MC5  in Provo Park, CA - Spring 69 - Photo by Emil BACILLA
   Formed in about 1965, the Motor City Five - soon shortened to MC5 - began as yet another British Invasion-inspired teen combo, playing at local teen dances and rehearsing in parents' homes in and around Lincoln Park, in the Downriver suburbs of Detroit. What might at its inception have seemed to be just another (but somewhat louder) garage band, MC5 would rapidly develop into one of the most aggressively talented groups in the country - but also wanted by the law, boycotted and carrying a reputation as being revolutionaries. All of this would be a few years down the line, however; in 1965-66, MC5 played the same teen-dance circuit as any other garage band in Detroit, with a blues-influenced rock set peppered with the usual cover tunes of the day - though with astonishing signs of a "heavier" sound than any other local contemporary.
   Though the band's lineup differed in both its first and final year, the members best-associated with the MC5 coalesced early and are those who appear on the group's LPs: Rob Tyner on vocals, Fred Smith and Wayne Kramer on guitars, Dennis Thompson on drums, and Michael Davis on bass. The earliest recording of the young band, "I Can Only Give You Everything"/"One Of The Guys" (AMG 1001) was recorded at United Sound and Tera Shirma studios in Detroit in quick day sessions. Both sides of that single remain in print as part of the Alive/Total Energy CD '66 Breakout (NER3023), assembled by Kramer and offering a generous cross section of live tapes from the same period, as well as the phenomenal studio track, "I Just Don't Know."
   Beginning about two years after the formation of the band, the young MC5 would encounter early and important alliances in their career via social and business relationships with poet and blues historian John Sinclair, soon to become known for his revolutionary politics, as well as with local impresario Russ Gibb; on the business side alone, each would significantly affect the future of MC5. The group would record their watershed See the COMPLETE 7inch DISCOGRAPHY"Looking At You"/"Borderline" single (A-Square333) with Kramer in 1967. A truly legendary release of Michigan rock, this was the record that first brought MC5 into prominence as a high-energy act to be reckoned with, and the single remains amazing today, a document of a kinetic explosion.
   "It was more a visceral thing," Kramer recalled. "It had more to do with passion and commitment than what it later becomes, this kind of cold, intellectual art influence. I think what the MC5 did was qualified as art, but we had the emphasis on sweat and meat, and not on intellectual posturing."
   The MC5 had been developing a strong band of followers at their live concerts at the same time the Detroit rock scene was turning toward new sounds. The rock ballroom was becoming a focus for activity, an ideal showcase for an ambitious band to play. Thompson recalled the group's first meeting with Gibb, who would soon gain local prominence with his Grande Ballroom, a model rock venue of the period and staging ground for much of the 5's growth in popularity.

   "When we first met Gibb, we met him through John Sinclair and Wayne Kramer and Rob Tyner, and the first time we met him was at the [Detroit] Artists' Workshop."
   For his part, Gibb remembers seeing MC5 in Beatles-esque outfits upon their first meeting, an example of how far the group had yet to travel stylistically. Gibb had a notion to pattern the Grande Ballroom after the Avalon and the Fillmore; as with those West Coast venues, he wanted the Detroit venue to feature a group that could anchor shows and open for visiting acts. Though the group would appear at a variety of venues - from gymnasiums to teen clubs to armories - the Grande would become closely associated with the band. The job would require some stamina, as Thompson remembered.
Go to MC5 Posters GALLERYOct. 1966 - Opening night at the GRANDE BALLROOM - Photo by Emil BACILLA   "What [Gibb] needed was a band that was willing to be the house band at the Grande, more or less. Now, there was no money being generated at all in the beginning because the growth of the Grande Ballroom was a very slow process. I was still going to Wayne State to study engineering, and when we'd go rehearse at the Grande - but the heat wasn't turned on because Russ couldn't afford to pay the heating bill. So we had to wear our winter coats to practice in."
