Gary James' Interview With Wayne Kramer Of
The MC5

Wayne Kramer was and is the guitarist for The MC5, not to be confused with the DC5. The MC5, short for Motor City Five had their beginnings in Detroit in the 1960s. Their debut album, was titled "Kick Out The Jams". While two of the members, Fred 'Sonic' Smith and Rob Tyner have passed on, Wayne Kramer has carried on with a new version of The MC5. Wayne talked about that and the history of the group.

Q - Wayne, life is obviously pretty good for you these days. You've toured the world with the new MC5.

A - We did, yeah.

Q - Muscle Tone Records is a label created just for your music?

A - No. We tried to do a couple of other things with it. Most of my work today is for film and television. I still tour and I still play 'live'. I love playing music for people. I have a new album that will be out this summer (2009). But, I'm really intrigued working as a composer in the realm of television and film.

Q - That's a tough business to get into, isn't it?

A - Anything in the arts is tough to get into.

Q - What films are you writing for?

A - Currently, I'm scoring a show for HBO called Eastbound And Down. I just completed a documentary for PBS called The Narcotic Farm. I've worked on the Will Farrell comedy hit Talladega Nights and the follow-up to that, Stepbrothers. And maybe half a dozen others...Indie films. I write for television. I have two or three themes on TV shows that I've written. I've written a great deal of sports music for the sports networks.

Q - You're really quite a diversified writer.

A - I try to make a living.

Q - That comes easy to you, does it?

A - Yeah. I've been very fortunate. Music has always been something that comes easy for me.

Q - Do you see a project as it's being filmed or after it's filmed? How does that work?

A - It can go either way. Sometimes you write what's called library music, which is just in a genre, like sports music is rarely scored to the picture. But for a film, you're almost always scoring to the picture.

Q - What kind of comments are you getting from the people after they listen to the new band?

A - When I play 'live'?

Q - Yeah.

A - Generally people are really appreciative. People seem to really enjoy the music. I mean, that's enough for me. (laughs) If they enjoy it, then it's mission accomplished.

Q - In the '60s, did The MC5 tour?

A - We did, yes.

Q - And where did you tour?

A - All over the world. To Europe. In the '60s we mainly toured in the States. We did go to Europe a number of times. With the new version of the band, DKT MC5, we toured Australia, Japan and Europe.

Q - You headlined?

A - Often, but we also played a number of huge festivals that featured a variety of acts.

Q - The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock And Roll said "The MC5 believed in the power of Rock 'n' Roll to change the world." Is that what you believed?

A - I think that was a common sentiment in the '60s. To some extent, I think it's still prevalent. It's one of those idealistic kind of concepts that in a theoretical sense and how that would show up, that it brings people together. I think that's useful, but I also think there's a limit to what music can accomplish, and that it will never replace the historical tradition of organizing a mass movement of people. Music is kind of like our town meeting. So if you believe in a particular song, you love the sentiment in say a Bob Dylan song and I love that song, and I identify with that sentiment, then we meet together in the song. So it's one of the ways art connects people.

Q - Back in the '60s, that type of scenario was more likely to happen. Today's music is too fragmented, isn't it?

A - Well, I think the same principle applies today.

Q - In one interview I was reading with you online, you were talking about Detroit in the 1960s. You said bands could work seven days a week and be booked months in advance. Today a group is lucky to get one gig a week. Isn't that what's missing in today's world? Bands need that kind of environment to grow and survive.

A - I agree with you. It's a different landscape.

Q - If it weren't for shows like American Idol, no one would be "discovered".

A - Yeah. We're in a different time and a different place. It still exists to the degree that bands go on tour and they play dozens and dozens and dozens of one-nighters and they get in a van and sleep on the floor. They live on the deli plate. That's one way to build proficiency. That's the nature of trying to be a musician. It's an incredibly difficult challenge.

Q - When Jon Landau produced your album on Atlantic Records "Back In The U.S.A.", it was hailed as one of the greatest Hard-Rock albums of all time, it didn't' translate into record sales. Is that because your record company didn't really promote it?

A - Yeah. I think that's the fundamental reason. In those days, record companies had incredible control and incredible power. If they chose to market a new album and commit the resources to marketing it, they could pretty much do what they pleased. But The MC5 was un-manageable. (laughs) And so, I think the attitude at Atlantic Records was, in those days, we would really rather get rid of these guys than promote their records. I can't say that I blame them. We were pretty hard to get along with.

Q - Were you ever approached by a manager who said "Fellas, if you do this, we can get this tour and sell this amount of records"?

A - Yeah. Yeah. Of course. We just couldn't hear it. (laughs)

Q - Because why?

A - Because we were convinced we were certain of our own analysis. We had the dangerous combination of arrogance and ignorance. (laughs) We were our own worst enemy.

Q - Where did that philosophy come from?

A - I think it comes from being young, (laughs) and achieving some recognition at a very young age. So it's like; Well of course I'm right. Look, everybody agrees with me.

Q - Were you making some noise in Detroit and that's how Atlantic Records heard about you?

A - Well, we already had kind of escalated our following to the national level. We'd had a recording contract with Elektra Records and had some chart success. So, we were a bump on the horizon.

Q - You told one interviewer that Madonna cannot sing, but neither could Janis Joplin. Janis Joplin couldn't sing? She was great!

A - That's your take on Janis Joplin's singing?

Q - My take and probably others. Obviously you do not agree.

A - You know, art is subjective. If you like Janis Joplin, you get no quarrel from me. (laughs) You're entitled to like whatever you like. Whatever your want to like, you can like it. I'm not a great authority on who should like what. (laughs)

Q - You recognize the fact that John Lennon and Brian Jones were great rhythm guitar players. You call it a lost art.

A - Yeah. I think it is a lost art. Robert White and Ray Parker were also tremendous. Charlie Christian was a great rhythm player. All the early Jazz players were great rhythm players. The guitar originally was a rhythm section instrument. It really only came in to prominence as a solo instrument with the coming of the electric guitar.

Q - How is it to have your wife as your manager?

A - Well, in my case it's terrific. She is my advocate and is inspired to develop and protect my interests on a level that a business relationship couldn't approach.

Q - She's really looking out for your best interest.

A - Yeah. She's doing it for the family. Stephen King was talking about writing and he said that most writers write for one person or maybe two people. Basically that's what I do. I write and play basically for my wife and maybe one or two other (people) or maybe whoever is signing the check. (laughs) Or a couple musician friends of mine. We all kind of share a common aesthetic. For me, it's a good thing. It might not be good for everybody. There are often time husband-wife managers that absolutely ruin the career of their artists. There's a dangerous sense of entitlement that comes with being a husband-wife manager. Often times people are not competent at the business of representation. But because they are the wife or the husband, they become the manager. It can make things difficult.

Q - What was your wife doing before you met her? Was she in the music business?

A - Yeah. She was a writer and she managed some businesses.

Q - When you say writer, do you mean songwriter?

A - No, a journalist. A music writer. She wrote about artists and records. She came out of radio and wrote in newspapers and magazines.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.