mc50's wayne Kramer
Wayne Kramer founder and lead guitarist of the radically influential sixties band MC5, will be bring his supergroup MC50 to Fort Lauderdale’s Revolution Live on September 5th. SFL Music had the opportunity to chat with Wayne about his band’s history, their influences and what happened to the “Kick Out the Jams” outtakes.
SFL Music: How excited are you after such a great summer with MC50 and get this kicked off in the U.S.?
Wayne Kramer: I’m chafing at the bit. I’m getting a chance to play this music that I helped create so long ago, with this line up of players is kind of a dream come true for me. To really be able go out and play it as well as, you know, all these musicians, Kim Thayil, Billy Gould, Marcus Durant, and Brendan Canty, they are all guys who are working at the peak of their artistic skills and they’ve approached the music seriously. They are playing it just beautifully. I can’t be more excited more excited about it. To tell you the truth.
SFL Music: When and how did this idea come to you for MC50?
Kramer: Well, I love to play music for people and I love working with good musicians and when I saw the 50th anniversary of the recording of “Kick off the Jams” was on the horizon I thought well, maybe if I got my book done in time, we could tie the two projects together. Then that would make both of them a little bit special and so far so good. I think that, you know, it’s at least it this point. Everything is going pretty well.
SFL Music: That’s great.
Kramer: It’s just an excuse for me to get a chance for me to jump up and down on stage and rock out with my friends.
SFL Music: There’s nothing wrong with that. Who was the first musician you reached out to about this project?
Kramer: Well, I made some lists of all my favorite guitar players, bass players, singers and drummers. As I started to work through my lists, I found out that it was going to be more difficult than I thought. Because everyone that plays well, is usually working. So, I had to really to put on my thinking hat and figure out who might be available. I’m glad I started a year in advance, I think probably I called Kim (Thayil) first and or maybe no I called Brendan (Canty) first he was the first. Yeah, I called and Brendan said, “Count me in and sign me up, I’m down.” Then I called Kim and he said,” It sounds it would be fun.” Then I called Marcus, and he said,” It works for him.” And finally, we started off I had Don Was on bass and then I had Doug Pinnick from King’s X.
SFL Music: Right.
Wayne: But we ran into some scheduling problems with Dug and his band. Billy Gould was available, and Billy and I had been friends for years and I called him. And he was available. So it all kinda fell into place wonderfully.
SFL Music: It’s certainly an exciting lineup and I’ve followed it from March or April when your first announcement was made to the changes with everybody you are having at some point, Dan Was and Matt Cameron and I thought I read Greg Dulle.
Kramer: Yeah, and few more people. You know, depending on who’s around, in what city that we are playing in. I’m trying to collect the hometowns of everybody I know in music right now. That way, I can start to arrange some guest appearances of different people for the second part of the show. The first part, we going to play “Kick Out the Jams” from top to bottom. And the second part we’ll play a hand full of songs from the other two albums.
SFL Music: That’s great. I hope Dennis Thompson, will be able to come out. I figure at least the Detroit shows, but hopefully he can come out too. It would be great.
Kramer: Yeah, hopefully. Would love to have him.
SFL Music: Do you have any plans along this 35-date tour to record any of it, either audio or video?
Kramer: Yes, we are going to film a couple of shows and we’re going to record a number of them. I was just thinking today it would be nice to have bookends of “Kick Out the Jams” circa 1968 and “Kick Out The Jams” circa 2018. Kinda, A and B ‘em
SFL Music: I agree with you. I know you got, the soon to be released MC5 “ The Total Assault” on vinyl.
Kramer: That’s right. The whole box set of all 3 of the MC5 albums on red, white and blue vinyl.
SFL Music: That’s going to be phenomenal! I still have my turntable, so I’ll be spinning it when it comes out for sure.
Kramer: It’s got great new photos and wonderful liner notes by Jaan Uhelszki. She really did a great job of telling the story in the liner notes. She is a great writer.
