Our interview with Wayne Kramer was broken into two parts: one being the music and the other was politics. When asked where the revolution of the 21st century is, he said in a subtle voice, “apathy, ambivalence, cynicism and ignorance”. His demeanor was concise and succinct without any sort of pontification. “The solution will have to occur in broad strokes” said Kramer; like that of popular art movements. If I were to embark with artistic similes it would be Impressionist vs. Jackson Pollock; the influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. Kramer’s take on agitprop of our time reflects political propaganda promulgated chiefly in literature, drama, art and music.
Detroit Riots of 1967
The Motor City 5.. Loud and Proud
Kramer is the first to tell you that the Detroit audience are the most receptive in the world. Because of the outcry of a poor economic metropolis, acute unemployment and demanding an immediate halt to the war in Viet Nam it created the perfect storm for anarchy. Most of the call for change was solely held on the coasts but Kramer’s band the MC5 (Motor City 5) felt it was their duty to create change within the city of Detroit. Interestingly, Detroit at that time was a musical epicenter of creativity. Motown had created a sound that had crossed the race barrier and home grown Mitch Ryder felt it incumbent to record iconoclastic party records that laid the groundwork for artists’ afterwards. The incredible Iggy Pop had inspired legions of punk rockers with his live antics. Rock n’ Roll in the great Motor City used The MC5 as a base for rock music and protest.
MC5 Performing at Wayne State University in Detroit
The Midwest would no longer be vacant of political change. MC5 felt the weight of the modern world upon their shoulders and indoctrinated the manifesto of immediate change in the system. Kramer would often refer to friends and band mates as “brothers”. A brother of theirs was incarcerated for whatever meager crime he committed. While in jail he would read periodicals written by the Black Panthers whom were based in Oakland Ca.. The verbiage was not for the timid; with spokespeople Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Angela Davis they called for a parallel political party that would include dissatisfied white Americans to join them in creating a center point for their cause. This then became a genetic recombination which created the proto type of the White Panther Party and MC5 were the eye of the storm!
Black Panther Brother.. Huey Newton
MC5 Performing “ Looking at You”..
The band signed a record deal with Electra Records, who’s president Jac Holzman was Gung ho in supporting the band with their political agenda. At this time in American history these groups were coined as “radicals” while in today’s etymology they’d be branded “terrorists”. Every politically right group or political agency from the John Birch Society, the FBI, the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, neo-fascist and the CIA had the MC5 on their radar. Kramer acknowledged that MC5 concerts would always lead to riots where ever they performed; just when the music ended. Their family’s lives were in constant jeopardy when reactionary terrorist groups would fire bomb their homes and cars. With the tire hitting the road the situation became so acute that band had no choice but to move to Ann Arbor where the atmosphere was friendlier to Mc5’s leftist ideology.
MC5..”The Motor City is Burning”
To make matters worse Elektra Records had dropped MC5 due to many reasons. One being Elektra Records were being sold to the Kinney Corporation and president Jac Holzman pretty much went back on his word because of the fear that the deal with Kinney would fall through . Elektra records by their very nature had an array of artists who were all part of the political left; those being The Doors, Arthur Lee and Love and folk singer Judy Collins. This was the label’s attempt to move into more contemporary music for the masses. Evidently the Motor City 5 was in de facto too volatile and incorrigible for corporate America to swallow.
While in Ann Arbor MC5 were introduced to a local musician named J.C. Crawford. His role with the band was while on stage he would introduce the band. His fashion of “testifying” was like a Southern Baptist orator meets Southern comedian Brother Dave Gardner. His political stance was congruent to that of the bands but once on stage he verbally turned into a soothsayer of things to come and would ignite MC5’s live performance. Other bands have tried this but no one was as vociferous or moxy-like as Crawford.