   Becky Tyner, who had married Rob in 1966, recently recalled the vocalist's introduction to Sinclair in about 1967, "I think (Sinclair) was writing for the Fifth Estate, and Rob kind of rebutted some of the things he was having to say, and Rob became acquainted with John."
   By the late 1960s Sinclair was promoting himself as a self-styled leader within the youth movement, similar to such other mouthpieces as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Sinclair's vehicle was the Trans-Love/White Panthers coalition, an ersatz multicultural experiment that included at center the members of MC5, some along for the ride despite differences with Sinclair's brand of politics. Though these Panthers were advertised as an open, pro-equality aggregation, many women involved (including Becky, one of those who designed stage costumes for the group) felt it to be more of a boys' club atmosphere, and the distribution of wealth was sometimes questioned. Sinclair's artistic talents and business acumen certainly did provide a good match for the group, but other pursuits often took precedence. Thompson noted fundamental disagreement with the politics that distracted from the music that MC5 was striving to produce.
   "I'll tell you this personally: I was the only one in the band that resisted the activities of Mr. Sinclair, because I did not want our band to be involved in the politics. I don't want to wave the flag saying, 'Let's go smoke marijuana, let's do LSD, let's fuck in the street.' That wasn't the MC5. The real MC5 was about playing good rock'n'roll. Trying to be better than The Who, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks together."
   The association with Sinclair led to MC5 being the only group to perform at the ill-fated demonstration at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, making a hasty exit just before many in the crowd were brutally attacked by Chicago police. The experience had a sobering effect upon the band and diminished some of the revolutionary zeal in the Panthers camp as well.
   "That was the day the revolution ended," Thompson recalled. "We were nonviolent. We had nothing to do with that. We wanted to be a good - a very good - rock'n'roll band. That's all we wanted. But we hooked up with Sinclair, and vis-à-vis Sinclair and his network of Jerry Rubin and [others] became involved in politics. And unfortunately, that was our demise, because politics - you can't play rock'n'roll and do music and be at the head of the podium. You can't preach, be a preacher, or neither can you be a politician. Music is an art form."
J.C. CRAWFORD , ROB TYNER , JOHN SINCLAIR , TIMOTHY LEARY - Photo by Emil BACILLA   The late 1960s were a time during which political commentaries by pop musicians were actually given some press; regardless of the individual beliefs of the members of MC5, the band was still associated by many with Sinclair and his politics, with some seeing the 5 as musical soldiers of the so-called "Movement." Pressure from the police and other officials eventually drove MC5 and Sinclair from Detroit to the more relaxed Ann Arbor. The suspicions of authority were well-founded, but the popular image of the group was often embellished by Sinclair and others. For the Downriver rock combo, the climb into controversy must have seemed heady indeed, though audiences could be fickle: Polarized audiences could be excited by the music but sometimes turned off by the rhetoric of hangers-on.
   The title of the song "Kick Out The Jams" originated from MC5's exhortations to visiting English groups at the Grande to put more energy into their performance, as the home team more often than not would steal the show with their own brute power. The result of an Elektra scouting trip to Michigan (which also netted the label The Stooges), the live LP of the same title would be recorded on the final two days of October 1968, the Zenta New Year, at the Grande. The original release of the LP included a gatefold cover, with essential liner notes by Sinclair, as well as Tyner's uncut introduction to the title cut ("Kick Out The Jams, Motherfuckers!"). Though the LP would reach #30 on the charts, the diatribes of Sinclair and (especially) the 13-letter expletive found many retailers refusing to carry the record. Elektra had to somehow salvage its investment, deciding to reedit the track.
   In a 1988 radio interview taped on the Sonic Rendezvous show on the 20th anniversary of the Jams concert recording, Tyner told host Steve Kostan of how Elektra attempted to dilute the lyric content, regardless of the vocalist's disagreement over the issue.
