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.
The great Alejandro Escovedo (The Nuns, solo) is coming to Australia and New Zealsnd in March and two more Aussie shows have been announced. He’s doing extra gigs at Brisbane’s Junk Bar (early and late shows) and the Camelot Lounge in Sydney. What’s more, he’ll be accompanied on guitar by Tim Rogers of You Am I.
Escovedo's new album "The Crossing" features goes spots by James Williamson (Iggy and the Stooges) and Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys.) His Australasian tour is stripped-down but the clip below gives you an idea of the power of the man's music. Full dates and ticketing information in the Read More link.
Legendary Mexican-American singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo will tour Australia for the first time in March 2018 on the back of his acclaimed new immigration-themed album The Crossing.
Escovedo is a seminal figure in Texan music and one of the most acclaimed American songwriters of his generation. He’s a recipient of the Americana Music Association's Lifetime Achievement Award and will be honored with the Townes Van Zandt Songwriter Award at next year’s Austin Music Awards.
Alejandro has released 11 solo albums and contributed to numerous others, as both band member and guest. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, Cowboy Junkies, and Calexico, and he’s shared stages with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to John Prine to Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter.
Alejandro’s latest album, "The Crossing", released in September 2018 on Yep Roc and one of the most acclaimed of his career, looks at matters of immigration and the broken Promised Land that is America through the focused and unflinching poetry Alejandro is known for.
It includes cameos from underground rock royalty in the personages of MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, Stooges guitarist James Williamson and Peter Perrett and John Perry of The Only Ones, Texan country great Joe Ely and acclaimed novelist and Richmond Fontaine/Delines songwriter Willy Vlautin.
REM’s Peter Buck and the Velvet Underground’s John Cale have both served as Alejandro’s sidemen in addition to being his producers, a role also filled by legendary Bowie and T.Rex producer Tony Visconti, who produced a run of three albums for Alejandro spanning 2008-12.
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.
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.
Let’s get the clichés out of the way; the show business myths that promise that the cream rises. That living fast and dying young will ensure immortality. It’s all bullshit. Too many artists fall through a crack in the Earth whilst laurels crown the insipid and the banal.
How many great albums and films have vanished to land fill? How many books are lost because libraries can’t afford the storage on their back catalogues? How much blood, sweat and tears has evaporated into the ether? Forgotten whilst the over culture lets us eat dog food. Here is your chance to right that wrong.
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.
A bunch of New York City’s rock and roll past and present recently gathered in Manhattan to celebrate and play the music of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers.
Led by the eternally cool Walter Lure, who was assisted by Blondie drummer Clem Burke, ex-Lower East Side resident and MC5 member Wayne Kramer, Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson and a bunch of guest vocalists, the band played four sold-out shows. And they were reportedly underwhelming.
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.
Some of us have had a lot of problems forgiving Alice Cooper the man for ditching Alice Cooper the band. The first two Alice Cooper band albums, “Pretties For You” and “Easy Action” were fairly decent if you go in for a bit of whacky hippy burlesque. They have their fans but, truth be told, they needed a firmer hand than Frank Zappa if they were going to amount to anything more than a sideshow.
Next came five albums of perfection. Even the much maligned “Muscle of Love” shits over anything that tried to pass itself off as competition. I know we're all Stooges and Dolls fans here but the Coop actually owned the mainstream throughout the early ‘70s.
Well, they were a shit hot band with great song-writing, a genius producer and a grand guignol stage show. How could they miss?
Out of print for two years? Shit, hard to believe, but it's good to have this one back in circulation (on Bro. Wayne's new label, with expanded versions of the rest of his Epitaph catalog and even the L-O-N-G gone "Death Tongue" set to follow in its wake - a reissue program long anticipated by true Rock Action devotees, especially those who missed out on 'em the first time). This was, after all, the one that started it all, solo-career wise, as well as serving notice to the world at large that Detroit rock'n'roll was alive and well in the '90s.
Accuse me of revisionism if you will...but when I caught Mad for the Racket live at SXSW, I was less than optimally stoked with their performance. Coupla months later, in a column, I was making more conciliatory noises.