mc5 - The I-94 Bar
Tracking the post-Sonic’s Rendezvous Band career of Detroit’s rocking rhythm and blues man, Scott Morgan, gets a little easier next month with the release of three of his solo band albums on a double CD.
UK label Easy Action (who else?) will release the “Scots Pirates”, “Revolutionary Means” and “Rock Action” LPs in re-mastered form as “Revolutionary Action” on October 20.
The 38-song collection will be encased in the usual top-shelf packaging with a bonus cut, the hard-to-find cover version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Can You See Me?”
It’s a truism that stated fact sits at one end of the scale and fiction at the other, with the truth lying somewhere in-between. Ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer has been a divisive figure at times - the stillborn “A True Testimonial” documentary, anyone? - so parts of his story will be disputed by some.
Ultimately, though, it’s pointless buying into all that. “The Hard Stuff” is Kramer’s own story and it’s told from his own perspective. None of the other people still standing are offering alternative perspectives (although the posthumous autobiography from bandmate Mike Davis is out there, too.) On its merits, “The Hard Stuff” is a rollicking read with only a few stones left unturned.
The plotline for dummies: Kramer’s the working class Detroit kid from a broken family who shook off the handicap of an abusive stepfather and forged his own musical way. He was a founding member of the radical chic MC5 and remains a compellingly lyrical guitar player who’s influenced countless others.
“The Hard Stuff” takes us through the rise and fall of the 5, Kramer’s slide into crime, his imprisonment for drug dealing, ongoing battles with booze and smack, career revival and personal redemption through hard work and love.
Wayne Kramer is marking the 50th anniversary of the MC5's “Kick Out The Jams” album with a world tour under the banner of “MC50”.
Joining Kramer will be Brendan Canty (Fugazi), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Doug Pinnick (King's X), and Marcus Durant (ZenGuerrilla). Each night the band will perform “Kick Out The Jams” in full, followed by a rotating encore built from later MC5 material.
Some European festival dates, including Spain’s Azkena Festival ,have been announced but only one US show – September 27 at the Fillmore Detroit - has been released. Watch this space.
Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock and Roll in America’s Loudest City– Steve Miller (Da Capo Press)
Call me biased and armed with far too much hindsight for my own good, but for a brief time in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Detroit was the lesser-known but undeniable epicentre of genuine rock and roll. The music industry, as it was, might have had its moneyed roots deeply planted on America’s East and West Coasts, but the real action was occurring deep in the US Midwest.
Sure, there was Motown and its over-ground success that eventually shifted to L.A. to mutate and die but we’re talking a parallel universe here that was populated by a different cast of characters plying a blue-collar strain of music. It’s an eternal truism that musical scenes never last. The Motor City’s rock and roll had its moment but succumbed to fashion, drugs, shifting attention spans – whatever factors play to your own historical biases – and has never recovered.
FLASHBACK: First posted October 16, 1999: It's been quite an odyssey for Wayne Kramer. From 1964 to 1972, he was point man and Fender guitar terrorist for the legendary MC5, the Ur-American garage band turned psychedelic radicals whose high-energy jams prefigured much of the next 30 years of rock and roll dementia.
Kramer sat out a couple of years at the end of the 70s in Federal penitentiary on a drug charge, but resumed his career when he landed back on the street in 1979, playing in Gang War with Johnny Thunders, recording with Was (Not Was) and others.
Then in 1995, when a lot of people had written him off, he roared back into action with an album on Epitaph entitled "The Hard Stuff". Since then there have been three more Epitaph albums and a plethora of side projects.
Brother Wayne joined me at the bar on three different occasions, twice from his home in Hollywood, California and once from the L.A. studio where he's currently producing an album for Damned founder member and former Iggy Pop sideman Brian James.
It’s been years in the making and "LOUDER THAN LOVE", the long-awaited documentary paying tribute to legendary Detroit music venue the Grande Ballroom, is finally available.
The Grande was the birthplace or breeding ground for the likes of the Stooges, the MC5, The Up and The Rationals. It also became a notorious killing field for visiting international bands who had to undergo a "trial by support band" where the locals did their best to blow them off the stage (sometimes succeeding.)
