Yesterday, Detroit rock legend Wayne Kramer, guitarist for the influential proto-punk band MC5, passed away at age 75. His band announced his death on their Facebook page earlier today (February 2).
Referring to Kramer, the band simply wrote, “peace be with you.”
Wayne Kramer, along with his guitar companion Fred “Sonic” Smith, was the mastermind of MC5’s groundbreaking sound, best showcased on their iconic 1969 debut album, Kick Out the Jams.
Featuring overdriven riffs, feedback, and radical politics, Kick Out the Jams was light years ahead at the time and helped lay the groundwork for what would later become punk-rock.
A native of Detroit, Kramer co-founded MC5 in the mid-1960s. Influenced by rock ‘n’ roll, soul, R&B, and the creativity of free jazz, Kramer’s band swiftly became local stars, captivating audiences with their explosive live performances.
Like fellow Detroit proto-punks, the Stooges, the MC5 – driven by the electrifying guitar work of Kramer and Smith – cultivated a hard-edged sound in response to the prevailing flower-power psychedelia of the era.
In a recent interview with Fender, Kramer drew comparisons between his guitar innovations and that of Pete Townshend.
“I thought Pete Townshend was the sharpest tool in the shed,” Kramer reflected. “He was doing the same stuff I was trying to do, the feedback, pushing guitar tone into a new dimension.”
Kick Out the Jams was well-received, however, the MC5 struggled to reproduce its magic on their two studio albums, 1970’s Back in the USA and 1971’s High Time. By the early ’70s, the grind of touring, band drug use, and law enforcement scrutiny due to their left-wing views and drug use, took their toll, and in 1973, the group disbanded.
Kramer’s drug issues would land him in prison in 1975, serving four years on drug charges. The ordeal would later inspire him to establish the non-profit Jail Guitar Doors U.S.A, providing musical instruments and songwriting workshops to inmates in US prisons.
After a number of years away from music, Kramer resurfaced in the ’90s, releasing several solo albums and leading multiple MC5 reunions.
“Brother Wayne Kramer was the best man I’ve ever known,” wrote Tom Morello on Instagram. “He possessed a one of a kind mixture of deep wisdom and profound compassion.”