75-year-old Wayne Kramer, one of the co-founders of the legendary rock band MC5, passes away.

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Wayne Kramer, the guitarist who co-created MC5 – one of the rawest, most influential and politically engaged bands in US history – has died aged 75. His Instagram page announced the news: “Wayne S Kramer. Peace be with you. April 30 1948 – February 2 2024.”

Born and raised in Detroit, Kramer teamed with teenage friend and fellow guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, each of them influenced as much by free jazz as they were by R&B and rock’n’roll. Along with the frontman Rob Tyner, they made MC5 into an incendiary force in their city’s music scene, alongside peers such as the Stooges.

MC5 (short for Motor City 5) quickly built a formidable live reputation playing on bills with the likes of Cream, and were signed to Elektra in 1968. Their debut album, Kick Out the Jams, was released the following year: a live recording from Detroit’s Grande Ballroom where the band had made their name.

The group took pride in their blue-collar background and were fueled by a sense of revolution from the beginning. Their manager, John Sinclair, created the White Panther Party and the band spoke out against the Vietnam War and the Democratic National Convention. With Kramer and Smith’s powerful guitar playing, their rallying cry of “kick out the jams” on the album’s title track came to represent defiance and paved the way for punk rock in the 1970s.

“People exclaimed, ‘Oh wow, “Kick out the jams” signifies breaking barriers,’ and it sounded catchy, but that wasn’t our intention when we wrote it,” Kramer clarified, stating that it was aimed towards bands who would continuously jam.

Fred 'Sonic' Smith, Dennis 'Machine Gun' Thompson, Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer and Michael DavisView image in fullscreen

In 1970, the band transitioned to Atlantic Records and dropped their debut album, Back in the USA. The following year, they released High Time. Unfortunately, both albums did not do well in terms of sales. Struggling with financial difficulties and substance abuse, MC5 disbanded in 1972.

Following a drug bust in 1975, Kramer spent four years in jail while still pursuing his music career. Upon his release in 1979, he joined the band Was (Not Was) and became a well-known figure in the underground music scene in New York City. However, he took a step back from the spotlight in the 1980s and worked as a carpenter. In the mid-90s, he made a comeback as a solo artist signed to Epitaph Records, a punk label.

Tyner and Smith passed away in the 1990s, but in 2001, Kramer created a supergroup to play MC5’s music, featuring Ian Astbury from The Cult and Lemmy from Motorhead. Although the group didn’t maintain its star-studded lineup, MC5 resumed touring and performed in different formations around the globe, including a 50th anniversary tour in 2018. In the same year, Kramer released his memoir, The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities.

Before his passing, Kramer was getting ready to unveil the highly anticipated third album of the band. In his explanation for his return, Kramer stated, “I believe it was necessary to revive the essence of 1968, the spirit of my generation when we were all youthful individuals. Our current time in history is incredibly precarious, and if we do not unite, gather, and take action, everything could be lost. Our democracy is in danger, and the opponents we face are not to be taken lightly. This is not a game; it is a grave matter.”

A spring 2024 release was in the works.

In his later years, Kramer collaborated with Billy Bragg to establish the US branch of the Jail Guitar Doors project, which gave musical instruments to incarcerated individuals.

Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, honored Wayne Kramer after his passing. In a tribute, Morello described Kramer as “the greatest person I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.” He went on to praise Kramer’s unique blend of wisdom, compassion, empathy, and unwavering conviction.

Source: theguardian.com

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