“LOUDER THAN LOVE: The Grande Ballroom Story” is Tony D’Annunzio’s first independent film as a producer and director. His movie chronicles the Detroit music scene in the late 1960s, as told through the eyes of the legendary bands that played there.
The Downtown 3 are (from left) Carrie Phillis, Craig Jackson, Scott Nash and Johnny Casino. Emmy Etie photo.
During some lean times for rock and roll in Sydney, two staples of the live scene have been Johnny Casino & The Secrets and the Booby Traps. Casino (aka John Spittles) is a guitar toting veteran of hard-hitters Asteroid B612 and a variety of bands also much of his own making, The Secrets being the most durable (and essentially a two city collective with bases in Sydney and Melbourne) playing rootsy but righteous rock. The Booby Traps were a wonderful collision of fuzzy garage pop and girl group pizzaz, fronted by fetching songstress Carrie Phillis.
He also served: Gang War drummer John Morgan and life in the trenches with Johnny Thunders and Wayne Kramer
Gang War at Second Chance in Ann Arbor in 1979. Sue Rynski photo
It’s said the drummer in a rock and roll band has the best seat in the house. It’s given John Morgan his unique perspective on some of rock and roll’s most talented, fascinating and sometimes flawed characters.
Now living in Ventura, California, John Morgan’s spent half his life as a professional musician, playing with a long list of blues and jazz bands. But it’s his insights into two in particular: Gang War and Sonic's Rendezvous Band - the former as a partcipant, thw latter as an observer - that will hold the most interest for I-94 Bar patrons.
They can't crack it for a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but the MC5 will be honoured with a 50-year retrospective exhibit and concert in their Detroit-area hometown of Lincoln Park, Michigan, at the Lincoln Park Historical Museum.
An open reception will be held on July 11 with a concert on July 12. The exhibit will run through Labor Day, September 7, with regular museum hours (Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1-6pm.) Admission to all events is free though donations to the Lincoln Park Historical Society are encouraged.
The exhibit highlights iconic photos by Detroit photographer Leni Sinclair and Lincoln Park-raised Emil Bacilla, original psychedelic posters by Carl Lundgren, and Gary Grimshaw (also raised in Lincoln Park) and band memorabilia (including personal artifacts from the Derminer/Tyner family.)
The concert will be held in the Park Band Shell in Memorial Park - one of the earliest sites where the MC5 played – with music from Timmy’s Organism, Rocket 455 and Chatoyant.
Surviving MC5 members Wayne Kramer and Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson and the families of Rob Tyner, Fred “Sonic” Smith and Michael Davis have been invited. While Kramer is unable to attend, Thompson will be in attendance at both the Saturday and Sunday events.
While the band was the target of establishment harassment during its existence, the afternoon concert will be marked by Lincoln Park Mayor Tom Karnes presenting the keys to the city. Ain't irony grand?
A limited edition of Carl’s Lundgren’s artwork created for the anniversary celebration poster will be available for purchase at the opening night and on the day of the concert. The Lincoln Park Historical Museum website is here.
I was just looking at my review of Bro. Wayne Kramer's reished "Hard Stuff" and I musta been outta my fuckin' mind when I wrote it...that album definitely rates five Rolling Rocks if anything does. Which made me wonder, why am I so hard on Wayne?
“Brutal” was the first word that came to mind after finishing the posthumous autobiography of MC5 bass player Michael Davis and that adjective is still hanging in the air, 24 hours later.
Over 350 skilfully-written pages, Davis shines a spotlight onto the lives of family, friends, lovers, bandmates and associates over five decades, but it’s the glare cast on his own existence that’s the starkest.
By accident or design, “I Brought Down The MC5” only covers Davis’s life up until meeting his last wife, Angela, and moving to California in the late 1990s. It excludes the DKT-MC5 reunion with bandmates Wayne Kramer and Dennis Thompson, his fight with Hep C, charity work and near fatal 2006 bike crash.
