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Had to share this, I got all fired up discussing Wayne Kramer and the MC5 who's music I've always loved!

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Recently I was drawn into a facebook thread where folks were discussing the merits of (or not) of Brother Wayne Kramer’s upcoming “We are MC5: The Heavy Lifting Tour" and an album of new material (produced by Bob Ezrin) celebrating and continuing the band's legacy 51 years after the release of their final album. In most cases I agree with folks who don’t like how artists go out under the name of a former band with few or none of the original members due to the money-grubbing nature of it all (Blackfoot, Molly Hatchet, Rainbow), but this is a different deal.   

True, Wayne Kramer is the sole original member ramrodding all of this new endeavor, although original drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson plays on at least a couple of songs on the upcoming new album, and may appear on the tour.  Lead singer Rob Tyner died in 1991, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, 1994, and bassist Michael Davis, 2012. The MC5 released only three albums while active; Kick Out the Jams 1969, Back in the USA 1970 (produced by long-time Bruce Springsteen producer Jon Landau – Back in the USA to Born in the USA!), High Time 1971. 

For the completely uninitiated; MC5 = Motor City 5, an innovative, kick ass Detroit rock and roll band that pounded the same stages in the day as The Stooges (Iggy Pop). Their scope was grander than, and not limited to punk; but it was indeed Punk Rock years before anyone even called it that, when muscle cars ruled the streets and the legendary Grand River Avenue venue, the Grande Ballroom, was the center of the Detroit Rock and Roll universe. 

Hilariously, there were the folks in the thread who claim Kramer was riding the MC5 coattails and he wouldn’t have a career without hanging on to it, some even saying he ought to do something on his own, as if he hasn’t done anything since 1971, completely oblivious to his highly regarded solo and ensemble work over a very active 50 + year career. These are surely the same idiots that pony up $35 for Pink Floyd and Eagles tribute act shows and claim “there’s no good music anymore”. 

I had the great fortune to spend a lot of quality musical time and even some personal time with Brother Wayne and felt compelled to share it. So, whether you like or care about his stuff  outside of the MC5 or not, I am going  to fill in some gaps, tell some fun stories and to drop a ridiculous amount of names. 

No one else in the band ever came close to flying the flag for the MC5 over the years as Wayne, and if you’ve experienced any of it live, or listened to it on record, it’s plain to see the man is still producing art in the same no-bullshit, high-energy rock and roll manner with all the spirit and joy as he ever did. Wayne has released far more than double the output of what the MC5 ever produced in their day, and has performed and toured throughout.  

Fred Smith was out there for a while, in 1974 he formed Sonic’s Rendezvous Band with singer/guitarist Scott Morgan (the Rationals), originally Michael Davis on bass until he got arrested, then Ron Cooke (from Mitch Ryder’s band Detroit), and finally Gary Rasmussen (The Up) settling in on bass, Scott Ashton from the Stooges on drums.  They had a good run, burning up the clubs in Michigan, even backing Iggy for a European tour. They only released only one single while active, the great “City Slang”. The band petered out after Smith met and married poet, songstress, icon Patti Smith, focusing on family life with her, understandably.   

Finally in 2000, Detroit label Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts released a “odds and sods” 13 song compilation, "City Slang"; in 2006, UK label Easy Action Records released a six-CD box set; "Sonic’s Rendezvous Band" with full live shows and random songs; in 2007, Alive Records released a stand-alone show from the box set "Live, Masonic Auditorium Detroit, January 14, 1978" – a smokin’ show all around. The Runaways opened and The Ramones were the headliners! Perhaps the greatest band to never record a proper album.

After Kramer served his federal prison time, he hooked up with Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls) in 1980 forming the band Gang War, which had some amazing highs before it all predictably came crashing down. He had a highly acclaimed run of solo albums beginning in the early 1990’s on the Epitaph label, into the early 2000’s on his own Muscletone label (five studio albums and a killer live album LLMF {Live Like a Mother Fucker} as well as the assorted MC5 revivals, reunions and tributes he's organized, he, more than anyone else, sure as hell exposed the music of the MC5 to a lot of folks who otherwise would have no clue. He was/is also involved in many side projects and punk rock supergroups and produced some great artists as well.  Imagine how much less awareness of the MC5 there would be these last 50 years if Brother Wayne didn’t decide to set nose to grindstone and get back out there again?   

Some also griped that all this is being done only to lobby the so called “Rock and Roll hall of fame”. Other than the following, I have nothing to say about what serves as the “Rock and Roll hall of fame” which the MC5 are once again nominated; they’ve been “eligible” since 1992. If you look at who has been inducted during the meantime, that shows you all you need to know about Cleveland’s "R&R hof”.  According to them, amongst a plethora of dubious choices, Madonna is more essential in the canon of Rock and Roll than the MC5.  

There is an ongoing internal controversy over a MC5 documentary film release and I don’t know enough about it to comment on it here, other than, like many, I want to see it! There’s also some controversy over his book “The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities” that I have not yet read, so I have nothing to comment on that either. 

