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Rebel MC

Wayne Kramer talks to Sean Egan about the chequered history of one of rock ’n’ roll’s most pioneering, politicised, influential and underrated acts – and how, on a new tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of their debut, his band will still “rip your head off…”

December 1968. The MC5 are treating the Fillmore East to a set of the incendiary, agit-prop rock ’n’ roll that has taken them from music-scene bottom-feeders in their native Detroit to an imminent cover feature in Rolling Stone.

Coming out of the venue after the concert, however, they’re met with a sight that is a stark contrast to the wild enthusiasm they usually engender. Local activist group the East Village Motherfuckers have gathered together some giveaway copies of forthcoming single Kick Out The Jams and are symbolically smashing them against the fins of the Cadillac sent by the record company to pick the band up. It’s a sight that brings home to MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer the inescapable dichotomy of an ensemble that tapped into the left ist zeitgeist, while at the same time aimed to be wealthy and famous recording artists.

“I thought, ‘Goddamn – this is surreal’”, Kramer recalls. “It’s one of the most troubling aspects of life in that band. We were attacked mercilessly by the hard left as being not revolutionary enough. It was tough.”

Back in the early 60s, the constituent parts of the MC5 had more conventional ideas of rock stardom. Kramer had gone to high school with vocalist Rob Tyner (born Derminer) and guitarist Fred Smith (dubbed ‘Sonic’). Each had their own group, but coalesced after graduation, ultimately picking up bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson. Their name was an abbreviation of Motor City Five, a reference to the central importance of Ford et al in their hometown.

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