Exclusive Interview: Underground Resistance, Submerge & Alter Ego:  Discussing books, vinyl records, Detroit’s unstoppable creativity and the roots of techno music with Detroit’s own CORNELIUS HARRIS!

Exclusive Interview: Underground Resistance, Submerge & Alter Ego: Discussing books, vinyl records, Detroit’s unstoppable creativity and the roots of techno music with Detroit’s own CORNELIUS HARRIS!

Exhibit 3000 Museum (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I love Detroit. This city is loaded with great stories, many of which are oft hidden, unacknowledged, or underreported. If not inscribed for the future, when these stories are gone, they’re gone forever, like magnificent old buildings. To me, these stories are priceless.

The building at 3000 East Grand Boulevard is sign-less and unassuming. It sits near the Jam Handy warehouse on Detroit’s Eastside, within view of the stately 30-story tall Fisher Building.

This humble 3-story brick building was built in 1910 and is 8,790-square feet. It houses a significant contribution to Detroit’s cultural history, something vital and irreplaceable, a collective of Detroit techno culture.

Exhibit 3000, the world’s first (and only) techno museum is housed here on the main floor.

In the basement is the legendary Submerge’s Somewhere In Detroit (SID) record store and then upstairs is the HQ of Underground Resistance (UR). There are also recording studios, rehearsal spaces and offices.

Downstairs, DJ John Collins and Tyler Dancer are prepping the museum for a school tour today. Collins has been a well-known DJ since 1985. He’s a producer, manager, and talent agent. Tyler is a young DJ and producer from Kalamazoo who now lives in Detroit. Techno great Mad Mike Banks is also here getting things squared away. The ethic is: everyone helps out regardless of status.

Cornelius Harris (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’m sitting upstairs in a conference room with Detroit’s own Cornelius Harris, who was (and still is?) the only black manager in techno music in the world. “That’s what I’ve been told.  I’m not aware of any other black managers in techno, in the world,” he says.

Cornelius Harris is the label manager of Detroit-based independent techno label Underground Resistance, an assistant at Submerge Distribution (and SID), and founder of Alter Ego Management.

Cornelius is a deep thinker with a multitude of insights and very focused on all aspects of the intersection of culture and music. We are discussing books, vinyl records, the roots of techno and all-things Detroit.

Cornelius explains:

“History, especially local history, is important to know so you understand the context of where you’re at in the world and in your own time. The impact of certain points in history have a lingering echo long after the fact.”

“I’m originally from Ann Arbor. Moved to Detroit in the 90’s. I’m not here by accident. I love the people, the culture, the history, the music.”

“I consider myself a cultural advocate and activist, promoting agents of culture beyond mere entertainment and using it as a tool for education and inspiration. I studied Media and Pop Culture at University of Michigan. My family are all educators and very passionate.”

“Economically, how do you bring this thing that came out of Detroit and generates millions of dollars globally, back to the source? I’m always interested in the next stage of evolution. Detroit is a powerful music center. How do you drive culture in the city?”

 

Detroit: The Birth of Techno

“Belleville Three” Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May. These are from Belleville High School yearbooks (circa 1980 & 1981). Kevin Saunderson also played varsity football and basketball for the Belleville Tigers. Atkins (class of ’80), May & Saunderson (class of ’82). Thanks to Psyche Jetton at the BHS Media Center for allowing me to do research there (Ryan M. Place)

“Techno music was started in the early 1980s by four African Americans: Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Eddie Fowlkes. The first three went to Belleville High School and Eddie went to a different school.”

“At the time, it wasn’t called ‘techno’, it was just a new, emergent form of different music. The British press came up with the title ‘Belleville Three’ even though they DJed mostly in the city of Detroit.  Belleville isn’t known for its cutting-edge club scene.”

Just like any inception-story, there’s different mythologies about this. One is the facts. The others are the added interpretations, which become the agreed upon history. So, let’s just agree to a middle understanding of all this.”

“They were playing a precursor to techno before their music was given a label by outsiders. What they had created was inner city dance music with a futuristic vibe.”

In the mid to late 80’s, techno blew up here locally in Detroit. It was already a phenomenon here for several years before it became popular globally.”

Kevin Saunderson (senior photo 1982 Belleville High School yearbook)

“All of the techno labels were based in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood.”

The first one was in 1985 when Juan Atkins opened Metroplex (1492 Riopelle St), then in 1986 Derrick May opened Transmat (1492 Gratiot), then in 1987 Kevin Saunderson opened KMS next door to Transmat.”

“Derrick started referring to Gratiot Avenue as ‘Techno Boulevard’.”

“These were the days of things like Channel 62 ‘The Scene’ and the Electrifying Mojo on Detroit’s WGPR, which was the first black radio station in America.”

“We also had Duane ‘In the Mix’ Bradley on WJLB Radio.”

