Iconic Proto-Punk Guitarist Brings MC5’s “Resuscitation” To Bimbo’s


SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Original MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer brings his “revival” of the groundbreaking proto-punk band to Bimbo’s in San Francisco on Friday, May 13, with support from local ’60s rock legends The Flamin’ Grooves.

Wayne Kramer
Wayne Kramer, MC5 guitarist

Along with New York’s dark sonic adventurers the Velvet Underground and their Detroit brethren the Stooges, pioneering proto-punk band MC5 helped shape the sound of modern rock, influencing and inspiring several generations of bands. MC5’s roots go back to when teenage friends Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith started playing R&B, surf and garage rock together in 1964.

The duo scoured bandmates, eventually connecting with lead singer Rob Tyner (who would come up with the band’s name) and the rhythm section of bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson in 1965. The band would perfect their high-mix of back-to-basics hard rock energy, raw James Brown-esque soul and exploratory free-jazz experimentation highlighting Kramer and Smith’s stratospheric guitar interplay with a constant series of gigs in the Detroit area, gradually building up a sizable following where the quintet could sell out local venues. The group also developed a leftist political philosophy influenced by manager and radical hippie John Sinclair, who would found the militant White Panther Party who intended to work with the Black Panthers on their revolutionary agenda.


MC5 – I can only give you everything (1966) by
Michalis Matthaiou on Youtube

The band would release several singles on small independent labels, covering “I Can Only Give You Everything” by Van Morrison’s Them and recording their first original songs. But it was an East Coast tour that made the public and the music industry aware that the 5 were a force to be reckoned with. The band routinely blasted headliners like Big Brother and the Holding Company and even virtuoso British blues rock trio Cream, leaving sweat-soaked crowds clamoring for more after more.

Several labels showed interest, with fledgling Elektra Records eventually signing both the MC5 and the Stooges in September 1968 after Kramer recommended label representative Danny Fields check out their “little brother” band. Aptly aiming to capitalize on the electrifying intensity of the MC’s live show, Elektra recorded a pair of hometown gigs at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom for his explosive debut album, Expel Jams. While the effort not only stands as one of the best debut records of all time and a classic concert document, it also showcased the anti-establishment attitude and politics that quickly put the band at odds with the label.


#MC5 Remastered Tartar Field – Ramblin Rose/Kick Out The Jams/Looking At You – July 1970 by
Wayne Kramer on Youtube

As well as sparking controversy with the famously swear-filled introduction to the opening title track, the gatefold featured incendiary liner notes penned by Sinclair concluded with the same profane exhortation. Elektra soon released a censored version of the record, much to the band’s chagrin. When the 5 responded to the Midwest department store chain Hudson’s’ record ban, they placed an ad in underground newspapers containing more expletives directed at the chain and the label’s logo. Hudson’s subsequent threat to pull all Elektra records from store shelves led to the MC5 being dropped from their contract.

The group was soon signed to Atlantic Records, but would continue to be plagued with label issues in later efforts. Bruce Springsteen’s future mentor and music journalist, John Landau, produced his second album and first studio effort, in the 1970s. Back in the United States. While band members would later say they bristled at what they saw as Landau tried to model their sound on his concept, fiery tracks like “Looking at You” and the politically charged “American Ruse are always classic tunes on another crackling and influential. album.


MC5 – Sister Anne by
MagnaMoravia on Youtube

The band had better luck with producer Geoffrey Haslam on Highlights, which would be the quintet’s most expansive and experimental recording featuring songs like Sonic Smith’s epic guitar workouts “Sister Anne” and “Skunk (Sonically Speaking)” and Tyner’s fiery declamation “Future/Now” . But the incessant touring and growing drug habits were already wearing the band down. Although now revered as classics, both Back in the United States and Highlights lost money, leading Atlantic to drop out of the band. In 1972, Davis was kicked out of the band as he struggled with heroin addiction. Thompson and Tyner would also leave. After putting together one last disastrous New Year’s Eve show that drew just a few dozen fans to the same grand ballroom they had packed a few years earlier, MC5 has disintegrated.


Sonic’s Rendezvous Band – Town Slang by
rollnrocksteve on Youtube

The musicians would play in a variety of projects after the implosion, with Smith notably briefly leading his All-Star Sonic Rendezvous Band (despite only releasing one single during their existence) before retiring from the music to raise a family with the songwriter wife and colleague. music icon Patti Smith. Kramer and Davis would spend time in prison for drug trafficking in the 70s, with the guitarist eventually emerging and moving to New York where he played with Johnny Thunders in the band Gang War in addition to performing with other projects and producing punk bands.

