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TRIBUTE: Wayne Kramer

“Wayne S Kramer. Peace be with you. April 30 1948 – February 2 2024.”

The announcement was made on Wayne Kramer’s Instagram page yesterday. The co-founder of the highly influential and politically charged Detroit rock band the MC5 had died at the age of 75.

A native of the Chicago city, Wayne Kramer formed the MC5 (short for Motor City Five) in 1963 with his friend and fellow guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith. The two men were subsequently joined by Rob Tyner (vocals), Michael Davis (bass) and Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson (drums) to create the classic line-up of that band. They became the resident “house band” at Detroit’s famous Grande Ballroom and quickly built up a strong reputation for their incendiary live performances. They were managed until 1969 by John Sinclair a radical left-wing writer and co-founder of the White Panther Party – an organisation that promoted freedom, justice, and education, along with “dope, guns, and fucking in the streets” – values that underpinned the MC5’s outlook on life and their powerful revolutionary approach to music.

With their brutal two-chord riffing and hard-hitting politicised lyrics, the MC5’s first three albums – Kick Out The JamsBack in the USA, and High Time (released in consecutive years between 1969-71) – laid down a template for what would eventually become punk music.

Amidst a backdrop of commercial failure, bankruptcy, and drug misuse, the MC5 broke up in 1972. In 1975, Wayne Kramer was jailed for four years for drug dealing. Following his release from prison he guested with the Detroit art-funk band Was (Not Was), became an occasional player on the New York underground scene, before drifting out of musical sight for much of the ‘80s.

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Wayne Kramer at Liverpool Barfly on 6th December 2006

Wayne Kramer re-emerged musically in the early 1990s, signing to the punk rock label Epitaph Records which served to ignite his solo career. Rob Tyner and Fred Smith had both died during the ‘90s but in 2001 Kramer, alongside Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson and a rotating cast of others – including at various times Ian Astbury of The Cult and Motörhead’s Lemmy – toured extensively playing the music of the MC5.

In December 2006 I had the great fortune and immense pleasure of catching an iteration of that version of the MC5 – with guest vocalists Mark Arm from Mudhoney and The Bellrays’ lead singer, Lisa Kekaula – tear through a blisteringly white-hot set which opened with a coruscating cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ and ended about 15 songs later with an equally incandescent ‘The American Ruse.’ 

“Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!”

RIP Wayne Kramer

Photos: Simon Godley 

Main photo of Wayne Kramer taken at Glastonbury Festival on 29th June 2013.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.