DISC & MUSIC ECHO - August 8, 1970

by Caroline Boucher

THE MC5 are a very good, very determined rock band. In the old days when people weren't too bothered about listening to them, they used to leap off the stage and blow a saxophone in people's ears, or throw money at the audience - anything to get a reaction.
Now, six years after the start, the reaction is beginning to become more widespread and they are at present over here for the first time. In fact the reaction they achieve is such that the MC5 seem to have earned the reputation of being the enfants terribles of America.
     "It's the image thing," says guitarist Wayne Kramer, falling around laughing. "Promoters think we're going to go out and burn things. They hear incredible rumours of how we kill cats on stage and run around stark naked. No, of course we don't do that. But I'd much rather be controversial than safe."
     Controversial rather than safe seems to have been the band's motto from the early days. They all hail, and indeed are still based, in Detroit - centre of America's car industry. That's what the MC stands for - Motor City.
     "We grew up in Detroit. We started off playing parties in people's houses, church halls, but we didn't want to play the kind of songs you hear on the radio - we still don't and never will. But we knew that what we were playing was good.
     "We had a terrible reputation with the club owners - we were too late, too drunk and too loud. By and large a rock audience in Detroit didn't really exist - we invented it. I mean, who would imagine something happening in Detroit where they make cars? But we were totally and basically broke - it's a thing you have to go through and we did for four years. We're stubborn.
The effect the MC5 must have gradually made upon Detroit must have been comparable to a bombshell in Dagenham here. Their music than was way ahead of its time - before any of the West Coast bands had begun. When the MC5 was shattering and shocking the mid-West there was no Grateful Dead, no Jefferson Airplane, none of the big West Coast bands whose reputations and earnings blossomed and overtook those of the MC5 some time ago. But then music isn't a particularly fair industry.
     "I know most of the people in the West Coast bands personally - I know Jerry Garcia of the Dead," says Wayne, "and I dig them as cats but I don't like them musically. In Detroit you could hear all this big talk about the West Coast and this incredible music that was happening there - Jefferson Airplane, I was always hearing about them. I was expecting to hear my idea of what they'd be like - they'd be really strong. Then someone finally came over to my apartment with a record, and I heard folk musicians with an electric guitar, with no soul and totally self-indulgent. I still hear that.
     "That's the whole thing that comes over - 'me and my music man,' and it's all bull. The important thing is the kids; if they're sitting there falling asleep then it's a drag - they're not getting their money's worth."
     MC5 played round Detroit for four years before making their first album, which was "Kick Out The Jams," the phrase they originated.
     "People said 'oh wow, kick out the jams means break down restrictions' etc., and it made good copy, but when we wrote it we didn't have that in mind. We first used the phrase when we were the house band at a ballroom in Detroit, and we played there every week with another band from the area.
     "We got in the habit, being the sort of punks we are, of screaming at them to get off the stage, to kick out the jams, meaning stop jamming. We were saying it all the time and it became a sort of esoteric phrase. Now, I think people can get what they like out of it; that's one of the good things about rock and roll."
     "Kick Out The jams" has become a sort of MC5 trade mark; they still play it onstage. The album was also remarkable for its lengthy exhortations in the "are you ready to testify . . ." vein, and the very basic sleeve notes - all part of the MC5's policy to make their presence very much known. From the start they had no wish to be an ordinary rock band, and they never will be.
     Now they've done a second album - "Back In The USA" - which is released here soon - and although they're inundated with questions about it here, their minds are far more into the third album which they're putting together in various studios round Europe. They recorded some of it at London's Lansdowne studios last week.
     "The second album has a lot of short songs on it," says Wayne. "The longest is about four minutes, so I think the third album will have some longer tunes and the music will be more force and sweat.
     "We've already put one track down - 'Sister Anne' - it's about a nymphomaniac nun. And we have four worked out onstage now. We always think it's best to work it out onstage first and see if it fits and what the response is like. I think our second album is perfect. We wanted to make a perfect one and I think we did. We're not so interested in making a perfect one this time, though.
     "It seems funny to me to hear people like the Airplane who are semi into jazz, really old style jazz. We've been through all that, further than they could ever go. With us, our music is just a constant process of re-evaluation."

©1970 by Caroline Boucher