Forty years ago, a crucial era in Detroit rock 'n' roll history was launched -- with a 12-letter epithet.
The MC5 was recording its first album, "Kick Out the Jams," with live performances Oct. 30 (before Devil's Night truly set the Motor City burning each year) and 31, 1968 at the famed Grande Ballroom. Singer Rob Tyner pronounced it was time to "kick out the jams, mother..." -- well, you know -- delivering one of if not the most famous profanities ever on a commercial music release.
Four decades later, Kevin Sharpe and Alex Greene of Shelby Township-based DarkGreene Entertainment hope to kick out some more jams with "The Detroit Rock Revolution," a multi-media commemoration of that era in Detroit music history.
"It's really a tribute to that entire time, not just the MC5," explains Sharpe, 42, who's the producer of the project while Greene is serving as executive producer. "There was a lot of stuff going on then -- the Rationals were almost signed, Bob Seger was signed to a national deal...
"So this is really a tribute to the entire city and the entire scene and the people and the fans. Detroit fans accept nothing less than (the best) and it takes a lot to move them to do anything. That's why a lot of great artists from here are home grown; it's not an easy task to go from the basement to the club to the national stage."
MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer concurs, explaining that's the impetus behind the "Kick Out the Jams" ethos.
"That was our attitude," Kramer says. "We were a tough crowd. You'd go see somebody, and it was like, 'OK, what have you got? Show us. Kick out the jams...' And when [i]we[/i] were playing, we felt like we had to deliver, too, or else we'd be hypocrites."
Recording an album of new material live was a novel idea back in 1968, though one the MC5 embraced. "Playing live was our forte and what we did best," Kramer notes. But, he adds, "It was also cheaper for Elektra (Records, the MC5's label) to record us live than put us in the studio. I think they were driven by commerce as much as, and probably more than, art."
For Sharpe and company, however, "The Detroit Music Revolution" is an absolute labor of love, one that involves a live show this week at Pontiac's Crofoot Ballroom, a pair of albums featuring new versions of Detroit rock classics and a documentary film.
Sharpe, who grew up in Troy and played in several bands -- including a later version of Michigan rock mainstays the Frost -- and now manages bands and runs Metro Recording Studio in Shelby Township, learned about the scene when he was working at a car wash as a teen. He befriended a fellow worker, Lee Taylor, who was in the '60s band Caste, who told him about the Grande Ballroom and the rock community of that time.
"He would tell me about how three thousand, four thousand kids a weekend would go down to the Grande Ballroom or 200,000 would show up at a Goose Lake festival, primarily to see local bands," Sharpe recalls. "And I didn't believe him, to be honest with you. Nowadays it's impossible to bring 200 people to the bar."
The more Sharpe studied the era -- including conversations with onetime MC5 manager and activist/writer John Sinclair -- the more enamored he became with it, culminating in the idea for a film documentary. But rather than the more traditional approach of "a bunch of old guys talking about old music," he decided to put the music in the hands of younger Detroit area bands, putting the songs in a fresher context that would still illustrate their historical impact.
"I really want to focus on how great the music was," Sharpe explains. "It was music for young people and by young people. If you put it in the hands of current artists, it becomes new and fresh again and doesn't sound like 40-year-old songs."
Sharpe recorded 26 tracks over eight months, which will be split between two CDs -- "The Detroit Music Revolution," which will be debuted at this week's concert, and an as-yet-untitled companion piece which will roll out by mid-November. Sharpe also hopes to have "The Detroit Music Revolution" documentary done and out -- possibly airing on PBS -- by early 2009; he'll be filming the performances on Thursday at the Crofoot Ballroom, with several groups covering material form the "Kick Out the Jams" album: Rev. Right Time will re-enact Brother J.C. Crawford's pre-amble before Overloaded plays "Ramblin' Rose," Paper Street Saints deliver "Kick Out the Jams" and the Muggs take on "Motor City's Burning." Ann Arbor's Mazinga, meanwhile, will recreate "Looking At You" form the MC5's second album, "Back in the USA."
Other acts playing on Thursday, and also on the albums, include Powertrane -- whose leader, Scott Morgan, was in the Rationals -- the Orbitsuns, 60 Second Crush, Critical Bill and others. Sinclair will serve as MC, and there will be displays by rock poster artists Gary Grimshaw and Carl Lundgren, photographer Leni Sinclair and MC5 biographer Bret Callwood ("MC5 Sonically Speaking").
"It's a celebration of these people and the music and the times," Sharpe says. "There are a lot of people still around from those days, too. There's been so much done about Motown, but the Detroit rock story is such a great story, too, and we really want to get that out there."
KICK IT OUT
Things you need to know about the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams:"
* It was recorded Oct. 30-31 at Detroit's Grande Ballroom. It was released in February of 1969.
* To solicit radio play, Elektra Records replaced the title track's famous 12-letter epithet with "Brothers and Sisters."
* The profanity and overt politics -- including an incendiary liner notes essay by band manager John Sinclair -- caused several stores and chains, including Hudson's, to ban the album. Elektra subsequently issued a version of the album with the "brothers and sisters" version of the title track.
* The MC5 responded to Hudson's with a full-page news paper ad featuring a photo of singer Rob Tyner and the message "F--- Hudson's."
* "Kick Out the Jams" ranks No. 294 on the Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
* The song "Kick Out the Jams" has been covered by Blue Oyster Cult, Rage Against the Machine, Henry Rollins with Bad Brains, Jeff Buckley, Pearl Jam, Africa Bambaataa, Monster Magnet and the Presidents of the United States of America, among others.
* The MC5 has been nominated -- again -- for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Forty Years To the Day concert takes place Thursday (Oct. 30) at the Crofoot Ballroom, 1 S. Saginaw St. Pontiac. Performers include Powertrane, the Orbitsuns, the Muggs, Paper Street Saints, 60 Second Crush, Critical Bill, Lies Unknown, Overloaded, Ingray, Mazinga, Stellar Drive, Smoking Moses, Pillar of Autumn, Duende and John Sinclair. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. Call (248) 858-9333 or visit www.thecrofoot.com.
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