   "What happened was, while I was doing some minor overdubs, they said 'While you're doing this, Rob - just a favor - why don't you just for radio purposes... why don't you just yell out, 'Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters?' Next thing I know, they pulled off the original [version] and put on the 'brothers and sisters' thing, and then they took the liner notes off and they stopped making the gatefold. What happened was, they were trying to take the edge off the switchblade of rock'n'roll."
   The "Kick Out The Jams"/"Motor City Is Burning" single (Elektra 45648) featured the censored version of the album's title song. Allegedly, a record company executive had been the one to originally suggest the group to use the unexpurgated introduction! (Oddly, it seems no one had the notion to simply remove the offending word from the master).
   The controversy resulted in the LP being pressed in both unedited and censored versions, with and without a gatefold (and the liner notes). Copies were also released on both red and gold labels. An unedited CD release 20 years later also included perceptive liner notes written by Tyner.
   A passion for the urgency and emotional potential of music was shared by the group, a quality that had attracted both Sinclair and Gibb. Years after the breakup of MC5, Smith would recall an anecdote about Tyner showing how his expression would manifest itself at the most unusual time.
MC5 - England 1970 - First European appearance - Photo : unknown   "In the late '60s, we were playing in Germany, and we all went to this bar after the gig. Slowly, as the night grew on, it grew into this drinking contest between us and these German guys. Once everybody got into the spirit of the evening, it started turning into a singing contest. And, you know, the Germans like to sing their drinking songs and all that sort of thing. And we just sat there and kind of observed. Finally, it was getting a little on Rob's nerves, and he stood up on top of the table, [singing] one of the most beautiful versions of 'Georgia' I ever heard and blew the Germans away. I think we also won the drinking contest, but I can't remember that!"
   Back In The U.S.A. - the first studio LP for MC5 - was a challenging learning experience for the group. Having been dropped by Elektra after the controversy over "Jams" and the unauthorized use of the label's logo in protesting the refusal if the local Hudson's retail chain to carry the live LP, MC5 were in dire straits financially and began to sense some backlash from their fan base. Though a deal with Atlantic would eventually be inked, supposedly for $100,000, problems continued. Mentor Sinclair, subject of frequent police harassment for some time, was going to prison for the "crime" of marijuana possession; further, Atlantic seemed ill-prepared to handle a rock group with the reputation and drive of MC5.
   Kramer vividly recalled the U.S.A. period as one fraught with distractions. "That was a tough time for the MC5. That was the point that we were really struggling, on a personal and business level. You know, John Sinclair had been sent to prison right in the midst of the whole process of recording. Business-wise, we didn't know where our next deal was coming from; we couldn't get any bookings. Our fan base - our constituents - had all turned against us and accused us of selling out and being 'lackeys for the pig culture.' It was a very difficult time for the band, so I'm not surprised that the record came out without a clear [focus]."
MC5's Wayne KRAMER and producer Jon LANDAU during the USA sessions - Photo : unknown   For U.S.A., MC5 agreed upon using novice producer Jon Landau, whose writing talent and intellectual curiosity were acknowledged by the band, though his abilities in the recording studio remained uncertain. At the same time, members of MC5 were undergoing serious problems in health and motivation, with continued drug use being one contributing factor. Dennis Thompson recalled the attempts to change behavior toward the discipline necessary for the recording of the LP.
   "We lived in Hamburg Mich., which is a little German farming community, and Landau had us running, like 10 laps around our circle drive, right? Eating a high-protein diet. Well, he was trying to cure us. Before we'd get up in the morning, he'd already blasted through The New York Times and did the crossword puzzle."
   "Before the band became politically evolved, we were more or less a drug-free band, and you can tell the difference if you're aware of the early MC5.... We got deeper and deeper into the quagmire, and the music suffered as a result."
