Wayne Kramer Plays MC5 Songs At Benefit For Ex-Manager

Singer/guitarist performs first full set of music by his storied, late-'60s proto-punk band in nearly three decades.

SILVERLAKE, Calif. — For the first time since New Year's Eve 1972,

singer/guitarist Wayne Kramer, a founding member of the MC5, played a full set

of that storied, Detroit proto-punk band's songs at Spaceland on Sunday night.

The occasion was a benefit for former MC5 manager John Sinclair and his family,

whose New Orleans home recently was severely damaged in a fire.

"The old war horse has held up pretty well," Kramer said after the show, which

raised $2,300 and featured 10 performances by spoken-word artists, bands and


The 51-year-old guitarist started organizing the benefit after hearing about

Sinclair's situation three weeks ago. The two have remained close friends,

though Sinclair stopped managing the MC5 in 1969. Sinclair has since made a

career as a spoken-word artist, radio DJ, poet and journalist.

"The only thing a friend does is help a friend out when he's having trouble,"

Kramer said. "This is just right action; we're just doing what we should do."

Twin-Guitar Attack

During the headlining performance of MC5 songs, Kramer was backed by Los Angeles

punk-revivalists the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, whose leader, Frank Meyer, helped

him bring back the MC5's incendiary twin-guitar attack and occasionally took

over lead vocals.

For "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa," Kramer divided the crowd into three sections, giving

them each parts to sing in a round. "It's like 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat,' only a

little more sophisticated," he said.

The set culminated with hard-hitting renditions of "Poison" and "Black to Comm"


excerpt), with Kramer dedicating the latter to his deceased MC5

bandmates, guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith and vocalist Rob Tyner. "Back in the MC5

days, we used to end our shows with this song," he told the crowd. "We're going

to play it ... for all the people we lost along the way." Kramer slipped to the

side to play keyboards on the tune, while Meyer, dripping with sweat, thrashed

around on the mic.

The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs have previously backed Kramer in his solo shows on

the MC5 staple "Kick Out the Jams" (


excerpt). "Getting to do a whole set of this stuff is just

unbelievable," Meyer said before the show. "For us, it's like a dream come true.

We came together because of our love for that band and that kind of music."

The Cheetahs performed their own set earlier Sunday night, which included a

cover of the Stooges' "Fun House."

Other artists on the bill were the New York Dolls cover band the New York Dolts,

rock bands the Bellrays and B-Movie Rats, and singer/songwriter Mike Younger,

who was a homeless street musician when Sinclair put him on his radio show in

1995. "I think we're all kind of connected through that spirit of what we were

trying to do in the MC5 and what John Sinclair represents," Kramer said of the

lineup. "You can connect the dots in the influence of the MC5 up through bands

today. All these bands tonight — I like to think of these people as sons

and daughters of the 5."

'Like Brothers'

Formed in Michigan in 1965, the MC5 gained notoriety as the house organ of the

band of radicals known as the White Panther Party, which Sinclair founded. The

bandmembers wore American flags and shouted obscenity-laden revolutionary

slogans. The recording of the band's live performance in Chicago during the

riot-plagued 1968 Democratic Convention became its groundbreaking 1969 debut,

Kick Out the Jams.

Kramer called Sinclair's influence on him and his former band "massive."

"He helped explain and articulate things that I only knew on a gut level, that I

only knew in my anger," he said. "John's a little bit older than me and a little

bit better educated than me, and at that young point in my life, it was the

perfect relationship, and it's still a perfect relationship, though today it's

more like brothers."

Sinclair penned the insurgent liner notes for Kick Out the Jams, and he

managed the group until he went to jail for marijuana possession in 1969. After

his release, he resumed writing and eventually moved to New Orleans. He has

since recorded several spoken-word albums with his group the Blues Scholars,

written poetry and music criticism and hosted his own radio show on WWOZ-FM.

Giving Something Back

Sunday's show began with Mark Groubert performing with his group Lower Companions, featuring Kramer on keyboards and Doug Lund on drums. Before they began, Groubert lightened the mood by listing products that Sinclair and his family need. They included 200 boxes of Rice-A-Roni, 17-1/2 yards of rolling paper, a copy of the Doors' "Light My Fire," uncooked chicken and back issues of Playboy magazine from 1972 to 1974.

Younger said he jumped at the opportunity to play the benefit after catching up

with Sinclair in New Orleans two weeks ago. "He put me on air when I was totally

down and out, he took a chance on me, and that day was very fateful, because I

got my break in the music business through him," the singer/guitarist said after

his performance, which included songs from his debut, Somethin' in the

Air (1999). "It's nice to play a show where I can give something back."

A previous benefit concert for Sinclair featuring Michelle Shocked, the

Radiators and the Wild Magnolias was held in New Orleans. On Saturday, a benefit

will be held at Arlene Grocery in New York, featuring Eric's in Oregon, the

Scoldees, Mercy Side, the Blue Mockingbirds and Danny White. Joan Jett and

former Ramones frontman Joey Ramone also may turn up. The benefit will focus on

raising money to transfer art, recordings and other memorabilia from Sinclair's

home to the University of Michigan.

Donations to Sinclair and his family can be sent to: Sinclair Fire Fund, Account No. 0231-805-9, c/o Liberty Bank & Trust, 1950 St. Bernard Ave., New Orleans, La. 70116. Attn: Lelia Mackey, Asst. Branch Manager.