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MC5 Guitarist Still Kicking Out the Jams

Of the Oakland Press

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Wayne Kramer exists, quite comfortably, under the specter of the MC5.

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t kicking out plenty of jams on his own these days.

The singer, guitarist and songwriter — who continues his Detroit rock connection in the DKT/MC5 ensemble with bandmates Michael Davis and Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson — now resides in Los Angeles and has gone Hollywood, albeit on his own terms.

Kramer’s primary recent work has been in fi lm scoring, and while it’s not surprising, perhaps, to see the politically astute and outspoken musician working on upcoming documentaries such as “The Narcotics Farm” and “Votergate,” he’s also been doing musical beds for Fox Sports broadcasts.

And his most high-profi le project — Will Farrell’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” a NASCAR comedy which opens in August — certainly raises an eyebrow or two.

“It’s not heavy and it’s not dark — so you might be wondering what I’m doing there,” Kramer, 58, says with a laugh. “They wanted some real rock guitar cues which fit in with high-powered auto racing — which is something I know a little bit about, being a Detroiter. You can take the boy out of Detroit, but you can’t take Detroit out of the boy.”

For “Talladega Nights,” Kramer enlisted Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello, with whom he shares both musical and political common ground.

“We share a kind of sensibility about the electric guitar,” Kramer says.

“Even though we’re both playing rock guitar, we play it from the perspective of funk in terms of the rhythmic approach. Once Tom plays a pattern and he’s got it, he’s dead-on it; he nails it every time, which is what a great rhythm guitarist does. It’s a lot art, rhythm guitar; that’s something (the late MC5 guitarist) Fred Smith was a genius at, the consistency of his rhythm playing.”

Of the documentaries, “Votergate” — about alleged fraud in the 2004 U.S. presidential election — is in Kramer’s political wheelhouse, but “The Narcotics Farm” hits even closer to home. It delves into the federal prison in Lexington, Ky., where Kramer was incarcerated from 1975-78 for cocaine traffi cking, joining a list of other famous prisoners such as the writer William Burroughs and jazz musicians Sonny Rollins and Zoot Simms.

The film also deals with accusations that authorities experimented on prisoners at the institution, but Kramer kept himself focused on its musical needs.

“It’s a jazz story,” he says, “and I wanted to do a jazz score. The starting point was different than it is with rock material, but the further I went, the more I found out it was less different and more a matter of just trying to move what I’m doing forward, to make a more contemporary kind of music that’s more inclusive.”

The exercise, in fact, has sent Kramer “diving head-fi rst into my first love, which was jazz.” He’s expanded his trio to a quartet, including keyboardist Tigran Hamasian, “one of those child geniuses who’s been consciously developing his techniques and will be ... a bona fide superstar in the jazz world.” The mission now, he notes, is “to look for a new kind of music, to take the things I have traditionally worked on but expand it out a little bit.”

That doesn’t mean he’s completely abandoning his old creative stomping grounds, however. Though DKT/MC5 is on hold while Davis recuperates from injuries suffered in an early May motorcycle accident, Kramer says there are still requests for the group to play, and he won’t rule out the possibility of the trio recording some new material, either.

“I think that’s what bands do — you play shows and you write songs and you make records,” says Kramer, who’s also involved in lawsuits with the makers of the MC5 documentary “A True Testimonial” and with the family of the late MC5 singer Rob Tyner.

“I’ve always thinking in terms of songs and production, and I’ve written some stuff. I don’t know what the other fellows have been up to, but we’ll see.

“There seem to be some people out there that enjoy the music, still. There’s no giant career plan, really. Who could have imagined we’d be able to do this 30 years later — go out and celebrate the music we made when we were much younger fellows. It’s an unexpected, but welcome, pleasure.”

Wayne Kramer and Porchsleeper perform Thursday at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. Call (313) 833-9700 or visit

Web Site: www. majesticdetroit.com.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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