West Coast tour - Spring 1969 - Photo by Emil BACILLA   Kramer remembered the decision to work with Landau, a decision mutual with both the label and MC5. "We all agreed. We talked to a few other producers, and we were really trying to do our best to connect with the music industry establishment. We really did want to try to connect with them. Landau had written a top-secret memo where he'd done an analysis of the MC5 for Jerry Wexler, and Wexler kind of encouraged our working together." As a result, "...We made the best record we knew how to make. Landau had no experience with rock bands in recording studios, and the MC5 only had limited experience with the process of recording. Back In The U.S.A. was learning how to make a record in a recording studio."
   With a quirky song selection, U.S.A. included both some of the best of MC5, as well as choices that seemed intended to gain more of a pop crossover audience. The loud and revolutionary rock, R&B and free-jazz workouts with which the group had become associated were now glossed over at times with a kind of AM radio-style pop feel, evident on many of the tracks on U.S.A. This was not the relentless fire-and-brimstone of the Jams live set, as Thompson pointed out.
   "As a result, our second album came out and it confused our first round of our audience - it was confusing. [Initially] we were this sort of rebellious pirate crew, and now all of a sudden we're tight... that sort of caused a bit of a fracture amongst our capabilities of climbing the charts again. Kick Out The Jams went to #30 in the nation, and went to #1 in many cities as a single. The follow-up single, which was 'Tonight,' off the second record, just wasn't the Five. A little bit of that piracy, but tight and just like you play nowadays."
Fred SMITH , Dennis THOMPSON , Mike DAVIS , Rob TYNER , Wayne KRAMER - Photo session - BACK IN THE USA LP   A second single from U.S.A. was also released, "The American Ruse"/"Shakin' Street" (Atlantic 2724), but it too failed to chart highly, not even cracking the Top 100. Thompson felt the Landau-produced LP diluted some of the character for which the group had become known, drawing comparisons with the growth that would be shown on High Time, the third MC5 album.
   "The way we played on High Time it should have been the second album. [U.S.A.] almost went to bubblegum for the 5. Had we played more on [U.S.A.] like we played on our third album, we wouldn't have lost our continuity with our audience. We overcompensated, and that was Landau and our combined naiveté."
   Though U.S.A. includes some of the group's best work, including "Shakin' Street," "Tonight" and a re-recorded "Looking At you," the inconsistencies of the LP as a whole were part of the learning curve of a young band, Kramer noted.
"You know, the only studio work we had done up to that point had been two or three odd single sessions. [Some claimed] U.S.A. was too clamped-down or it was trying to turn the MC5 into The Monkees. All these pundits. I mean, there's a thousand versions of what happened with that record. None of them mean anything, really."
   High Time, the band's third LP, would follow in 1971, again released by Atlantic. More cohesive than its predecessor, High Time allowed the band a chance to put past lessons into use, resulting in an LP that combined older, energetic principles with a new sophistication, as Kramer pointed out.
   "By the time we got to High Time, we'd learned enough about the process of recording that we could really be ourselves. Sometimes you have to go back to a real fundamental point in your learning how to swim to correct that defect. In a lot of ways, that's what the MC5 did with Back In The U.S.A. We had to go back and correct some fundamental defects, so that when we got to the point of making High Time we were able to do what it is we do, and we were able to swim a good race on that record."
Never released Over and Over b/w Sister Ann  US single on Atlantic - Test pressing   Coproduced by MC5, High Time shows the 5 in an assured, maturing mode, creatively comfortable with the studio setting. Conceptually in part a sort of science fiction/utopian LP, the song selection is more consistent overall than with USA, the performances more expansive. "Sister Ann" and "Over And Over" - among High Time's many highlights - remain noteworthy for featuring some of Tyner's best recorded vocal performances, though the entire band is on target throughout. Of the unique qualities of the three MC5 LPs, High Time still has a contemporary freshness that later audiences would discover, perhaps too late. Due to a combination of low initial sales and internal problems with the band, High Time would be the final album the group would record.