The 5 were long gone before I started rocking, I knew of their reputation, growing up in Sturgis, Michigan - they played the Armory there in ’68, just months before the Grande Ballroom shows where their first album was recorded (oft bootlegged, officially released in 2002 as “Starship: Live at Sturgis Armory 1968" on the High Energy label). I was four years old at the time.  I had to survive on Blue Öyster Cult’s live cover of “Kick Out the Jams” from their Some Enchanted Evening album for years before I finally got my hands on the 5’s three. 

Living in LA during in the 90’s - 2000’s, I had quite a few opportunities to see his always very rocking band around the LA clubs at the time. Along with one-nighters all over town, he had residencies at Spaceland in Silverlake and The Baked Potato in Burbank. Michael Davis was hanging out there one night, I think he was living in Arizona at the time, sat at table with him and talked some, cool guy. The shows were always great - the late, great Doug Lunn often on bass. Rick Parnell or Brock Avery or Eric Gardner all kicking ass on drums, whomever available. Also caught a great gig at The Abbey in Chicago with Jim Wilson's criminally under-appreciated and smokin' hard rock band Mother Superior opening. Wayne was also producing them at the time.   

I was able to talk with Wayne often at these gigs and found him to be kind, engaging and thoughtful in conversation. I hung out often enough he started recognizing me, addressed me as "Sturgis Homeboy", and graciously, seriously, and often hilariously, answered my fan-boy questions like “what did you think of the Alice Cooper Band when they decided to be a Detroit band and moved right on in?”, “was sweaty teddy as much of a maniacal, idiotic, annoying, duplicitous hypocrite when he was in the Amboy Dukes as he is now?”, “was the Bob Seger System really “heavy music?”, “were Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels all that? - classic stuff! - the answers are for another story!

One time I gave him my new garage 4-track cassette recorded CD; the next time I saw him he’d listened to it, I told him it was probably too twangy for him (it’s an eclectic, punky Americana rookie effort) and he said he was good with the twang, he shared that his stepfather was a country singer who he played with sometimes. 

Another blessing of this little “era” was that activist, poet, critic and underground journalist  John Sinclair (with His Blues Scholars) were releasing a series of his beat-jazz spoken word albums on the Alive Records/Total Energy labels and would often open shows for Wayne who would join in with him too. Hell, sometimes trumpeter Charles Moore (both he and Wayne appeared on the albums as well) would show up and you’d get to trip on some wild Sun Ra Arkestra-like excursions. Sinclair was generous with conversation as well, although much more appropriately and welcomely weird. 

It was already a world where stadium and hockey rink concert tickets were unrealistically and outrageously expensive, and the whole over-commercialized experience was successfully killing the spirit of the thing. I was in heaven to be hanging out in these intimate clubs/music venues, engaging these folks I’d only read about in the legendarily influential Detroit Rock and Roll bible; Creem Magazine, never thinking I’d even get a chance to hear them play, let alone right in front of me and get to know them a little.  

John Lennon wrote a protest song in support of John Sinclair ingeniously titled “John Sinclair”; where he indignantly proclaims in the best protest Lennon; “they gave him 10 for 2, what else can the bastards do?!”. Sinclair founded the White Panther Party in sympathetic and congruent spirit to the Black Panthers, to say the least, local law enforcement weren’t fans…   

In 1969, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years for selling two joints to an undercover Detroit narc at age 27. In 1971 Lennon and Yoko Ono organized the “John Sinclair Freedom Rally” staged in the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where 15,000 reportedly showed up in an over-sellout. This was Lennon’s first appearance in the USA since the Beatle split. Speakers included Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg; performers included John & Yoko, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Phil Oaks, Archie Shepp, Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, David Peel. It worked, Sinclair was released. 

John Sinclair was on the front lines of fighting for marijuana legalization since 1962 and paid heavy prices. In a fine lesson of fortitude, in December 2019 in Ann Arbor, a 78 year-old John Sinclair was the first citizen to legally purchase weed in the state of Michigan. 

I digress, I'd meet all kinds of great folks at the Kramer solo band shows, Don Was (who produced and played on some of Wayne’s stuff), George Wendt would show up often, I’ve literally bellied up to the bar bullshitting with “Norm” listening to Wayne Kramer! One night as I strolled into Spaceland, Lemmy Kilmister was standing there alone in the middle of the room pre-show, bird-doggin’ me - I froze in my tracks right in front of him when our eyes met, after a uncomfortable pause he bellowed; “Who the fuck are you?” right into my face, I was so shook up that Lemmy was looking me in the eye, I really was thinking “right, who the fuck AM I?”. I don’t even remember how I replied but I guess it was good enough as I was allowed to hang with him, talk a little and communally enjoyed the show. There were also a lot of great opening acts who were all cool and approachable off stage as well; Lee Ving (FEAR), The Rollins Band (the aforementioned Mother Superior were doing double duty as Henry’s band in those days), Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, Reeves Gabrels would show up and play, righteous stuff! 

