MC5 Biography

MC5 - Sonic Revolution: A Celebration of The MC5
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Back In The USA (Picdisc)
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MC5 - Kick Out the Jams
Kick Out the Jams (DVD)
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Formed in 1964 in Detroit, Michigan, USA, and originally known as the Motor City Five, the band was sundered the following year when its rhythm section of Pat Burrows (bass) and Bob Gaspar (drums) left in protest over a new song, ‘Back To Comm’. Michael Davis (bass) and Dennis Thompson (drums) joined founder members Rob Tyner (Robert Derminer, 12 December 1944, Detroit, Michigan, USA, d. 18 September 1991, USA; vocals), Wayne Kramer (b. 30 April 1948, Detroit, Michigan, USA; guitar) and Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith (b. 13 September 1949, USA, d. 4 November 1994, USA; guitar) to pursue the radical direction this experimental composition offered. By 1967 their repertoire included material drawn from R&B, soul and avant garde jazz, as well as a series of powerful original songs. Two singles, ‘One Of The Guys’/‘I Can Only Give You Everything’ (1967) and ‘Borderline’/‘Looking At You’ (1968), captured their nascent, high-energy sound as the band embraced the ‘street’ politics proselytized by mentor/manager John Sinclair (b. 2 October 1941, Flint, Michigan, USA). Now linked to this former DJ’s Trans Love Energies commune and radical White Panther party, the MC5 became Detroit’s leading underground act. Their incendiary live shows became focal points for revolutionary politics and the band’s run-ins with the law mirrored the growing unrest in Detroit in the summer of 1967, culminating in July’s riots. A recording contract with the Elektra Records label resulted in the seminal Kick Out The Jams. Recorded live at the city’s Grande Ballroom on October 30/31 1968, this turbulent set captured the quintet’s extraordinary sound, which, although loud, was never reckless. Tyner’s cry of ‘Kick out the jams, motherfuckers’ led to the album being banned in several record stores, and prompted Elektra to release a censored version (substituting the expletive with ‘brothers and sisters’).

The MC5 was dropped from their label’s roster following several disagreements, and to compound matters Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison for marijuana possession. The band later emerged anew on Atlantic Records. Rock journalist Jon Landau, later manager of Bruce Springsteen, was invited to produce 1970’s Back In The USA, which, if lacking the dissolute thrill of its predecessor, showed a band able to adapt to studio discipline. ‘Tonight’, ‘Shakin’ Street’ and a remade ‘Looking At You’ are among the highlights of this excellent set. A third collection, High Time, reasserted a desire to experiment, and several local jazz musicians added punch to what nonetheless remains a curiously ill-focused album on which each member, bar Davis, contributed material. A move to Europe, where the band performed and recorded under the aegis of Rohan O’Rahilly, failed to halt dwindling commercial prospects, while the departure of Davis (replaced by Steve Moorhouse), then Tyner, in 1972, brought the MC5 to an end.

The band’s reputation flourished during the punk phenomenon, during which time each former member enjoyed brief notoriety. Sonic Smith formed the low-key Sonic’s Rendezvous Band with Scott Asheton (drums), Scott Morgan (vocals/guitar), and Gary Rasmussen (bass) before marrying Patti Smith in 1980 (he was heavily featured on the singer/poet’s ‘comeback’ album, Dream Of Life, in 1988). Davis later surfaced in Destroy All Monsters, while both Kramer and Tyner attempted to use the MC5 name for several unrelated projects. They wisely abandoned such practices, leaving intact the legend of one of rock’s most uncompromising and exciting acts. In September 1991, Tyner died of a heart attack in the seat of his parked car in his home town of Ferndale, Michigan. Smith also passed away three years later. Kramer, however, relaunched a solo career in the same year, enlisting several prominent members of the US underground/alternative scene as his new cohorts. He reunited with Davis and Thompson in March 2003 to play a show at the 100 Club in London, promoting an MC5 T-shirt manufactured by Levi’s. Several other live dates followed.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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