“We had Jeff Mills, DJ Stacy “Hotwaxx” Hale, and there was Ken Collier who played house music at Club Heaven (19106 Woodward @ 7 mile).”

“There was The Music Institute (1315 Broadway an after-hours techno club opened from 1988-89).”

“Across the river in Windsor, there was Richie Hawtin (Plastikman) who was inspired by Detroit techno. By the early 90’s, everybody was getting turned on to Detroit music all over the world.”

Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit (c. 1988 vinyl record)

“Music popularity goes in waves. Techno got big globally around 1991, then experienced another resurgence in the late 90’s-early 2000’s, and a few years ago we had another wave.”

“Also, we had the techno festival, which started in Detroit in 2000 and was called DEMF before it became Movement in 2006.”

“Detroit is the smallest big town ever. Among creatives here of all stripes, mostly everyone knows everyone. Some of Juan Atkins old tapes even feature Kid Rock back when he had spiky hair and was trying to rap.”

“I credit Creem Magazine with symbolizing the Detroit ethos. Not being on the East or West Coasts, we weren’t bound by those scenes. There’s no restrictions here, we’re free to do our own thing, which Creem reflected in its coverage of music. “

 

Underground Resistance (UR) Detroit

Underground Resistance

Underground Resistance, aka: UR, is a collective, that’s the best word to describe it because there’s so much back and forth flow between the various groups and producers.”

“UR was started in 1989 by Jeff Mills and Mad Mike Banks in Mike’s mom’s basement on Detroit’s Westside near 7 Mile and Livernois. Mike and Jeff worked together before in a group called Members of the House. Mike had at one time been in a band on tour alongside Parliament Funkadelic.”

“The UR album UR001 had Yolanda Reynolds on it. She was the original third member of UR. A lot of people think of Robert Hood as the third member of UR, but he came later, though a lot of people forget that.”

“In 1991, the city of Berlin, Germany was hit by UR’s music from Detroit not long after the Berlin Wall came down. Detroit’s techno music helped unite the young people of East and West Berlin and reenergize the city. It was the soundtrack of what was happening in Berlin. And there were tons of Detroit techno records at the Hard Wax store owned by Mark Ernestus.”

Terrence Parker (photo courtesty of UR)

I joined UR in the mid 1990s. The Detroit Regional Music Conference, started by DJ John Collins, was going on and I was a producer at the time. I submitted to perform at the conference. The music showcase manager said I should give my tape to Mike Banks, which is how we met. I also had put together a zine called SCENE. Mike and Lawrence Burden asked me to work with them doing promotion. Mike later asked about me doing label management. I did it until 2001 when I became extremely burned-out.”

“I quit everything for a bit and became anti-music for a few years. Did some management at Kinney Shoe Corp (Foot Locker), then Kinko’s, also did some teaching at a middle school. Eventually, I created Alter Ego Management and started again fresh. Alter Ego used to rep Juan Atkins, Model 500 and others. Right now we handle UR and some others.”

“At the time just before starting Alter Ego I, got a call from Mike. He said they’re working on a project in Japan. He invited me to come work on it, and initially I said, “no,” but he said ‘they got those thinking gardens in Japan, you could just come here and think’ (laughs). I was in the middle of acting in a show with Plowshares Theater. Mike was insistent. So I went to Japan. I was there for six hours and decided to return as label manager in 2005.”

“My first time as a tour manager, through the Burden Brothers (Lenny & Lawrence), was a tour in Germany. I was tour manager for Aux 88 who was on their label Direct Beat.”

“I remember being in Berlin outside this club talking to a local dude, told him he should come check out the scene in Detroit. He said, ‘I’ll never go to Detroit.  I don’t make enough money to travel, but when I go to this club and it’s dark, and a Detroit DJ is playing, I can imagine that I’m in a Detroit club. That’s how I’m able to travel’. His explanation really stuck with me.”

“I realized that we’re giving people, people who are willingly giving their hard-earned money to us, these one-of-a-kind experiences. We owe everything to these people who make that choice to support the music. It really had a profound effect on me, gave me a sense of purpose.”

“For some people, music is their main outlet. It’s a type of therapy, a release for them, something they can’t get any other way. We all owe a deep appreciation for the fans who live on this stuff.”

“The clubs are social spaces where amazing things can happen. The 1980’s were rough in Detroit. The U.S. was in a bad recession, there was crack, AIDS, Detroit was dubbed ‘Murder Capital of the World’, the auto industry went to hell, etc. The one good thing at the time coming out of Detroit globally was this music, techno.

“These aren’t just DJ’s, they’re cultural ambassadors. They are some of the best representations this country has ever had, often better than professional diplomats. They tour extensively and as a result, acquire a broad perspective and deep understanding of other cultures and people around the world.”