SFL Music: Since you’re doing “Kick Out the Jams” in it’s entirely, I know that you guys recorded that album over October 30th-31st back in 1968 at The Grande Ballroom. Do you have any plan to maybe release a deluxe edition with the stuff that didn’t make it onto the original album?
Kramer: I’ll tell you a very sad tale. We recorded for 2 nights and we also recorded in the afternoon in the empty ballroom. You know, just getting things in tune, mic placement and all that kind of stuff. But at a certain point, Jac Holzman the president of Elektra Records, had his brother-in-law go into the tape library and anything that was not released on an album, he instructed him to throw away the old tapes. All these out takes and other versions went into the trash.
SFL Music: WOW!
Kramer: Yeah, it’s a heartbreaker. The engineer, the wonderful Bruce Botnick, has a copy of a version of “I put a Spell On You”, that we recorded that night and I think and one other song. But otherwise, all the rest of it is lost to the ages.
SFL Music: Missed marked? Or missed named?
Kramer: I wish. I have had a number of people go on extensive searches for them and in the end that's the story that finally came back. That Holzman had to give his brother-in-law a job, you know, so he said go in there, anything that didn’t come out on a record, throw it away. It’s taking up space.
SFL Music: Wow, what an absolute shame.
Kramer: Nobody thought of reissues and collectors in those days. Sad but true.
SFL Music: Does that go for the 2 other albums as well?
Kramer: It does. Atlantic Records has a fire. And they said our tapes went up in smoke. Terrible!
SFL Music: I’m speechless. I’m just, wow, I’m so sorry to hear that, because , no more than you are, as a MC5 fan from way back, I’m just, wow.
Kramer: Would have been nice to have some of studio out takes and different versions and different songs that we recorded. Also there were a number of songs that ended up on “ Back in the USA” that we had recorded in Los Angeles when we were still on Electra. We couldn’t find those either. They were about 8 songs that we cut in a couple days of recording with Bruce Botnick and they were really good sessions. We really were being creative in the studio and we can’t find those tapes either. It’s really the whole aspect of the MC5 legacy had been a great disappointment for me.
SFL Music: Oh gosh, I can only imagine, Wayne. I’m so sorry. For the 2 songs that Bruce has do you think you guys will be able to work something out, where those will be released?
Kramer: Oh sure, we’ll find a way to get those out. Cause they recorded really well and they kinda show the MC5 being the original power ballad band.
SFL Music: Well I must say that I seen it written many different ways, but my take on it was you guys were the blueprint for punk, alterative rock and you were certainly in my feeling from back in the day which we are about the same zone, one of the hardest driving bands out there. You know and unfortunately, I never got to see you guys live. I had one opportunity and I’ll share it with you and get your take on it. You guys were headlining the Easter Rock Festival in Ft. Lauderdale in 1969. I had tickets to that show. I’ve read stories that apparently something went down in California and I don’t know if it was John Sinclair got a hold of you guys and said “Hey, don’t go to Florida, you’re going to be arrested.” But that was…
Kramer: Yeah, but what happen was a photographer happen to be in a hotel room when we were having group sex with a young woman. And he took a picture and they published in the Berkeley Barb. It was an underground newspaper, they were very bold in those days. There was nothing, you know, no genitalia was exposed in the photograph. But you could tell that these people were, you know, doing un orthodox adult things and it was right about the same time that Jim Morrison got arrested for exposing himself in South Florida. So when the local police found out that the MC5 was coming, they issued a warrant for our arrest if we entered the state.
SFL Music: Oh boy.
Kramer: So we decided the better part of valor was to go back to Detroit instead.
SFL Music: That was my one opportunity to see you guys. I’m sorry that’s the only time that I had. Because I went back through the MC5 website. The MC5.org and went through the archives I’ve looked and I saw about 3 times that you guys played Florida back then and for some reason, I’ve missed the other opportunities. But I wanted to ask you, as a solo artist did you ever come down here and record or do anything at Criteria or any of the studios in Florida?