Like a Southern Preacher… Brother J C Crawford
J C Crawford & MC5 circa 1968
During this time MC5 became known as a true testimonial of being “The Bad Boys of Rock”. It doesn’t matter if you are just; it matters if you are depicted of being just. Their vigor and testament ignited riots in Chicago during the Democratic Convention in August 1968 following their free concert in the park. After their performance the riot ensued and headliner Neil Young was unwilling to take the stage. During these riots the chant, “The whole world is watching,” was resounding throughout the world. It truly gave American democracy a “black eye” while the power of live television was at its early zenith.
The Whole World is Watching
We Can Change the World
Kramer had told us that in retrospect he felt the self-recrimination of being a band that was out of the music business and that by 1971 they severed ties with the White Panthers. Realizing the ramifications of their actions he conceded that they didn’t really think things through. Attorney General, John Mitchell had reams of information on MC5 that was intended to neutralize American dissidents. This was referred to as Co-Intel-Pro.
In 1975, Kramer was caught selling a pound and a half of cocaine to undercover federal agents and went to prison for over two years at the Lexington Federal Prison in Lexington, Kentucky. While incarcerated he met the jazz trumpeter, Red Rodney who had played with Charlie Parker’s quintet. They played together in the institution’s Sunday chapel. During these years Kramer learned how to read music; something he never nurtured while being a guitar titan with MC5.
Following his prison term he joined up with fellow Detroit acid/jazz/funk band Was Not Was and had co-written the hit, “Wheel Me Out’. Kramer as a musician was always reinventing himself and he moved to New York which begot a band with former New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders called Gang Wars.
The spirit of Wayne Kramer was never dormant in regards to his anti-political self and he told Rock Bands of L.A. com that the war on drugs was the biggest travesty and cancer within the American political system. He narrated a brilliant PBS special, “The Narcotic Farm” and scored the soundtrack which was titled, “Lexington”, which uncovered the U.S.’s instructed inability to change worldwide drug trafficking.
The history of the MC5 had its mortality wakening with the deaths of “band brothers”, Rob Tyner and Fred “Sonic” Smith, both at the age of only 46. Wayne Kramer spoke of his band mates in earnest sincerity that drugs and alcohol was incumbent of being a radical in the 60’s but he knew that his purpose would require sobriety for himself.
Guitar Titan… Wayne Kramer
When Kramer moved to Los Angeles he had a steady diet of projects to feast at. He started a relationship with L.A. punk label Epitath where he played with many local bands so that his music acumen would become a great asset to these bands. Wayne had his mojo in gear that he participated in many projects from T.V., movies and video games.
The Clash in 1978 released a song called, “Jail Guitar Doors”. The song opens with the lines “Let me tell you ’bout Wayne and his deals of cocaine”, which is an inspiring reference to the MC5’s guitar titan Wayne Kramer.
The Clash-“Jail Guitar Doors”
The British and politically left folk punk singer Billy Bragg had started a nonprofit charity that would donate instruments to inmates incarcerated in prisons. The organization named after The Clash song, “Jail Guitar Doors”. These weren’t the type of penitentiaries that white collar scum were held; these prisons were for the harden criminals. Bragg believed that by introducing music to convicts that it would create a positive fervor that could help with their rehabilitation back into society. The response was so positive that Billy Bragg inducted Wayne Kramer and his spouse, Margaret to the cause and created Jail Guitar Doors.. U.S.A. in 2009. The organization aims to provide musical instruments to inmates across the United States; aid in coordinating volunteer teaching programs, and organizes prison outreach programs. JGD advances new solutions to diminish prison violence and works toward policy reform. Once again Kramer found his easel to perform the “wide strokes of change” that emancipated a lifetime of trying to change the world and conquer the walls of life.
Jail Guitar Doors
Jail Guitar Doors
As the baton of social consciousness continues to be passed on from one generation of rockers to another. There is nothing more evident of MC5’s influence more predominant than Rage Against The Machine..
“Kick out the Jams” as performed by Rage
We want to give special thanks to both Mike Mena and Wayne Kramer for giving their time and energy. We salute you Brothers!