Jeff Mills currently lives in Miami, France and Japan. In 2017, Jeff got the Order of Arts and Letters in France, which is that country’s second highest title, for his cultural contributions. Other nations seem to recognize the importance of creativity. The city of Detroit, our state, our nation, should consider providing more recognition to their own people. Why do we gotta go to France to get awards and be recognized? Why can’t it happen right here where it all started and continues to thrive? It would uplift the community in a positive way.”

Detroit’s global contributions are numerous. Back here at home, true community development is not just giving money to something and hoping for the best. Things need to be nurtured, cared for, and given the proper attention in order to develop.”

Submerge Distribution

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Submerge Distribution was founded in 1992 by Mike Banks and Christa Robinson.”

“It was originally located Downtown at 2030 East Grand River Ave. However, in 2000, we moved to 3000 East Grand Blvd.”

“Submerge exports Detroit techno labels to Europe and the world and transmits Detroit’s techno music around the world. All the techno and house labels went through Submerge.”

“There is no ‘Submerge Records’, it’s a distributor and vinyl record store. We carry all kinds of records but primarily specialize in techno, house and hip hop. Heavily Detroit oriented. There’s also Basic Channel out of Berlin.”

“Submerge even put out J. Dilla’s first vinyl record in 1994.”

“Everybody who visits the Submerge basement signs the wall.”

The Impact of Books on Cornelius

Cornelius Harris (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I love to read. Books are powerfully influential across all cultures, professions, whatever. Books are windows into the unfamiliar. Having a broad interest in a lot of different things gave me the perspective I have today.”

“Prior to music, I worked in the reference department at the downtown Ann Arbor Library from 9th grade through my time at the University of Michigan. First shelving books, then at the desk as an assistant. I grew up surrounded by books. A lot of my interpretation of the world was formed by books and music.”

“Here’s a few of the key books that have inspired me over the years.”

Black Magic (1967) Langston Hughes

Black Magic (1967) Langston Hughes. Chronicles black entertainment from slavery to the modern late 60’s. Amazing as a kid growing up with that book. It traces the painful lineage of exploitation as well as incredible achievements.”

Sex and Race (1940-44) J.A. Rodgers (3 vols.) I first read it at the public library when I was 10 or 11. Originally was excited by the name (laughs). Turned out to be a fascinating study of racial classifications, how people mix and blend and the fact that definitions of race are subjective.”

Dustland (1980) Virginia Hamilton. It’s part of The Justice Trilogy about an African American girl named Justice. First time I ever read sci-fi where the central characters were African American. It blew my mind.”

No-No Boy (1956) John Okada. The first Japanese American novel. It takes place just after WW2, it’s about Japanese no-no boys and post-war trauma in the USA.”

Los Arboles Mueren de Pie (1949) Alejandro Casona. Amazing book, written in Spanish. I recommend learning Spanish just to read this book. It’s about how you define family. Magical realism. Many intriguing twists and turns.”

Mumbo Jumbo (1972) Ishmael Reed. Magical realism about historical events and a contagious epidemic of the Jes Grew virus.”

New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (1988) Wolfman and Perez (DC Comics, Titan). They took this medium and crafted a story so thoughtful, warped, exciting. It’s about betrayal and abuse.”

 

Some Favorite Records & Why Vinyl Still Matters

Cornelius Harris @ Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Musically, I listen to a range of different things. Grew up on jazz and gospel. My grandma from the had grown up in the South and turned me onto Hank Williams.”

“Some influential albums for me are:”

Prince-Dirty Mind (1980)

Jorge Ben-Samba Esquema Novo (1963)

Grace Jones-Nightclubbing (1981)

Ryuichi Sakamoto-Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Vinyl records still matter, still sell, still elevate the listener. There’s something special and different with something being tangible, rather than bits of information on a computer. To feel the grooves with your fingers. It’s an experience, you feel more connected. With vinyl you have to put the needle on it, make sure the needle is clean, flip it over when it’s done, you interact with it differently than you do a playlist on your smartphone.”

“Also, the order of the tracks meant something, not just random shuffling. Tracks are not just thrown onto an album indiscriminately. There’s a meaning in the order.”

Jorge Ben-Samba Esquema Novo (1963)

The Need to Preserve Creative Spaces in Detroit

Detroit aerial (photo courtesy of Formulaone)

Detroit needs more creative spaces. The value of the creative community to a city cannot be overstated. Creative people imbue spaces with value. And they almost always need help from the city to mitigate things like gentrification and help maintain safe and fun spaces & outlets, for other people to go and experience the gift of their creativity. There should be a low barrier to entry.”

People have had their life changed forever by music or art. Creativity keeps people in neighborhoods and stabilizes communities. Make it easy for people to access these things.”

“Right now, Detroit is a place where the creative community can go in any direction. As a city, we need to recognize talent and creativity and help engage creative types. Yet some of our greatest spaces are being ignored and disregarded. Detroit is loaded with iconic spots that should be preserved and used instead of being wasted unnecessarily. How do you set things up for success?”