   During 1972 the group looked toward the hope of a new audience, touring Europe and picking up British bassist Steve Moorhouse, fulfilling the vacancy left by a departed Davis, whose split with the band would become one of the circumstances leading to MC5's dissolution later that year. The final studio recordings of the European tenure have never been officially released, though the March 1972 Herouville Castle studio set has been bootlegged as Thunder Express. European television performance footage from the period shows the group still in strong form, though Moorhouse appears slightly ill at ease; he was strictly a short-term replacement, as MC5 disbanded later in 1972.
MC5 aka Rob Tyner's Band   After the breakup of MC5, the former bandmates ventured in opposing directions - even involuntarily - while still individually striving toward familiar musical goals. Throughout the 1970s Tyner fronted a series of hard rock bands in the Detroit area, sometimes being booked at clubs under the still-marketable (but misleading) MC5 moniker. The recent release, Rock And Roll People - Live At The Kramer Theatre, commemorates one such gig with a band that includes Tyner and Robert Gillespie. While the authentic MC5 would remain severed, Tyner was one member who continued to radiate the sort of enthusiasm that had once been part of the Michigan music scene.
   In the mid-1970s a variety of British bands would cite MC5 as a key influence for the high-energy antics associated with the punk movement. Tyner had a unique opportunity to view the nascent scene firsthand and comment upon the next generation for the New Musical Express, a successful effort that developed friendships that would later allow Tyner the opportunity to pen the expressive liner notes for the CD reissue of Kick Out The Jams, as Becky Tyner recalled.
   "Rob met Howard Thompson in England. He was asked to come over, and he wrote an article for the NME on punk music. He was just so delighted to be in England, and he spent a lot of time with the Sex Pistols and The Clash and a lot of those folks. While there he recorded a single with a group called Eddie And The Hot Rods. That was on Island Records, and Howard was the person that arranged and did that. They lost touch for a bit, and Howard began working at Elektra a number of years later - he and Rob were back in touch. As part of his work at Elektra, he took it upon himself to facilitate the reissue of the Kick Out The Jams record.... he invited [Rob] to do the liner notes."
   During the 1980s, Rob Tyner also assumed a production role on a single ("R.U.N.") by the Detroit-based Vertical Pillows, then one of the few all-female groups in the local scene and one that loudly bore allegiance to the Detroit rock tradition. Tyner would occasionally perform five-song MC5 sets with the Pillows at local shows, usually unannounced. Among other efforts were the sporadic concerts held to benefit military veterans; though Tyner and MC5 had expressed disagreement with the policies of the Vietnam conflict, Tyner remained actively supportive of the veterans up to the time of his death in 1991.
   One of radio host Steve Kostan's fondest memories is performing on stage with Rob at one such event, though nearly getting hit by the singer's flying microphone! "He was generous - just a great guy," Kostan recalled.
   Tyner's final recorded effort was the Bloodbrothers album, recorded with the group Weapons and bringing Tyner's high-energy tendencies into a more heavy metal-styles approach. Conversely, the LP also featured the song "Grande Days," a nostalgic tribute to the rock ballroom that MC5 had made into their own domain and a fitting song for his final recording.

Fred Sonic's RendezVous Band   Smith would lend his nickname to Sonic's Rendezvous Band, with which he performed from 1976 to 1980. Though the lineup of the group would change during its brief run, members included Michigan rock heavyweights such as Smith, Scott Morgan (The Rationals), and Scott Asheton (The Stooges). Though fine, latter-day releases of Rendezvous material have displayed greater breadth to the band, the only vinyl released by the original group was the delicious wall-of-crunch "City Slang" single. (The Rendezvous Band would reunite for a 1999 concert, with Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman assuming Smith's former slot.) Smith's well-publicized marriage to longtime MC5 fan Patti Smith was followed by the guitarist's appearance on her subsequent album. On Nov. 4, 1994, Fred "Sonic" Smith passed away at age 44.

