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R.I.P., Wayne Kramer: Guitarist for Legendary Detroit Rock Band MC5, Dead at 75

Kramer also forged a career as a solo artist as well as a session player and producer, working with everyone from GG Allin to Was (Not Was).

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Source: MEGA

Wayne Kramer was a founding member of the explosive proto-punk outfit MC5.

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Wayne Kramer, guitarist and founding member of the legendary Detroit rock band MC5, has died at the age of 75.

His death was confirmed through his official social media accounts on Feb. 2, with the statement indicating that Kramer “passed away today peacefully from pancreatic cancer.”

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Source: MEGA

Wayne Kramer performing at Shepherd's Bush Empire on November 12, 2018 in London, England

Born on April 30, 1948, Kramer came of age in Detroit, meeting Fred “Sonic” Smith when they were both in their teens.

"I just knew him as one of the kids," Kramer told Rhino in 2018. "But when I wanted to start a band, I was asking around, and one of my friends said, 'Hey, you ought to talk that kid Fred. He has a guitar and he plays bongos or something.' And I figured the band could use a bongo player! And he did have a guitar, and he was a natural player. I had been playing for a few years, so I could show him everything that I knew, and he learned really quickly and became an excellent guitarist himself. I think between the two of us we equaled one whole personality! We fit into each other’s shortcomings and eclectic characteristics."

Kramer, Smith, and their bandmates quickly became successful enough to make a living and reached a point where they needed to hire a manager, and while they originally considered Rob Tyner for that role, Tyner ended up as the band’s lead singer instead.

Oh, yes, and Tyner also provided them with their new name: MC5.

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After releasing a few singles on indie labels, the band embarked on an East Coast tour, opening for such artists as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Cream and – as confirmed by more than a few first-hand reports – often blowing them off the stage. In short order, they signed to Elektra, releasing a total of three albums, the first of which was the instantly iconic Kick Out the Jams in 1969.

Back in the USA followed in 1970, with the third and final Elektra album, High Time, arriving in 1971. Chartwise, they were a series of declining returns, and after a tour of Europe in early 1971, bassist Michael Davis left the band (his widely-known heroin addiction left him little choice), and although the band carried on for the remainder of the year with replacement bassist Derek Hughes, their New Year’s Eve show of 1972 was effectively the end of the MC5.

"The MC5 had so much more pressure on it than your average rock band," Kramer told Rhino. "I mean, between the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department and the local and state police agencies and parents and teachers and prosecutors hating us, and pressure from the left, with our own comrades from the left criticizing us, and certainly the conservative right criticizing us. So the MC5 had a lot more wounds and scars to show for it in the end. And we never made any money, we never had any hit records… We paid dues from the day we started until the day we broke up!

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Perhaps that's why, after the band came to a conclusion, Kramer found himself – by his own admission – working less as a musician than a small-time criminal. It was a “career” path that didn’t end well: by 1975, he’d been convicted of selling drugs to undercover federal agents and ended up being sentenced to four years in Federal prison.

This time in prison wasn't completely in vain, however: in addition to the "honor" of being immortalized in a Clash song ("Jail Guitar Doors"), it also later led Kramer to become the executive director of the Jail Guitar Doors organization.

"Using the medium of collaborative music and songwriting for everyone, we strive to achieve measurable rehabilitative outcomes. We seek to advance new solutions to diminish prison violence and recidivism. We support organizations that engage in policy reform efforts and partner with social service groups to help people in prison successfully rejoin the outside world. And we actively work to educate leaders and decision-makers on how to bring real reform to the criminal justice system."

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Source: Da Capo Press

The cover for Wayne Kramer's 2018 memoir, 'The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities'

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Thankfully, after getting out of prison in 1979, Kramer turned things around, starting a solo career and working with a myriad of other artists in the studio as well as on the concert stage, including Was (Not Was), Johnny Thunders, GG Allin, Mick Farren, Bad Religion, Lemmy, Dave Vanian, and Pere Ubu, just to name a few. Through his connection with Brett Gurewitz, he signed a solo deal with Epitaph Records in 1994, which resulted in three studio albums - The Hard Stuff, Dangerous Madness, and Citizen Wayne - as well as a live album (LLMF). He also worked on a variety of soundtracks, including several collaborations with Adam McKay.

"Hal Wilner was the music supervisor on Talladega Nights, and they had another composer who was very good with the orchestra, but he couldn’t rock," Kramer told Rhino, laughing. "And they wanted aggressive guitar rock for the race scenes. So Hal said, 'Well, why don’t you call Wayne Kramer? He lives here!' So they called me up and I went down to the studio, and I watched some of the scenes, and they said, 'Do you think you can do this?' And I said, 'I’m pretty sure I can!' And then I discovered that Adam McKay and I were really simpatico, that I really enjoyed his company. He’s a brilliant man, politically astute, and we had a lot to talk about. And we became friends, and I count him as one of my best friends."

In 2018, Kramer wrote his memoir, The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities, but rather than call it a day, he continued to tour and write new music. Indeed, at the time of his passing, Kramer was ostensibly on the cusp of releasing a new MC5 album (Heavy Lifting)

"The MC5 has been the main concourse, the main roadway, for my creativity for just about my entire life," he told Mojo in 2023. "I hope I’m true to the spirit of the band. It’s important from the fans' perspective, and from my personal perspective, to honor the legacy and my partners when I was a young man… it’s worth celebrating."

Kramer also had an eye on further touring in 2024, plans which will now go unfulfilled, sadly.

“We’re gonna go everywhere,” he said at the time. “The MC5 is a show band, always was. We’re playing with matches – I want to get out there and burn some stages down!”

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