“Listen, I’ve traveled all over the world for the past almost thirty years and I can honestly tell you that Detroit is a global nexus of untapped, undiscovered potential. It’s here but it’s disguised because it’s not often officially recognized by big-time funding.”

“We have the spaces, we’re just not doing anything with them, not making them accessible, and it’s a tragedy that’s rarely discussed. These places will get torn down and most folks, especially young folks, won’t ever even know they were there in the first place. We need to preserve them and do everything we can to drive more creative people to the city.”

The world is saturated with creativity in all forms from Detroit. I remember when I was in Japan, a promoter told me at the time he couldn’t book one of my DJs because Japan had too many people from Detroit there! (laughs) That’s how big and powerful our footprint as a creative class of people is globally.”

We’re givers not takers.  We give the world our creativity, but I don’t think we take enough a lot of times and it shows because it seems there’s always a financial struggle here for everyone. Culture comes from the incredible wonderful, people here. The people are the value. They should be embraced.”

Thoughts on The Future

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“I don’t worry about the future of techno.  It will evolve.  Musical, creative diversity has to be encouraged. Stuff that doesn’t exist currently will be born and become transformational. Music is a reflection of that generation, that time, what’s happening globally and locally.”

“There is an undeniable need for space and a need to encourage openness. Hopefully Detroit will continue being at the forefront like it always has been. Don’t be afraid of the future. Yes, things will be strange and different than what you’re used to right now, and that’s a good thing.”

“Just remember, Motown was started by high school kids singing in their garages. They were broke but they were passionate and creative. However, what really changed everything was love from the local community. The community was supportive and encouraging. Local support helped them thrive globally. Never forget the enduring and positive lesson of Motown.”

Bonus: Cornelius’ favorite eateries in the Metro Detroit area

Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreno (3149 Livernois, Detroit)

Yum Village (6500 Woodward, Detroit)

Royal Kabob (3236 Caniff, Hamtramck)

KG’s Grill (465 Inkster rd, Garden City)

Al Ameer’s (27346 Ford Rd, Dearborn Heights)

Cornelius Harris @ Exhibit 3000 Museum (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

UR, Submerge & Exhibit 3000 Museum

3000 East Grand Blvd.

Detroit, MI 48202

 

Exhibit 3000 Museum

For free tours or if you want to donate early techno artifacts

Contact:

John Collins

jcpremier@gmail.com

Cornelius Harris

cornelius@alteregomgt.com

 

UR

http://www.undergroundresistance.com/

 

UR FB

https://www.facebook.com/URundergroundresistance/

 

Somewhere in Detroit (Submerge)

https://www.facebook.com/Somewhere-in-Detroit-242400282479827/

 

Alter Ego Management

http://www.alteregomgt.com/

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Submerge (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Exclusive Interview: Detroit music legend & founder of rock band The MC5, WAYNE KRAMER, on his new memoir ‘The Hard Stuff’!

Exclusive Interview: Detroit music legend & founder of rock band The MC5, WAYNE KRAMER, on his new memoir ‘The Hard Stuff’!

*Special thank you to Book Beat & Street Corner Music for allowing us in your stores*

Wayne Kramer probably shouldn’t be alive right now.

A normal human would’ve folded up and exploded decades ago from a pulverizing combination of “Hard Stuff,” like hard music, hard drugs, hard living and hard lessons. Thankfully, however, Wayne is here with us, alive and well enough to tell the ongoing tale of his fascinating existence.

Wayne Kramer and his Detroit rock band the MC5 changed rock music by cranking the dial to totally immersive no-holds-barred high-intensity levels of DNA-mutating volume and they’re also widely credited with inadvertently creating what was later labeled as the genre of ‘punk music’.

While the band itself disintegrated in 1972 in a cyclone of heroin, revolutionary Sinclair politics, disenchantment and becoming alienated and disconnected from each other, the MC5’s music has withstood the brutal and purifying test of time. They came, they saw, they melted faces with blistering full-body knockout attack music and helped forge Detroit’s enduring sobriquet, Detroit Rock City.

It has been said that listening to the MC5 live was like having an out-of-body experience, like exorcising daemonic barnacles and freeing your soul, like a psychedelic journey to pre-birth regression, a glorious stripping away while being thrashed to the point where you suddenly Wake Up, Fully Emerged.

I’m sitting here right now with Brother Wayne Kramer in the back room at Book Beat bookstore.

Wayne is in town from Los Angeles and bookstore owner Cary Loren, formerly of Ann Arbor arthouse band Destroy All Monsters, has kindly given us a fun space to chat.

We’re discussing Wayne’s life and memoir ‘The Hard Stuff,’ which will be published on August 14th by Da Capo Press.

Buy The Hard Stuff here 

https://www.dacapopress.com/titles/wayne-kramer/the-hard-stuff/9780306921537/

Later this year, Wayne is going on a 35-city tour with his band MC50 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of MC5’s Kick Out The Jams. Their tour will culminate in an October 27th show at the newly renovated Fillmore Detroit.