Kramer: I never recorded in South Florida, I did come down there on tour a few times. When I was with Epitaph, I came down there on those van tours that we use to do. And to tell you the truth, I never did that well down there. I ended up playing for 30-40 people. It was a little rough. That’s why I’m hoping that we get a good crowd this time. I know there's a lot of hard rock fans in South Florida. And I just look forward to seeing them all at the gig.
SFL Music: I’ve was hoping the DKT might make it down here at some point and I could see you guys then and it didn’t work out. I’m totally psyched to see this tour and hear one of my all time favorite albums in its entirety along with everything else. I wanted to also ask you, in lots of things I’ve read recently with interviews with the book and things that you have done. You speak a lot of your influences from the free jazz movement, with Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane and others. But I didn’t hear much about who are some of your rock-n-roll influences were? Where you combine the free jazz with other types of music say soul or blues but, primarily rock-n-roll influences that you combined with that free jazz?
Kramer: Our biggest influences were in that core early hard rocking artists, like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and a lot of blue artists influenced us. Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Little Milton. You know as a guitar player, I studied Little Milton. I did study B.B. King, But I liked Little Milton’s stuff a little better. But that early, hard rock-n-roll that was being produced out of New Orleans with Little Richard and from Chicago, Chuck Berry on that Chess stuff and also for me personally the early instrumental bands of the day, like the Ventures and the one off garage bands like Johnny and the Hurricanes, and the Rebels and the Frogmen, The Safaris all these early instrumentals were really important to me as a young guitarist. But I think as a band, our home roots were in the music of Little Richard and Chuck Berry.
SFL Music: From the Rock side?
Kramer: Yeah, and I think that basing what we did in those musics has serviced us well over the decades. That same driving beat and hard charging rhythms, exuberant vocals, high spirited visceral approach. It holds up well over time.
SFL Music: I can’t think of another band that laid it all out there like you guys did other than maybe The Who.
Kramer: That’s very kind of you to say. We felt like we were in competition with The Who. We were trying to catch up to them.
SFL Music: I would have to say I would think a band that I was fortunate enough to see in their heyday, well besides The Who, that followed you guys, that kind of exuded some of your same energy, would have been J. Geils.
Kramer: Yeah, we played a lot with them and we were friends and I think there was some crosspollination there.
SFL Music: Who were some of the guys that came to the Grande, that you opened for or played with that were some of your favorites back then?
Kramer: Canned Heat were a big favorite of mine. Because they really got down, When they played, they played all out, balls to the wall and they worked hard on stage and that’s what I was always looking for. I hated when bands would get up there and just stand there and pluck their guitars and I wanted to see people feel something. Because I needed to feel something. So I liked Canned Heat a lot. Moby Grape came through I liked Skip Spence, I thought he was great. We played with Sly and the Family Stone, one weekend. We opened for them. In those days, we did 2 sets a night and both bands for 3 nights and Sly opened and closed every set with the song “Dance to the Music.” 2,4,6 times, I heard him play that song over the weekend. But I loved that they were high energy and they looked good and the danced and they were exciting. That’s what I was interested in. Those were the bands I enjoyed the most.
SFL Music: Well, I know the video that I’ve seen of you guys at Wayne State University and in different places that I’ve been able to find on your YouTube channel and other places, it’s you got one speed, it’s pedal to the metal.
Kramer: Well, that’s what we are going to bring to Ft. Lauderdale.
SFL Music: Well, I can’t wait. Another question for you. And I don’t know really how to approach it and I don’t want to bring up a sore subject. But do you think anything will ever get worked out as far as the documentary A True Testimonial?
