MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer brings MC50 to Cleveland to mark 50th anniversary of ‘Kick Out the Jams’

September 20, 2018

MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer brings MC50 to Cleveland to mark 50th anniversary of ‘Kick Out the Jams’

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Having Green Day in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and not the MC5 is like fawning over the architecture of a lifestyle mall and not recognizing the person who invented the wheel.

In the 1960s, the Motor City 5 pioneered the sound of buzzing guitars, driving rhythms and the primal scream of rebellion. They were punk long before there was such a genre and no disc was more punk or captivated the spirit more than “Kick Out the Jams.”

Fifty years later, Wayne Kramer is on tour to remind us of its raging glory. The MC5 guitarist has assembled a super-group to perform the album in entirety on a tour that hits the House of Blues Sunday.

And, yes, to kick out the jams.

“I’m having the time of my life playing these songs we wrote when we were 18 and 19 years old,” says Kramer, via phone in advance of a show in Montreal. “Even 50 years later, this music doesn’t feel dated at all – it has a style and a substance and is completely relevant with what’s going on today in America.”

“Kick Out the Jams” remains one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most pioneering and lasting albums. It has influenced generations of punks, metal-heads, garage and stoner bands, and has set the template for rock ‘n’ roll outsiders.

“We were outsiders,” says Kramer. “We loved Little Richard and Chuck Berry and R&B and gutbucket blues and we turned our back on the hippie music scene. We thought that scene was boring and lame and wanted to play music that had a visceral energy that could get people going, got them moving.”

Not just to dance and jump around.

The MC5 – Kramer; guitarist Fred Smith; singer Rob Tyner; drummer Dennis Thompson and bassist Michael Davis – was public about its ties to radical political groups and openly espoused an anti-establishment platform.

The band and those views took center stage when the MC5 performed an anti-Vietnam protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. While the protest was broken up by police, the event came to define the band’s rebellious attitude until its breakup in 1972.

“We ran out of ideas by ’72,” says Kramer. “We had three different songs have the same ending; he had hit a dead end.”

The MC5, under the tutelage of manager John Sinclair, advocated a hedonistic manifesto: sex, drugs and revolution. It got the best of them, including Kramer. He battled drug addiction and alcoholism and even went to prison for selling cocaine in the 1975.

“In prison, I was dealing with a harsher reality than being in a band,” says Kramer, who released a memoir earlier this year, “The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities.” “It gave me a different perspective on life.”

At the time, Kramer thought the odds were great that he would be the first member of the band to die. The 70-year-old is one of only two surviving members of the band.

“Keith Richards got to do pharmaceutical grade and had access to best docs and medicine,” he says. “I did street drugs and survival was always a problem. But my mother instilled an appreciation for life and I always woke up every morning looking forward to the day.”

When he takes the stage Sunday, Kramer will be joined by bassist Billy Gould, singer Marcus Durant, guitarist Kim Thayil and drummer Brendan Canty.

Missing, however, will be original MC5 member Thompson.

“I’ve invited Dennis to play drums and he’s accepted and refused three times,” says Kramer. “The invite stands – Dennis, you’re welcome to come and play.”

At 70, Kramer is happy to not only reconnect with the album, but to be playing at all.

“We when made this music we thought we were creating music that had historical validity,” he says. “Now I realize that we did and it still sounds great – and I’m still alive to do this.”



When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave, Cleveland.

Tickets: $35-$55. Go to houseofblues.com.

Also on the bill: Rough Francis.

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