Wayne is also a prominent solo recording artist and has done countless collaborations with people like David Peel, Johnny Thunders, Don Was, etc.

Parts of my life have been written about extensively, especially my time in the MC5. Less so my time in prison and my work with Jail Guitar Doors. Just wanted to have a record from my perspective, straight from the horse’s mouth.”

“I wanted to understand myself better and chronicle the realizations. To sort out the order that things happened in and review some of the stupendously terrible things I’ve done in my life. For years, my friends have prodded me to write a book but I could never figure out how to end it, since the story isn’t finished. The arrival of my son Francis, who is turning five soon, the whole life I’ve lived up to his arrival was one life, so now I can begin the other life. If I die tomorrow, I want my son to have a record of my life straight from me not vicariously from news articles.”

I started writing the book in 2006. Started just casually jotting down thoughts and memories in a notebook. A lot of stuff was in the front of my thoughts and therefore easily accessible. Then I got about forty 3 x 5 cards and put them on a corkboard and created a chronology of events.”

“After a while I had the shaping of what looked like an actual book on my hands, so we engaged an agent and secured a publisher. I’m a musician. Telling stories is my business and lifelong passion and it’s always a pleasure. The book was completed in November 2017.”

MC5: The Motor City 5

Born April 30th, 1948, Wayne Kramer was the founder and guitarist of rock band The Motor City Five, which was later shortened to MC5 in honor of being more in tune with the Detroit auto industry.

Wayne started the band in 1963 at Lincoln Park High School in Lincoln Park, Michigan, a Downriver suburb of Detroit.

At the time, Wayne was the band leader of The Bounty Hunters. He met Fred Smith of The Vibratones and Fred soon merged his band with Wayne’s band into The Bounty Hunters. They played venues like The Crystal Bar on Michigan Ave & Central in Southwest Detroit until changing their name to The Motor City 5 in the Fall 1964.

The MC5 consisted of:

Wayne Kramer guitar, Rob Tyner vocals, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith guitar, Michael Davis bass, and Dennis ‘Machine Gun’ Thompson drums.

Wayne explains:

It started off innocently enough with ‘Hey, any kids want to be in a band with me?’ Ultimately, we ended up with the MC5.”

“The MC5 started at Helen and Gregory avenues in Lincoln Park, Michigan. Tyner lived 4 blocks away, Dennis lived 10 blocks, Fred lived 10 blocks in another direction. My Mom’s house was the center for all of us and she kindly let us practice in the basement.”

“Rob Tyner and I could draw. Rob’s friend Gary Grimshaw could draw chrome, the finish on hot rod cars. So, Gary and Rob ending up designing a lot of our handbills and posters, especially the Grande Ballroom ones. Rob was indeed a gifted artist and cartoonist, not many people know that.”

And yes, it’s true, Rob reinvented everything. He nicknamed Fred ‘Sonic’, shortened our name to the MC5, nicknamed Dennis ‘Machine Gun’, even renamed himself from Bob Derminer to Rob Tyner. He was a very creative man.”

“The MC5 used to play everywhere: school cafetoriums, dances, record hops, bars, clubs, outdoors, indoors, sideways, upside down, you name it, we were there. When you love to play music, it doesn’t matter where you play it. You just establish a good band and put your 10,000 hours in playing your asses off anywhere-anyway you can.”

The MC5 played 400-500 performances over the lifespan of the band. I was 16-20 years old when all this happened, my formative years. At 19 or 20, you’re pretty crazy since your brain isn’t done growing. You’re basically insane until 30.”

“We all have powerful experiences and changes at that age and to be in the center of larger forces at that time like the youth culture movement, government oppression, phonetaps, the FBI building a file on us (yes, I have a copy of the file), was just overwhelming. I remember when I caught my federal coke case, the officer said to me, ‘Kramer, we got shit on you going back to the Sixties’.

“What set the MC5 apart from our contemporaries is we addressed the audiences concerns directly. Since we all shared the same concerns, we felt it our responsibility to help voice these concerns and voice them LOUDLY.”

We were a rock band in a time when rock music came of age and we were a part of a community of young people in agreement to reject the established ideas of how life should be. The hypocrisy and corruption we saw was unbearable as a community. We were being forced to fight a war 30,000 miles away when there was no direct threat to the United States. It was illegal, it was immoral and America, which claimed to stand for equal rights, didn’t give equal rights to all citizens, only a chosen select few.”

“And even 50 years ago, we felt and knew that weed was less toxic than the government claimed. We were commenting directly on this stuff and we were the only band doing so heart to heart, face to face. You felt our music, boy, and you could never un-feel it. Hearing the MC5 live touched you deeply and forever.”

