It’s a truism that stated fact sits at one end of the scale and fiction at the other, with the truth lying somewhere in-between. Ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer has been a divisive figure at times - the stillborn “A True Testimonial” documentary, anyone? - so parts of his story will be disputed by some.
Ultimately, though, it’s pointless buying into all that. “The Hard Stuff” is Kramer’s own story and it’s told from his own perspective. None of the other people still standing are offering alternative perspectives (although the posthumous autobiography from bandmate Mike Davis is out there, too.) On its merits, “The Hard Stuff” is a rollicking read with only a few stones left unturned.
The plotline for dummies: Kramer’s the working class Detroit kid from a broken family who shook off the handicap of an abusive stepfather and forged his own musical way. He was a founding member of the radical chic MC5 and remains a compellingly lyrical guitar player who’s influenced countless others.
“The Hard Stuff” takes us through the rise and fall of the 5, Kramer’s slide into crime, his imprisonment for drug dealing, ongoing battles with booze and smack, career revival and personal redemption through hard work and love.
Gang War at Second Chance in Ann Arbor in 1979. Sue Rynski photo
It’s said the drummer in a rock and roll band has the best seat in the house. It’s given John Morgan his unique perspective on some of rock and roll’s most talented, fascinating and sometimes flawed characters.
Now living in Ventura, California, John Morgan’s spent half his life as a professional musician, playing with a long list of blues and jazz bands. But it’s his insights into two in particular: Gang War and Sonic's Rendezvous Band - the former as a partcipant, thw latter as an observer - that will hold the most interest for I-94 Bar patrons.
They can't crack it for a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but the MC5 will be honoured with a 50-year retrospective exhibit and concert in their Detroit-area hometown of Lincoln Park, Michigan, at the Lincoln Park Historical Museum.
An open reception will be held on July 11 with a concert on July 12. The exhibit will run through Labor Day, September 7, with regular museum hours (Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1-6pm.) Admission to all events is free though donations to the Lincoln Park Historical Society are encouraged.
The exhibit highlights iconic photos by Detroit photographer Leni Sinclair and Lincoln Park-raised Emil Bacilla, original psychedelic posters by Carl Lundgren, and Gary Grimshaw (also raised in Lincoln Park) and band memorabilia (including personal artifacts from the Derminer/Tyner family.)
The concert will be held in the Park Band Shell in Memorial Park - one of the earliest sites where the MC5 played – with music from Timmy’s Organism, Rocket 455 and Chatoyant.
Surviving MC5 members Wayne Kramer and Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson and the families of Rob Tyner, Fred “Sonic” Smith and Michael Davis have been invited. While Kramer is unable to attend, Thompson will be in attendance at both the Saturday and Sunday events.
While the band was the target of establishment harassment during its existence, the afternoon concert will be marked by Lincoln Park Mayor Tom Karnes presenting the keys to the city. Ain't irony grand?
A limited edition of Carl’s Lundgren’s artwork created for the anniversary celebration poster will be available for purchase at the opening night and on the day of the concert. The Lincoln Park Historical Museum website is here.
“Brutal” was the first word that came to mind after finishing the posthumous autobiography of MC5 bass player Michael Davis and that adjective is still hanging in the air, 24 hours later.
Over 350 skilfully-written pages, Davis shines a spotlight onto the lives of family, friends, lovers, bandmates and associates over five decades, but it’s the glare cast on his own existence that’s the starkest.
By accident or design, “I Brought Down The MC5” only covers Davis’s life up until meeting his last wife, Angela, and moving to California in the late 1990s. It excludes the DKT-MC5 reunion with bandmates Wayne Kramer and Dennis Thompson, his fight with Hep C, charity work and near fatal 2006 bike crash.
All of that, and Michael finding redemption, could have made a dynamite second book, but Davis sadly passed from liver cancer in 2012, aged 68.
He’s back with his first solo album in 13 years (how long?) and no-one could accuse Wayne Kramer of not taking chances. In fact, if you’re a longtime MC5 fan, chances are you might struggle with “Lexington” as it dives headlong into territory that his old band - at least on record - visited without fully casting adrift its rock anchor.
Detroit guitarist Robert (Bob) Gillespie died on June 17 after a long illness.
He played lead guitar and provided backing vocals in a slew of outstanding bands including The Rob Tyner Band, (1976-78), The Torpedoes (‘78-80), The Motor City Rockers (with Jimmy Marinos of The Romantics), Powertrane Featuring Scott Morgan and as a longtime sideman to Mitch Ryder.