In 1968, Detroit’s MC5 were a raucous band that exemplified the turbulent times. MC5 spiritual leader John Sinclair championed the White Panther movement, while the band rocked counterculture rallies and even the riotous Democratic National Convention. Politics were turbulent in 1968, and now, 50 years later, MC5 founder, guitarist, and sole surviving member Wayne Kramer, finds the same divisiveness taking place.
“The parallels between 1968 and 2018 are unmistakable,” Kramer said during a recent phone interview. “We have a wretched grifter in the White House who has utter contempt for the rule of law and is trying to destroy everything America holds dear ... there’s a lot of stuff going wrong.”
Despite the bleak outlook, Kramer still believes music can still be a rallying point, a place to develop community and start the fire of change. Is MC5’s message of 1968 equally as relevant in today’s society?
“The MC5's message of unlimited possibilities, of self-determination and self-nascency, that you can make a difference in the world, holds true. But you have to do it full measure. You have to go at it wholeheartedly. I think the message has substance and is not subject to decay,” Kramer said. “We’ll carry that message every night in our performance and how we play these songs, (and) hopefully inspire people to action.”
Yet, MC5 wasn’t just about combating the politics of the time. The band’s unconventional sound was also an attack on the musical status quo and the psychedelic sounds of the time. Uncompromisingly loud, aggressive and in your face, the MC5 began with the hardest elements of rock and roll and gave it a free jazz twist, partly the result of Kramer’s off-the-hook soloing.
“I was looking for where I could go next. If I took my best Chuck Berry solo and played it as fast as I could, as loud as I could, then where would I go?” he asked. “I discovered the answer to that in the free jazz music of (John) Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders. I knew these musicians were all on the same hunt I was on to find the next step, the next movement to advance to a more pure sonic dimension.”
This, he explained, required ignoring conventional western musical concepts.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
“We could leave those ideas and continue to play, as Sun Ra said, in space,” Kramer said. “For me, it was the logical next step ... We were trying to capture the full range of human expression, and psychedelia was stuck in this gentle, free-floating spreading global twilight,” he added with a laugh, “I ain’t buying that! I wanted to capture more of the anger, pain and misery — along with the ecstasy … rather than just get along on a reefer high.”
All those emotions and the band’s unbridled energy are captured on the MC5’s turbulent debut album, recorded live, which included the now-famous opening salvo from singer Rob Tyner: “Kick out the jams motherfuckers!” Today, MC5 is recognized for its groundbreaking, influential musical assault that shaped hard rock, punk, metal and just about anything with a loud guitar. As MC50, the 70-year-old Kramer hopes to influence the next generation of musicians with the “Kick Out the Jams: The 50th Anniversary Tour,” featuring members of Soundgarden, Fugazi, and Faith No More.
“(We) celebrate this hard rock music we love so much; this guitar-based, driving, hard-charging energetic style of playing that holds up pretty well over all these years,” he said. “You have to kick out the jams!”
MC50 Presents Kick Out the Jams - The 50th Anniversary Tour. 8:15 p.m. Monday, October 1, at Marquee Theatre, 730 North Mill Avenue, Tempe; 480-829-0607; marqueetheatreaz.com. Tickets are $32 to $62 via Ticketweb.