Some called the MC5 (for "Motor City Five," after their home base) the first '70s band of the '60s. The group's loud, hard, fast sound and violently antiestablishment ideology almost precisely prefigured much of punk rock. There was, however, one crucial difference: The MC5 truly believed in the power of rock & roll to change the world.
The band first formed in high school and came to prominence in 1967–68 as the figureheads (or "house band") of John Sinclair's radical White Panther Party. At concerts and happenings the band caused a sensation by wearing American flags and screaming revolutionary slogans laced with profanities. In 1968 the MC5 went with Sinclair to Chicago to play while the Democratic Convention was under way. Its debut LP (#30, 1969), recorded live in 1968, captured the band in typical raw, revved-up, radical form, and embroiled Elektra Records in controversy over the title tune's loud-and-clear shout "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" Some stores refused to stock the album; in response, the MC5 took out strongly worded ads in underground papers and, to Elektra's further distress, plastered one offending store's windows with Elektra stationery on which was scrawled, "Fuck you." Elektra and the MC5 parted company shortly thereafter, but not before the band had cut another version of "Kick Out the Jams," with "brothers and sisters" substituted for the offending expletive. (It was available as a single and on some subsequent issues of the album, against the band's wishes.)
When Sinclair went to jail on a marijuana charge, the MC5 was left with neither a manager nor a label. Atlantic signed the group, and its debut was produced by rock critic Jon Landau. Back in the USA was hailed by critics as one of the greatest hard-rock albums of all time. Record sales were almost nil, however, and never improved. Dropped by Atlantic, the band went to England but soon fell apart, with Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson the first to leave.
Rob Tyner had some success as a songwriter and photographer; he died of a heart attack in 1991. (The remaining members reunited to play a benefit concert for Tyner's family.) Davis went on to form the Ann Arbor band Destroy All Monsters, with ex-Stooge Ron Ashton; Thompson struggled with abortive solo ventures; and in the late '70s Smith formed the Sonic Rendezvous Band, which toured Europe with Iggy Pop and recorded one single. Remaining in the Detroit area, in 1980 he married Patti Smith, with whom he had two children; in November 1994 he died from heart failure.
In the mid-'70s Wayne Kramer pled guilty to a cocaine-dealing charge and spent two years in prison, where he played music with jazz trumpeter Red Rodney. Upon his release, Kramer formed a short partnership with ex–New York Doll and ex-Heartbreaker Johnny Thunders (Gang War), was featured guitarist with Motor City funksters Was (Not Was) (Kramer played the psychedelic guitar on the single "Wheel Me Out"), released two singles, and led his own band, Air Raid. In 1994 Kramer signed with punk label Epitaph and recorded the first of several solo albums featuring his crunchy hard rock and lyrics reflecting on social and political issues. The Hard Stuff (1995) included guest spots from members of Bad Religion and Suicidal Tendencies. Kramer continues to tour, usually backed by a rhythm section, and occasionally does spoken-word performances. In 2001 he formed his own label, MuscleTone Records, and played in the loose-knit band the Racketeers.
The three remaining members rejoined in 2003 with a slew of guest musicians, from David Vanian of the Damned leading vocals to Nicke Andersson of the Hellacopters on bass, forming DKT/MC5. The group toured throughout 2004-2005. Michael Davis was injured in a motorcycle accident in May, 2006.
Today, Wayne Kramer, leader of Detroit’s proto-punk/hard rock band MC5, announces 35 North American dates for “Kick Out the Jams: The 50th Anniversary Tour.” Touring with the MC50 — which includes guitarist Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), drummer Brendan Canty (Fugazi), bassist Dug Pinnick (King’s X), and frontman Marcus Durant (Zen Guerrilla) — Kramer will be celebrating the landmark anniversary of the MC5’s incendiary debut album Kick Out the Jams and the release of his memoir The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities, to be published August 14 by Da Capo Press.
The North American tour begins in early September, after several European summer festivals, and culminates with an October 27th concert back where it all began: in Detroit in 1968, where Kick Out the Jams — recently cited by Pitchfork as one of the 50 best albums of the 1960s—was recorded live in front of a raucous home town audience at the Grande Ballroom on Halloween night. On the MC50 tour, Kramer and the band will play the album Kick Out the Jams in its entirety followed by an encore of MC5 material that will change each night.
As Kramer explains: “This band will rip your head off. It’s real, raw, sweaty, total energy rock and roll, like a bunch of 40-to-70-year-old punks on a meth power trip.” Super Fan Pre-Show Experience Pre Sale starts Wednesday, April 4 at 10AM local time. Details are available at https://www.cidentertainment.com/events/mc50th-anniversary-tour-2018/
Kick Out the Jams is recognized as the galvanizing live document that introduced a major voice of late ’60s counterculture and proved incomparably influential on metal, punk, stoner rock and almost every other form of loud, limitless, long-haired music to come. The recording took place just months after the band’s appearance at Chicago’s riotous 1968 Democratic National Convention — a pivotal moment in modern American politics.
Says Kramer of revisiting Kick Out The Jams: “Today, there is a corrupt regime in power, an endless war thousands of miles away, and uncontrollable violence wracking our country. It’s becoming less and less clear if we’re talking about 1968 or 2018. I’m now compelled to share this music I created with my brothers 50 years ago. My goal is that the audience leaves these concerts fueled by the positive and unifying power of rock music.”