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03 February 2024

Wayne Kramer, Guitarist & Co-Founder Of MC5, Dies Aged 75

Wayne Kramer MC5 Dies 75
Photo: Todd Williamson/Invasion for Ciroc/AP
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Wayne Kramer, the guitarist who co-founded the influential and politically-aware late 60s rock band MC5, has died at the age of 75.

The news was announced on his official Instagram page, with a follow-up message stating: “Wayne Kramer passed away today peacefully from pancreatic cancer. He will be remembered for starting a revolution in music, culture, and kindness.”

Kramer was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and founded MC5 in nearby Lincoln Park with fellow guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith and singer Rob Tyner.

The band – whose name is short for “Motor City” 5 – quickly made a name for themselves in their home city. Their raw, potent music was matched by their zeal for political activism. They protested the Vietnam War by playing outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968 until their performance was broken up by a police riot.

Their incendiary debut album Kick Out The Jams was recorded live at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom and released in 1969. That album, particularly its ferocious title track, is widely regarded as a landmark garage rock record and a benchmark for the proto-punk sound. They went on to release two studio albums, 1970’s Back in the USA and the highly underrated 1971’s High Time.

The band burned out quickly and split in 1972. Both Smith and Tyner died in the 1990s. Kramer continued his music career alongside dealing drugs, and was jailed for four years following a bust in 1975. After his release in 1979, he joined funk-rockers Was (Not Was) and was an itinerant figure on the New York City underground music scene, but spent much of the 1980s out of the spotlight, working mostly as a carpenter. In the mid-90s he began releasing music again, as a solo artist signed to punk label Epitaph Records.

Subsequently Kramer put together a supergroup including the likes of The Cult’s Ian Astbury to perform MC5’s music in the early 2000s. In 2018, he published his memoir, The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities.

Kramer had been working on a third MC5 album at the time of his death. A release had been planned for later this year.

Among those paying tribute to Kramer following his death were Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who wrote on Instagram: “Brother Wayne Kramer was the best man I’ve ever known. He possessed a one of a kind mixture of deep wisdom & profound compassion, beautiful empathy and tenacious conviction.

“His band the MC5 basically invented punk rock music and was the only act to not chicken out and performed for the rioting protestors at the 1968 Dem National Convention. I’m pretty sure every album I’ve ever worked on the rawest fastest track had the working title “MC5” (Sleep Now In The Fire for example).

“Wayne came through personal trials of fire with drugs and jail time and emerged a transformed soul who went on to save countless lives through his tireless acts of service. He and his incredible wife Margaret founded Jail Guitar Doors USA which founds music programs in prisons as life changing effective rehabilitation. I’ve played with Wayne in prisons and watched him transform lives, he was just unbelievable.”

Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie also paid his respects, writing on Instagram: “Brother Wayne Kramer R.I.P. We are sad to hear about the passing of Wayne Kramer guitarist with the MC5. [MC5] being one of our favourite bands ever.

“We were blessed to have played a show with Wayne, drummer Dennis Thompson & bassist Michael Davis at [Massive Attack’s Meltdown at Royal Festival Hall] in June 2007… They were all so gracious to us, Wayne especially, a soft spoken gentle guy. A dream come true to play with them. Their music will live forever.”

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