original artists’ intent. Tunes by James Brown, Chuck Berry, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones vibrated at a higher frequency when the Motor City Five tackled them.”

MC5 co-founder and guitarist Wayne Kramer will release his memoir The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities on August 14th before hitting the road with a new all-star line-up of MC5 called MC50. The group will perform Kick Out The Jams in its entirety, along with other MC5 classics.

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, The MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities by [Kramer, Wayne]

In the late 1960s, Wayne Kramer and his brothers in the radical Detroit punk group MC5 launched a heroic high energy rock and roll assault on US culture in an attempt to bring down the government with a gonzoid manifesto of ‘dope, rock and roll and fucking in the streets’ … Their revolution ended in chaos after being kicked off two record labels and culminating in the band breaking up, with members descending into heroin addiction and imprisonment. The MC5s never had a hit record, but the three classic albums that they made – and their impassioned philosophy and mythology – inspired bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones, and Johnny Thunders, all the way through to Julian Cope, The Cult, and Primal Scream.

Here, for the first time ever on the page, is the inside story of one of the most chaotic and revered bands of all time: a band of brothers from Detroit who – like The Stooges – transformed the power of rock ‘n roll into a revolutionary force.

A rollicking account…from his rough upbringing in post-war Detroit, to his transformation from greaser guitarist to rock ‘n’ roll revolutionary.”–MOJO
“Relives those energising days of the late ’60s, when Detroit’s MC5 mixed rock and revolution with free jazz and exceptional hair…An inspiring and redemptive tale.”–UncutWayne Kramer’s story is an incredible tale of rock ‘n’ roll redemption. The MC5 crystallized the ’60s counterculture movement at its most volatile and basically invented punk rock music. But Wayne’s life proved to be as chaotic as his groundbreaking guitar playing. Rogue, rascal, rebel, revolutionary, artist, addict, inmate, poet, prisoner, and now proud papa, Brother Wayne Kramer is one of the wisest people I know, and he has earned that wisdom the hard way. The world needs to know this man’s story. Here it is.”–Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and Prophets of Rage

Wayne Kramer is the biggest badass in rock ‘n’ roll. Period. And The Hard Stuff proves it. Between these covers is a story of survival, talent, madness, dope, guts, and a sheer, fearless commitment to bringing straight-up enlightenment to this fascist, prison-happy nation we happen to inhabit–even if it meant putting his own freedom, and his own unbelievably epic life, on the line. This just may be the best memoir of the year.”–Jerry Stahl, author of I, Fatty and Permanent Midnight

MC5 fans will relish the opportunity to hear Kramer’s version of events from the band’s history...The Hard Stuff’s lesson is an inspirational one: no matter how far you fall, circumstances can arise which lead you to a better place. Plus it’s just wildly entertaining.”–Midnight to Six

“Often harrowing, sometimes hilarious and always compelling.”–Buffalo News

“The MC5 are the ultimate cult band: a rebellious group from late-1960s Detroit whose raw, proto-punk take on rock’n’roll influenced everyone from the Sex Pistols to Primal Scream. They never made it, though, and when you read this memoir by the guitarist and leader Wayne Kramer, you begin to see why. The Hard Stuff can be read as a manual of how not to become a rock star. Drugs, band feuds, jail and radical politics all combined to prevent stardom. This is a story of bad luck and bad behaviour in equal measure.”–Times of London

“There’s nothing like an autobiography when it comes to really digging deep. Kramer’s The Hard Stuff does exactly that. It’s simultaneously brutally honest, heartbreaking, hilarious, and life-affirming…It’s a frankly wonderful read.”–Detroit Metro Times

“A gritty rock memoir detailing a cult American band’s fall from grace and its subsequent determination not to get up…Gripping and sobering…A manual of how not to be in a band.”–Wanted Online

“He defied death, drugs and detention. Now MC5 legend Wayne Kramer has written an equally full-on memoir…Eye-opening…Wide-ranging…His journey from fatherless child to musical maverick to junkie to upstanding survivor reads like a history of the late 20th century.”–The Observer

Wayne Kramer, legendary guitarist and co-founder of quintessential Detroit proto-punk legends The MC5, tells his story in The Hard Stuff.

MC5: A True Testimonial, also written as MC5 * A True Testimonial, is a 2002 feature-length documentary film about the MC5, a Detroit-based rock band of the 1960s and early 1970s. The film was produced by Laurel Legler and directed by David C. Thomas; the couple spent more than seven years working on the project.

Although the MC5 are considered very influential today, they were relatively obscure in their time. To make the film, Thomas collected photographs and film clips of varying quality, including U.S. government surveillance footage of the MC5’s performance at the protests that took place outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He interviewed the surviving members of the band and people closely associated with it. In the editing room, Thomas matched the band’s recordings to the silent footage he had collected.

MC5: A True Testimonial made its premiere on August 22, 2002, at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Three weeks later it made its international premiere on September 11th at the Toronto International Film Festival. In November of that year, the film was awarded an “Honorable Mention” as a debut feature at the Raindance Film Festival.

During 2003 and early 2004, the film was shown at film festivals around the world. Critical reception was overwhelmingly positive. The New York Times described the film as “riveting”; The Boston Globe said it was “everything a rockumentary should be and usually isn’t”; and The Washington Post called it “one of the best movies of the summer”. Wayne Kramer, the MC5’s guitarist, said it was a “wonderful film” and John Sinclair, the band’s one-time manager, said Thomas had done “a fine job”.
In 2007, Time Out London ranked it #48 on a list of the “50 Greatest Music Films Ever”.

In April 2004, Kramer sued Legler and Thomas. In his suit, Kramer alleged that Legler and Thomas had promised he would be the film’s music producer, an assertion the film-makers denied. With the lawsuit, distribution of MC5: A True Testimonial ended and plans for a DVD release in May were canceled. In March 2007, the court ruled in favor of Legler and Thomas, and the Court of Appeals upheld the decision on appeal. Nevertheless, MC5: A True Testimonial has not been released on DVD, although in 2011 the film-makers began a fund-raising campaign to pay for rights to the band’s music.

mr pharmacy 20 waynekramer

Mr Pharmacy aka Gregg Foreman from the band Pink Mountaintops, and his monthly radio show featuring Wayne Kramer from the legendary MC5, Gregg plays Funk, Soul, Psychedelica, Garage Punk and Rock.