Unfortunately, MC5 would not reunite until after Tyner’s sudden death in 1991 from a heart attack with the surviving members attending a Detroit benefit that raised money for his family. Smith died of heart failure himself in 1994 after several years of declining health. During this time, Kramer revived his career, recording several solo albums and touring with the help of modern punk bands he had influenced like Clawhammer and the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs.

The first real attempt to revive the legend of 5 came in the wake of the powerful 2002 documentary MC5: a true testimony this would unfortunately be stuck in legal limbo due to music licensing issues. Kramer would team up with Davis and Thompson for a series of famed shows billed as DKT/MC5 which featured a variety of guest guitarists and vocalists, including Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead Ian Astbury of The Cult, Mark Arm of Mudhoney, Nicke Royale of The Hellacopters, Evan Dando of the Lemonheads among others. The band toured periodically and played festivals in the years that followed, but it also disbanded after Davis’ death in 2012.


MC5 – Full Performance (Live on KEXP) by
KEXP on Youtube

More recently, Kramer has focused on composing music for film and television and writing his memoirs. The finished book, titled The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities, was published in 2018 by Da Capo Press. Four years ago, Kramer marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Expel Jams with a tour that would feature him performing with a line-up of star musicians playing songs from the debut album in its entirety. After a series of acclaimed performances in Europe, a version of the band including Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, Zen Guerilla vocalist Marcus Durant and San Francisco rock hero Billy Gould of Faith No More at the bass played a series of dates across the United States, including an incendiary night at the Regency Ballroom.

A few months ago, the guitarist announced his intention to tour and release the first new studio album as MC5 in over five decades. Upcoming effort slated for October release – titled Lifting heavy loads – was produced by Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd) and will feature contributions from notables such as original MC5 drummer Thompson as well as Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, Alice’s William Duvall in Chain, talented Bay Area singer/songwriter Brad Brooks — who ended up co-writing most of the new material — and fellow Detroiter Don Was (Was Not Was) on bass, among others. The touring band showcasing some of the new tracks alongside MC5 classics includes Brooks on vocals with drummer Winston Watson (Bob Dylan, Giant Sand), bassist Vicki Randle (Mavis Staples) and guitarist Stevie Salas (David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Mick Jager).

For this show at Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach, the band will be joined. by one of the most legendary garage-rock bands to emerge from San Francisco in the 60s. The Flamin’ Groovies released a series of albums that had little impact on the charts, but exerted a major influence on many punk and power-pop acts that followed over the following decades.

Anchored by the songwriting partnership of savage singer Roy Loney and guitarist Cyril Jordan, the band embraced a mix of ’50s rock and roll (frequently covering songs by Little Richard and Eddie Cochran), garage originals -wild rock and one tuned to hard-hitting pop melodies that nodded to British Invasion bands of the era. Although they may have been out of step with the psychedelic sounds that dominated the era, the Groovies would endure having as much impact on rock as their contemporaries the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane.

The band first formed in 1965, but it wasn’t until they self-released their Sneakers EP in 1968 that they signed a recording contract with Epic. The resulting beginnings supersnazz had so little commercial impact that the label dropped the band less than a year after its release, but the album became a cult classic. Embodying the same kind of joyful celebration of primitive rock and RB that would echo in the New York Dolls and the Ramones, the Groovies delivered fierce originals like “Love Have Mercy” that stood alongside renditions of already classic tunes. “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Something Else/Pistol Packin’ Mama.”

The band rebounded by signing to Kama Sutra Records and producing the equally spectacular Flamingo and Head of a teenager (with the monstrous proto-punk title track), but growing tensions between Loney and Jordan would lead to the singer’s departure. Taking full control of the band, Jordan brought in guitarist/vocalist Chris Wilson and switched to a power-pop direction for what many consider his best post-Loney effort. shake action was released in 1976 on Sire Records and revealed a sound that ditched some of the 50s rock flavor to sound Rickenbacker guitars and mod British Invasion pop. The current version of the band led by Jordan continues to tour and release new music.

The MC5 with Flamin’ Groovies
Friday, May 13, 8 p.m. $39.50-$45
Bimbo’s 365 Club

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