The MC5 and Wayne Kramer
Detroit's MC5 was not only the best rock band to come out of the Midwest in the 60s, but arguably the ultimate inspiration for the whole punk rock movement nearly a decade later: if you're looking for pissed off, revolutionary lyrics and an uncompromising garage rock sound, you can't do much better than this. The group recorded precious little before its 1972 meltdown and never sold a lot of records. But together with "baby brothers" and fellow Detroit rockers Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the MC5 had a direct, undeniable impact on the New York underground bands like the New York Dolls, which eventually made them the grandfathers of punk rock.
After a raucous, out-of-control live debut record that put them squarely in the heaviest possible acid rock territory (Kick Out The Jams, 1969), the group did a surprising about-face with a sharply written, intentionally retro-sounding ode to mid-60s rock and R & B (Back In The USA, 1970). Their third and last album (High Time, 1971) retreated again to acid rock experimentation, but sported enough proto-punk masterpieces like "Over And Over" to make it a classic. When talented, over-the-top vocalist Rob Tyner left the group, guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith tried to keep things going for a few months and then threw in the towel.
Kramer soon landed in prison on a drug charge and spent the rest of the 70s behind bars, while Tyner and Smith drifted in and out of the music industry, failing with their solo careers. By the end of the decade Smith had ended up meeting Patti Smith and becoming her husband; he spent the 80s and early 90s living in retirement with her, before dying in 1994. Around 1980 Kramer briefly worked with ex-New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders in a band called Gang War. He kept a fairly low profile during the 80s, but did apparently show up on some records by Was (Not Was). By the time Kramer finally got started with a serious solo career in 1995, he'd cycled back to the high-volume, bread and butter rock sound of the MC5, so most of his easily available recent records are worth a spin.
Wayne Kramer runs his own home page, and it's pretty informative and not too commercialized.
Kick Out The Jams (1969)
Recorded at a single Halloween show and "produced" after a fashion by Elektra records masterminds Jac Holzman and Bruce Botnick, this is a muddy, messy, ear-busting live album that captures the band's feral intensity and angry left wing politics, but doesn't communicate the rock 'n' roll mastery they got across on their next two discs. Parts of the record are plenty good, strongly recalling the furious live sound of the contemporary Who (title track). Their blazing take on the roots rock standard "Ramblin' Rose (a 1962 hit for Nat "King" Cole) is set apart by Tyner's wild-eyed falsetto, and the stomping, early Hendrix-like "Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)" has one of the greatest guitar licks of the late 60s. Most of the time, though, there's so much out-of-control, screechingly distorted guitar bluster that you can barely even make out Tyner's shrieking, gut-spilling vocals ("Come Together," not the Beatles song; "Starship," a painful rewrite of the Sun Ra tune with an abysmal, overlong guitar noise-plus-mantra freakout section). There's a surprisingly pedestrian six-minute Chicago blues dressed up with revolutionary lyrics ("Motor City Is Burning"), and some of the writing just isn't very sharp (the oddly organized "Borderline," like the Jefferson Airplane at its loudest; the plodding cover tune "I Want You Right Now," whose "Wild Thing"-like riff and super-heavy acid rock guitar work again recall Hendrix). Still, though, Kramer and Smith's twin lead guitar attack is impressive, and it's unquestionably one of the most exciting live rock records of the decade. (JA)
Back In The USA (1970)
Death Tongue (Kramer: 1991)
Citizen Wayne (Kramer: 1997)
Mad For The Racket (Mad For The Racket: 2001)
Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!