By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Jam out the kicks
From 1968 to 1971, Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith were men who defined and defiled rock and roll from the fringes, creating a music that would provide the howling sound track for a city as it burned. The MC5--among the most-cited and least-heard influences on punk rock, right up there with the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and the New York Dolls--were reckless and rowdy, the house band for the White Panther Party, there to play at the '68 Democratic Convention, an ungodly collection of musicians providing the frenzied backup for singer Rob Tyner's roaring vocals. As Kramer now recalls on his first solo album since the MC5's end, that band was like "The Edge of a Switchblade"--"outside the mainstream, like a renegade."
The MC5 hasn't existed for nearly 25 years, Tyner and Smith are now six feet in the ground, and Kramer's been almost invisible. For a brief while, he and Johnny Thunders shared a band, Gang War; mostly, though, Kramer spent his time shooting up, dealing drugs, and landing in federal prison on drug charges. It was while in the joint that Kramer met and became friends with jazz trumpet legend Red Rodney, once one of Charlie Parker's best friends. The experience was like a musical rebirth: after his release, Kramer and Thunders hooked up, then he appeared on the first two Was (Not Was) albums, then played with a Detroit band.
But Kramer has finally emerged on his own with The Hard Stuff, an album that connects his MC5 past with a present in which he's something of a punk-rock godfather: it's as mean, as hard, as avant and funky and discordant and ugly as the MC5's albums (especially Kick out the Jams and Back in the USA), but Kramer's voice is now tinged with the weariness of experience and the intensity of rejuvenation. He deadpans tales of violence, bids farewells to old friends (Tyner and Smith) and heroes (Charles Bukowski), and recounts tales of "Junkie Romance." And never for a second do you doubt a single word, a single riff, a single yell, proving you can go home again even home burned down long ago.
Wayne Kramer performs May 24 at Trees.