“In terms of people considering the MC5 and The Stooges as the “godfathers” of punk music, I can see where you can connect the dots. The Clash, The Damned, The Ramones, etc, when you asked all those early punk bands who they listened to and were inspired by, almost all of them say the MC5 and The Stooges. To me “punk” has always been around, we just didn’t use that expression. Beethoven, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, all those guys were punks in the sense that they had to reinvent music for their generations. It’s important to have your own sound and be original.”

“The MC5 was not frilly, not snobby, not elitist, it’s just in your face, grab you by the throat, rock and roll.”

MC5 played opening night at the Grande, Detroit’s psychedelic ballroom, thanks to Russ Gibb. The Grande was a magical place.”

We all lived together in the same house as a band. We lived in Detroit, then we moved to Ann Arbor to a place called the Hill Street House for a while, then we had a house in Hamburg, Michigan on Hall Road. It was not far from Hamburg Lake. Beautiful, remote spread in the middle of 10-acres of wooded land, just absolutely spectacular. We loved it. We were a bunch of maniac musicians. You could run around with no clothes on, shoot guns, smoke weed, do whatever you wanted to do, it was great.”

“Our bassist Mike Davis wrote a memoir about his life and MC5 and many stories in Mike’s book are consistent with mine, at least, the fundamental facts. I don’t blame Mike for some of the stuff that was written. I’m sure I was an absolute nightmare to be around. The bad behavior was rampant and eventually, the MC5’s shared creative vision had disintegrated into drugs. Heroin was all-pervasive in Detroit back then and we were young musicians, so everywhere we went, it was already there waiting for us, in our face, you couldn’t escape it.”

“Rob tried quitting the MC5 for 2-3 years. Every year, he’d make a declaration that he didn’t want to be in the band anymore, but he never left. Finally, he and Fred got into a fistfight, and he said he’d had enough. Our last show was New Year’s Eve 1972 at the Grande. I walked off stage mid-show and that was that. The end of an era.”

 

The MC5 Eat LSD with Timothy Leary at Tim’s House in California

“On March 23rd, 1969, we played a free concert in Provo Park. Timothy Leary was there, he liked our show and invited us back to his house in the Berkeley Hills.”

“He had all this liquid LSD that we poured into a big bottle of dark red wine and we drank LSD wine with him in front of a roaring fire in his living room, while his mother-in-law was there!

“The band wanted to go out carousing. I wanted to stay with Leary and have the total LSD experience with the guru and then the funniest thing happened.”

Machine Gun Thompson and I are sitting in front of the fire with Tim’s mother-in-law, Tim walks in with his wife Rosemary and announces “welp, we’re going to bed, you guys have a good night.” He walks away, Machine Gun and I look at each other and I’m thinking, ‘Whoaaaa. I’m tripping my brains out with Timothy Leary’s mother-in-law’. Then I say to Dennis, ‘Maybe we should go back to the hotel.’ Dennis agrees and he somehow drives us back to the hotel.”

 

Wayne’s Favorite Authors

“Dozens of favorites. I read a lot. They run the gamut: Philip Roth, Christopher Hitchens, Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Hemingway, Sam Harris, Luc Sante, etc. My son is going to be five soon and he’s reading some elemental stuff already. I told him that the whole world will open up to you through reading. Plus, you can travel in time through books.”

 

Wayne’s Parents

“The MC5 was formed during our teen years when we were young and trying to break out and establish our own identity beyond our parents, which is important.”

I had a father that abandoned our family when I was little. I was an angry little boy who grew into an even angrier young man. I thought changing my name to “Wayne Kramer” was the perfect revenge, since he would never share in my glory.”

“Later, in my 40’s, I met my father. He was a community activist in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania and he was in the hospital. We built a relationship, I mean you can’t dial it back and recover what was lost to time, but I got to have a more mature perspective on this man whom I was biologically connected to.”

“He had been a U.S. Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. He came back profoundly damaged and treated what we now called “PTSD” with alcohol, which he said kept the daemons at a distance. It didn’t stop the endless horrors, but it helped create a cloudy buffer.”

“The hole in my development as a boy, not having a model of what manhood is, being left to deal with challenges, responsibilities, dangers without a father was very difficult.”

My Mother did a great job as a single working mom. She’s my hero to this day. I also had 2 younger sisters. My Mom raised us three kids on her own. Single working mothers are the hardest working humans on planet earth.”

 

Wayne Helps Iggy & The Stooges Get Signed

“I was responsible for getting The Stooges a record contract with Elektra Records. Danny Fields asked me if I knew any other group like the MC5. I said ‘No Danny, there’s nobody like the MC5. But, you should see our brother band The Psychedelic Stooges.’”

“We loved Iggy and The Stooges, all of us hung out together, got high together, listened to the same free jazz music. Before then, Iggy was a drummer in a great blues band called The Prime Movers.”