All of that, and Michael finding redemption, could have made a dynamite second book, but Davis sadly passed from liver cancer in 2012, aged 68.
Celebrated American rock poster artist Gary Grimshaw has died at the age of 67 after protracted health battles. Some Detroit musical greats are gathering for a concernt to benefit his family in March.
He’s back with his first solo album in 13 years (how long?) and no-one could accuse Wayne Kramer of not taking chances. In fact, if you’re a longtime MC5 fan, chances are you might struggle with “Lexington” as it dives headlong into territory that his old band - at least on record - visited without fully casting adrift its rock anchor.
Seismic changes in music don’t occur spontaneously. They’re usually a result of people unwittingly being in the right place at the right time, running into a catalyst and stumbling over a big stockpile of serendipity.
Does anyone think CBGB would have been anything more than the source of dogshit on the soles of a few Bowery bums’ shoes if Hilly Krystal hadn’t been conned by a supposed bluegrass band into giving live music a try?
How quickly would the Sex Pistols have fizzled out if Queen hadn’t cancelled on Bill Grundy at the last minute, presumably so Freddy could get his nails done? McLaren had no more planned the TV outburst that propelled his band to infamy as Steve Jones had sworn off the booze.
In 1966, a former dance hall on the shady side of Detroit called The Grande Ballroom became both a focal point for the counter culture and a scene. It attracted and generated a strain of high-energy, blue collar rock and roll, the likes of which have been seen rarely anywhere else. It came into being through good management, but also through incredible luck.
No introduction needed for the onetime spiritual leader of the MC5 so here’s a personal note about meeting John Sinclair:
It was on a night off during a business trip that involved a flying visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the early 2000s. Sinclair was in town for that city’s annual Hash Bash and had just played a show at The Blind Pig. I’d been drinking at the Eight Bar Saloon with some locals, including Scott Morgan who did the introduction.
If you are just surfin' around the net on the lookout for this week's dime-a-dozen Richie Rich, aggression free, smiley-faced, redundant, Ramones tribute band with the obligatory Lewis leather apparel and Betty Page hair-do's, this might not really be your thing. But if your chakras are open to some really far-out psychedelic, cosmic consciousness, vibrating at a higher frequency, maan, this might be your new trip-room soundtrack.
Junkyard Prog, Freak-Jazz, Magic Mushroom instrumentals from other solar systems, other dimensions, other times. Kooky, Otherworldly, Stoner-Pop reminiscent of the Hendrix Experience, Blue Cheer, MC5 jams, King Crimson, solo Steve Vai records, it has an interplanetary sensibility, this guy obviously still communicates telepathically with Sun Ra, and Captain Beefheart, and Brian Eno and Lee Scratch Perry, ya know what I'm sayin'?
In which the complete recorded works of the 1980s and ‘90s are compiled on one double CD set, spanning 38 tracks.
You have to give it to Easy Action. They know how to package a legacy. And Scott Morgan, of course, has had lots of legacy to restore.
Michigan’s Best Kept Musical Secret had been around the metaphorical block a few times by the time the ‘80s rolled around, but up until that point his bands hadn’t produced many recordings. If he hadn’t invented blue-eyed soul, Morgan played a big part in its arrival in the '60s when front-man for Ann Arbor’s Rationals who took a detour into soulful, pastoral-flecked psych before running out of steam.
Consider the Sonic's Rendezvous Band saga... Arisen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of four of the Motor City's finest proponents of high-energy rock -- the MC5, the Stooges, the Rationals, and the Up - the Rendezvous steadfastly refused to bank on their illustrious pasts (which, granted, might have been more of a liability than an asset at that point in history). Rather, they insisted on a more original kind of expression -- hardly a guarantee of steady employment for a local band in the mid-to-late '70s.
The loudest sound you’ll hear on this is the bottom of the barrel being scraped.
The intentions were probably sound. Assembling a collection of previously unheard works-in-progress by the man who was a driving force in rock and roll’s most criminally under-recognised band makes perfect sense.
Provided the raw material you have is bountiful and of premium grade.
It wasn’t and it is not.