Wayne Kramer, Guitarist & Co-Founder of MC5 Dies at 75

The rock group MC5 (L-R Dennis
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Influential guitarist and co-founder of the Detroit punk band MC5, Wayne Kramer, has passed away at the age of 75. His official social media pages confirmed the news but did not share a cause of death. Kramer was known not only for his incredible music but also for his social activism. Born in Detroit, Michigan, he became friends with guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith when he was a teenager in the early ’60s. They started a few bands before landing on MC5, also featuring bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson. They began playing regularly at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom.

It was there that they met John Sinclair, a political writer and leader of the White Panther Party. He eventually became their manager and they were the official band of the White Panthers, thrusting them into radical political activism. Their debut album Kick Out the Jams came out in 1968 under Elektra Records. Fellow Detroit native and rocker Alice Cooper once shared, “When we went to Detroit, and played this big Saugatuck Rock Festival, Iggy & the Stooges and the MC5 were on the bill. When we saw the MC5, wow, they were a show band, a great, in-your-face act. “Wayne Kramer? He was a White Panther, and went to jail for his work in Detroit — and plays better than he ever did.”

MC5 photographed in fancy costume, backstage in Ann Arbor, MI, in 1969

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MC5 recorded two more albums, Back in the USA and High Time, but were eventually banned from the radio in the early ’70s, causing the band to split up. In 1975, Kramer and Melvin Davis formed the R&B band Radiation but was soon broken up too after Kramer was convicted of selling drugs to undercover federal agents and spent time in prison. When he got out of prison, he continued to pursue music and never gave up his social activism.

Wayne Kramer speaks at the Tribeca Talks After the Movie: Let Fury Have The Hour during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival at the School of Visual Arts Theater on April 23, 2012 in New York City

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In the ’90s, Kramer saw a successful solo career and released several albums with Epitaph. In 2001, Kramer and his manager-wife Margaret Saadi Kramer started the MuscleTon label. Just last year, he returned to his MC5 roots, performing with Jane’s Addiction Stephen Perkins. He also made some incredible movie and TV scores including in Will Ferrell films Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers.

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February 2024

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