I actually tried recruiting him into the MC5 one time but he left for a brief stay in Chicago with The Prime Movers. Iggy and I are still great friends to this day and I’m proud of how successful he is.”

 

Wayne Gets Arrested During the Detroit Riots

“In July 1967, we were living on Warren and Forest in Detroit by Wayne State University and we had a telescope in our upstairs window. The Riots kicked off and the cops saw the telescope and thought we were snipers.”

“Next thing I know, my doors being busted down and there’s a U.S. Army tank pointing its canon at our house! It’s in the street, right outside our front door! The cops swarmed in, slammed us down and took us to 1300 Beaubien Street, the Detroit Police HQ. They eventually let us go but it was an experience that stuck with me.”

 

On Being Incarcerated in America

From 1975-77, Wayne Kramer did time at Lexington Federal Prison in Lexington, KY for selling cocaine. The experience had a profound and negative impact on him.

MC5 bassist Mike Davis, Stooges roadie Hiawatha Bailey, writer William S. Burroughs, actor Peter Lorre, musicians Red Rodney, Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, etc, all did drug time at Lexington.

Going to prison is a traumatic experience. You are discovering for the first time what it means to not have liberty, to not be free, to be totally under the control of systems and people.”

You never feel safe. You’re surrounded in very close quarters by dangerous people with mental health issues constantly. You have no power over your own life. The sort of helplessness and hopelessness you experience in prison is impossible to accurately communicate unless you yourself have experienced it directly.”

The prison experience is embarrassing and shameful and I don’t know anyone whose come out better. Prison has never helped anyone, myself included. It’s a medieval concept that just lives on and on and on and on. 90% of inmates can be held accountable for breaking the social contract in their communities but imprisoning people runs against a sense of fairness, which really doesn’t exist in America.”

 

Jail Guitar Doors USA

In 1978, London punk band The Clash wrote a song about Wayne Kramer called ‘Jail Guitar Doors’. That song title served as inspiration for Wayne Kramer, his wife Margaret Kramer and his friend Billy Bragg in naming his non-profit Jail Guitar Doors USA in 2008.

“Jail Guitar Doors is a non-profit with a mission to help rehabilitate prison inmates by teaching them to express themselves positively through music.”

“Since my release, I’ve watched the prison population rise for over 40 years. There were 350,000 people in state and federal prisons combined back then. Today, in the United States, we have 2.3 million people in prisons.”

“This tragedy has deeply affected every single community in the country. Sending people to prison is not a deterrent. You come out worse, not better. With Jail Guitar Doors, we try to mitigate the damage by helping the individual rehab through music and change for the better.”

“Just think about it: 600,000 prisoners are released every year. Who do you want standing in line with you at the store? Someone bitter, defeated, revengeful or somebody who has hope and music?

“Earlier today, we took some local musicians to the Ryan Reentry Center in Detroit to establish a songwriting workshop. Today we wore a song about freedom, we helped inmates there talk about childhood trauma and forgiveness. Doing the work itself is the reward.”

“I don’t ever expect to see true justice reform in my lifetime. It’s like turning the Titanic away from the iceberg. But we will continue doing what we can to help.”

 

Detroit to Los Angeles

I’ve been in L.A. for 25 years, it suits my activities. I pay the rent by writing film and TV music. You have to go where your job skills are marketable.”

“Most of the year the climate is spectacular, but it’s been very hot lately. Great community in L.A., lot of friends there.”

“Jail Guitar Doors is based there. We’re on 10 prison yards in California and we have acoustic guitars in 120 prisons in America.”

I visit Detroit often to see family and friends and play gigs and the city will always be in my heart forever.

 

Wayne Kramer Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/waynekramer/

 

Wayne Kramer @ Industrial Amusement

http://industrialamusement.com/artists/wayne-kramer/

 

Buy The Hard Stuff here 

https://www.dacapopress.com/titles/wayne-kramer/the-hard-stuff/9780306921537/

 

MC5 Calendar of Shows

http://makemyday.free.fr/mc5calendar.htm

 

MC5: An Incomplete (But Interesting) Timeline

  • 1963-Wayne Kramer forms The Bounty Hunters. Fred Smith merges his band The Vibratones with Wayne’s band.
  • 1963-Gary Grimshaw moves to apartment building 633 Prentis St, Detroit. Michael Davis moves to the same building and Rob Tyner’s girlfriend lives across the hall from him. Mike meets Rob and gradually becomes the bassist for the MC5.
  • December 1963-The Bounty Hunters play The Crystal Bar (Michigan Ave & Central St, Detroit)
  • Fall 1964-The Bounty Hunters are re-named The Motor City 5
  • May 1965-Rob Tyner shortens the bands name to MC5
  • 1966-MC5 move to the Warren Forest neighborhood in Detroit’s Cass Corridor near Wayne State University at apartment (659 W. Canfield)
  • September 1966-Plum Street (Detroit’s Haight-Ashbury psychedelic district) opens
  • October 7th, 1966-Russ Gibb opens the Grande Ballroom. MC5 plays opening night.
  • October 1966-LSD made illegal
  • November 20th, 1966-MC5 & Velvet Underground play ‘Carnaby Street Fun Festival’ @ Michigan State Fairgrounds, Detroit