1973 - Post MC5 band ASCENSION feat. Fred Smith, Dennis Thompson, Mike Davis on vocals   Michael Davis was a member of the second incarnation of the Ann Arbor-based Destroy All Monsters, performing alongside former Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton and eternal chanteuse/future pop-art celebrity Niagara, beginning in the late 70s. Previously an avant-garde collective, the group recorded a brief string of singles before eventually evolving again, this time as Dark Carnival. With the exception of a 1992 live appearance with former MC5 members, Davis has remained elusive for the past several years and could not be contacted for this story.
   A member of the group Tiles during the late 1970s, Thompson has more recently been involved with the Dodge Main CD project (along with Kramer), including the follow-up live tour. Thompson is presently developing plans for a concept album, noting that a number of musicians have already offered assistance with the promising project, possibly including former bandmates.
   After overcoming legal problems in the mid-1970s, Kramer began what would become a prolific career in session work and as a solo artist. Presently, Kramer records for the Epitaph label and maintains involvement with a wide variety of musical projects.

Design by Gary GRIMSHAW - More posters by the artist CLICK HERE   On Feb. 22, 1992, Smith, Kramer, Thompson, and Davis performed together for the first time in 20 years at a concert event at the State Theater in Detroit. An indoor festival held as a memorial to Tyner, the program also featured The Rationals, The Romantics, The Cult, and a variety of other performers whose common interests (and life's work) included inspiration from MC5. True to its intent, the evening was a spiritual one and a reunion for many. But the climax of the six-hour concert was the short set by the four surviving MC5 members that was met by an emotional crowd that included longtime friends, family and new fans who knew only of the group's reputation. For many, the musical highlight of the tribute was the MC5 staple "Black To Comm," composed more than 25 years earlier by a group of teenagers in the basement of Kramer's mother's house.
   Nearly three decades after the breakup of MC5, the group's fan base continues to grow, with many younger followers born long after the demise of the band. Previously unreleased recordings (many of which are unauthorized), new recording projects and tours and a growing number of Internet web sites all feed interest in MC5. Until recently, John Griffin's celebratory MC5 tribute program on Ann Arbor's WCBN-FM had been a lifeline to area fans and Internet habitués alike, airing hours of rare MC5 music and interviews on the University Of Michigan station. Though the show is presently on hiatus, its summer 1999 programs had featured in-studio guests and interviewees such as Sinclair, Gibb, Scott Morgan, Dick Wagner, and ex-White Panther Hiawatha Bailey.

   Over the past few years, the Chicago-based film production team of Future/Now has effectively become the prime repository of archival MC5 film, audio and video, integral with their continuing efforts toward completion of a feature documentary about the group. The film, A True Testimonial, has been in production for some time, adding new interview footage with MC5 members and intimates and testimonials from fellow musicians attesting to the widespread influence of the group. Director David Thomas and producer Laurel Legler have been working on all aspects of their labor of love, including efforts toward gaining funding trough occasional grant money and donations in exchange for MC5 merchandise. A six-minute teaser trailer has been previewed to great receptions at music festivals and award shows, Thomas pointed out, and includes footage from the notorious 1968 Chicago show. The company's web site is an essential stop for information on MC5.
   Present-day reissues - including those from Sinclair's Alive/Total Energy series - continue to draw new fans and satisfy the converted, and the three officially released albums are still in print on CD. With the ongoing work of Kramer, the upcoming recordings of Thompson, the exhibitions of MC5 photographer Leni Sinclair, and the Future/Now documentary all keeping the cause alive, it's obvious the group's popularity hasn't subsided at all. To paraphrase the famous phrase, "Kick Out The Jams, Motherfuckers, and stay alive with the MC5!"
   For more information on Website For Future/Now, the producers of the MC5 documentary, visit [Currently offline]

©2000 by James Thompson, Goldmine, March 10, 2000 issue, and Krause Publications, Inc., a Division of F+W Publications

Photos by EMIL BACILLA used by permission - WWW.EMILBACILLA.COM -

more MC5 photos HERE