Kramer: Well, I’ll tell you. I’m not blocking the movie. I settled my legal differences with the film makers ten years ago. So I’m not obstructing them from finding away
to release the film. And in fact I would like to see the film released. I never have a problem with the movie its self. My issue was only with the film makers. So you know I would be happy to see the film come out and I think there might be a way for it to happen, I’ve been following it. I’ve been talking with some people about it and there might be a way to get it done.
SFL Music: What would you like to tell the fans down here in South Florida that they can expect from your show at Revolution?
Kramer: Well, I am carrying a message. Me and the guys in the band are carrying the MC5 message to a whole new audience, a new generation of rock fans. But the message is one of self-determination and self-efficacy. The message is one of you have endless possibilities, but you have to take action. You can’t sit around and talk about it. You have a get out in the world and do something. You have to make something happen. And you can make a difference. You can make a difference in your own life. You can make a difference in your community, in your family, and we are at a time right now where, people of conscience, people of good conscience and young people are really, the ball is in their court now. This administration, we have in Washington is just destroying things that we love about our country. The corruption from the high offices of Congress down to the State and local officials is ubiquitous and embarrassing, you know, we are destroying the environment, we are having weather events caused by manmade climate change and you know, we have what’s appearing to be perpetual war in the Middle East. We have gone 17 years without a coherent policy in the Middle East. You know people of color are being murdered by police left, right and center. So that’s a lot to fight for. You know, there’s our future and our children’s future to fight for and it’s important and I want to inspire people to take action.
SFL Music: Well said. I never thought that 2018 would look so much like 1968.
Kramer: Me either brother. I kinda thought when Barack Obama was elected President, that we finally achieved you know, it finally moved forward and we stepped out of the regressive past. We were now on the new road. You know how they say “American politics swings 5 degrees," well it swung 5 degrees left that elected Obama and then the clock and the pendulum fell off the wall and smashed on the floor with the election of that developer. I’ve been to prison, you know. I know the difference between right and wrong and I believe in the rule of law.
SFL Music: My hope is that common sense, common decency and moderation somehow rise up. We lost all of that.
Kramer: I am a man on a mission you know. I want to go out and do this tour and inspire people to register and to get out there and vote.
SFL Music: That’s awesome
Kramer: Democracy is not just a word. It’s something that we have to go do, we have to participate in it and if that means putting pressure on the elected officials or organizing politically to elect people that believe the same thing that we believe that's what we have to do. We have to get involved.
SFL Music: How is Jail Guitar Doors (www.jailguitardoors.org) doing? How many prisons are you in?
Kramer: We are in just over 120 American prisons.
SFL Music: What a great thing.
Kramer: Yeah, jail guitar doors is thriving, and we are running songwriting workshop programs all across the country. At Rikers Island in NY, in Detroit, in Massachusetts, in Texas and here in California we are in 10 California Department of Correction facilities from medium to max security facilities and we are the California Youth Probation camps working with the children. They call those camps which is a misnomer. They are actually prisons for children. Yeah, we are doing well at the moment. You know, the prison officials are starting to see the effects of the arts in the correction and how art can be a powerful tool for transformation. It can be the real beginning of opening the door to changing a negative mind set to the positive mind set.
SFL Music: Are you in any prisons here in Florida?
Kramer: Actually, we are. We did launch a program. We have guitars in the Everglades Correctional Facility and we have a self-workshop in a reentry facility over in St. Petersburg. We started talking and sent them a load of guitars and they have a program up and rolling in matter of fact I am glad you reminded me.
SFL Music: Who is going to be your openers at the show?
Kramer: The Goddamn’ Hustle. I like the name.
SFL Music: I have to confess that I don’t have your book yet, but I’ve read just about every review of it and they are spectacular. I can’t wait to get it in my hand and read it. People have suck great things to say about it. You must be pleased.
Kramer: I am. I’m pleasantly surprised. You know it’s a risky thing. You put all the work into it and you put it out there and you never know exactly how people are going to read it. So far so good.