  • 1967-MC5 move to Detroit Artists Workshop building and live upstairs (1252 W. Forest) and The Lodge at Warren
  • 1967-John Sinclair morphs Artists Workshop into Trans-Love Energy Collective
  • April 30, 1967-Trans Love produces Love-In concert on Belle Isle @ Remick Music Shell. MC5 plays for 6,000 people. The Outlaws motorcycle gang starts riot.
  • Summer 1967-The Stooges live at first Stooge house (1324 Forest Ct, Ann Arbor)
  • June 9th, 1967-MC5 blow main act Cream offstage at the Grande.
  • July 1967-Detroit Riots
  • August 1967-John Sinclair becomes manager of the MC5
  • Halloween 1967-The Psychedelic Stooges first show ever @ UofM Student Union
  • November 22nd, 1967-The Who play Southfield High School
  • November 24-26, 1967-The Fugs & MC5 play the Grande
  • January 4th, 1968-Russ Gibb finances the MC5 recordings of Looking At You and Borderline @ United Sound System studios (5840 2nd Ave, Detroit). Gary Grimshaw designs the cover. Jeep Holland’s A-Square label releases only 500 copies.
  • February 23rd, 1968-Jimi Hendrix, MC5 & Soft Machine play the Masonic in Detroit
  • March 3rd, 1968-The Stooges first play the Grande
  • April 11th, 1968-MC5’s first-ever show with The Stooges @ UofM Union Ballroom
  • May 1968-Trans-Love move from Detroit to Ann Arbor’s Hill Street House (1510 and 1520 Hill Street). MC5 join the commune.
  • July 1968-MC5 play free concert at the West Park bandshell in Ann Arbor
  • August 25th, 1968-MC5 play Lincoln Park, Chicago during riot
  • September 7th, 1968-JC Crawford first introduces the MC5
  • September 21st, 1968-Danny Fields sees MC5 live at the Grande
  • September 22nd, 1968-Danny Fields sees The Stooges @ the Union Ballroom, Ann Arbor
  • September 1968-Danny Fields gets Elektra Records to sign both bands: MC5 sign to Elektra for $20,000 and The Stooges sign for $5,000. Elektra is known as the label of The Doors.
  • October 30-31, 1968-MC5 record debut live album ‘Kick Out the Jams’ at the Grande Ballroom. The Stooges were the kicker act. Free show.
  • November 1st, 1968-John Sinclair creates White Panther Party based on idea from Pun Plamondon
  • November 1968-The Stooges move to The Fun House (2666 Packard rd, Ann Arbor). MC5 hang out here frequently. Nico lives here for a bit.
  • December 12-14, 1968-MC5 plays on bill with Velvet Underground for 3 days in Boston
  • December 23rd, 1968-MC5 opens for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown @ Olympia
  • January 4th, 1969-MC5’s Rob Tyner is on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine
  • February 1969-Detroit’s famous Hudson’s department store refuses to stock MC5’s albums. In response to this, MC5 runs a full-page ad entitled ‘Fuck Hudson’s’ in local magazines The Fifth Estate, Ann Arbor Argus, The Sun. As a result, Hudson’s department stores pulls all Elektra Records albums from their shelves.

  • March 1969-Creem Magazine debuts
  • March 1969-Elektra Records drops the MC5
  • May 1969-John Cale brings The Stooges to NYC to produce their first album
  • June 1969-MC5 sign to Atlantic Records and get a hefty $65,000 advance
  • October 18th, 1969-Led Zeppelin, MC5, Grand Funk play Olympia in Detroit
  • January 15th, 1970-MC5 release their 2nd album ‘Back in the USA
  • May 1970-MC5 move from Hill Street House (Ann Arbor) out to Hamburg, Michigan
  • August 3rd, 1970-MC5 @ Mt. Clemens Pop Festival in Sportsman Park
  • August 7-9th, 1970-MC5 and The Stooges play Goose Lake Music Festival (200,000 people)
  • April 1971-White Panther Party dissolves
  • July 6th, 1971-MC5 release ‘High Time’ album
  • 1972-Rob Tyner and Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith get into a fistfight
  • December 31, 1972-MC5’s last show ever. Grande Ballroom. Wayne Kramer is so disgusted, he leaves mid-show.
  • MC5’s proposed 4th album, ‘Live on Saturn’ never comes to fruition.
  • 1975-Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith starts Sonic’s Rendezvous Band
  • 1975-77-Wayne Kramer does time at Lexington Federal Prison. Fellow inmates include Mike Davis and Hiawatha Bailey