This all led up to the DTK/MC5 partial MC5 reunion in 2004, depending on the gig, along with the original remaining three originals (Davis, Thompson, Kramer) you’d get to see Marshall Crenshaw, Kim Thayil, Mark Arm, Evan Dando amongst others. I really enjoyed the shows, to me they were all done in earnest tribute as well as simply being a wonderful high-energy, ballsy rock and roll show.  I didn’t know if it would work with a semi-revolving cast, but every participating musician I saw perform in the several shows I attended were absolutely in the Kick out the Jams Motherfucker spirit and execution. 

It should also be noted that he and his wife, Margaret Saadi Kramer joined Billy Bragg in their important work of their non-profit organization Jail Guitar Doors (https://www.jailguitardoors.org/) a program developed to help the rehabilitation of the incarcerated via distribution of musical instruments for the use of inmates, initiating volunteer teaching programs and prison outreach programs.   

Joe Strummer and The Clash famously wrote the song “Jail Guitar Doors” (“B” - side of “Clash City Rockers” 1978 single) in support of Brother Wayne.  Kramer spent two years in the Lexington Federal Prison (Lexington, Kentucky) for selling cocaine to federal narcs. Keith Richards gets a mention in the song as well, he had his own problems dealing with his drug trial up in Toronto at the time (Coke and Heroin).  

In another pleasant twist, I enjoyed the hell out of Wayne’s 2014 solo album Lexington (with the Lexington Arts Ensemble), the Industrial Amusement/INgrooves label  - it’s literally a blazing be-bop/free-jazz album with great serious-cat ensembles including both acoustic and electric bass numbers (Bob Hurst, Doug Lunn, respectively), Dr. Charles Moore on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ralph “Buzzy” Jones on reeds, Phil Ranelin – trombone, Tigran Hamasyan - piano, Brock Avery and Eric Gardner - drums. I was so pleasantly surprised, usually rockers diving into jazz affairs tend to be a misguided, please stay-in-your lane bore of some kind of indulgent fusion, not here. 

In 2018, in Celebration of the 50th anniversary of the MC5’s first album some shows were played, and grew into a tour; again with various band members including Kim Thayil and Matt Cameron (guitar/bass -Soundgarden), Don Was/Billy Gould (Faith No More) on bass, Brendan Canty (Fugazi) drums, and Zen Guerilla vocalist Marcus Durant. 

What it all boils down to is that in my experience Brother Wayne has never let me down on stage no matter in what configuration of a band.  If this "We’re all MC5" thing is what it took to get him out there playing, be thankful for that, there’s not many of us left, and perhaps not much time...  

The “We are MC5: The Heavy Lifting Tour is reported to include Brad Brooks – vocals (Pollo Elastico), Stephen Perkins - drums (Jane's Addiction, Porno for Pyros, Banyon), Vicki Randle - bass (Mavis Staples, Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, Wayne Shorter, Laura Nyro, George Benson, etc…) 

Stevie Salas - guitar (George Clinton, Mick Jagger, Rod Steward, Was (Not Was), Buddy Miles, Sass Jordan, etc...). 

!KICK OUT THE JAMS!

 

February/March 2022

Here I am wandering the streets of Cambodia Town, a neighborhood in Long Beach, CA I was living in for a spell - thanks Rosie! Tom Russell is the fourth guy I mentioned (Chris Smither, Dave Alvin, Ramblin' Jack Elliott) in respective previous posts honoring the Hightone Records - "Monsters of Folk" barnstorming tour of 1998 that was hugely influential to me. Tom is one of my all time favorite songwriters, this one is from his "The Rose of San Joaquin" album from 1995.

His song "Navajo Rug" a co-write with Ian Tyson, was the first one I got on to and also love to perform, (& "Tonight We Ride" too). If you're interested in Tom, a good place to start is his compilation; "The Long Way Around" - another is "Songs of the West - The Cowboy Collection", both from '97. My favorite single album of his is "Borderland" from 2001. If nothing else, I highly, highly recommend at least tuning into this one (& specifically this live version of this one!) "Gallo del Cielo" from the aforementioned "The Long Way Around" album. Translation; "Rooster From Heaven". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2-gYQtQRF8 I adjusted (as well as "mistaked") a few of Tom's lyrics to fit my story, I hope Tom doesn't mind.

Thank you to Vanessa Pearson for the street camera work!

Please share and click the subscribe button to my youtube channel while you’re here, all they do is send you a note when I post something new is all, they don’t charge ya or anything! (If I get a million subscribers I’m allowed to make $25 or something!)

 

Here I am on the shores of South Twin Lake in Howe, Indiana, just south of the border from Sturgis, Michigan aka "Michiana". This song, written by the amazing Aimee Mann, is off of her band 'Til Tuesday's 2nd album, 1986's "Welcome Home". I was already a fan when it was released as I recently saw them open for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at Poplar Creek in Suburban Chicago on his "Southern Accents" tour, the one he later regretted flying the confederate flag as part of the stage design.

I can not believe this song didn't become a big hit, I've always loved it, in fact, love and relate to it so much I can almost never get through singing it without screeching because I'm choking back tears - Damn you Aimee Mann!  According to Aimee, it was such a different sound and type of song from those on their more synthy, new-wavey and more popular first album "Voices Carry", the record company didn't get it and didn't get behind it, to their shame - that rabid ol' problem of fearing something different... 

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