The Hard Stuff you've got all these people from Rancid, Bad Religion,
Pennywise, the Melvins and Claw Hammer helping you out. Were you
familiar with their work before recording?
WAYNE KRAMER: No, I met 'em all there.
DALTON: Was it through Brett (of Bad Religion, boss of Epitaph Records)?
WAYNE KRAMER: Yeah, pretty much. You know how you meet one guy who plays in a band and he knows somebody else who might be available. Mostly, I was interested in getting the strongest players I could.
WOODY: How did you end up hooking up with Epitaph in the first place?
WAYNE KRAMER: Donita from L7. When I first got to LA I was playing in a club, just sitting in with a friend's band, and I met Donita. She gave me her manager's number. I went around from record company to record company and Donita's manager said "Do you know about Brett Gurewitz and Epitaph?" I said "No, who's he?" So I called him up and he said, "Wayne! What's going on?" I said "Well, I just moved to LA and I got this record here." He asked "Is it punk?" and I said "Yeah." Then he said, "If it's punk, I'll put it out." So he listened to it. I had cut it in Nashville and he liked the songs a lot, but he said it was a little too mainstream. I had cut it as hard as I could, but cutting in Nashville is not the same thing as at West Beach. Some of the tunes I had played him were a little funkier, 'cause I tend to lean in that direction from time to time, and so it was just a question of writing a couple of new songs and taking the ones I had, and finding guys who could play them well.
WOODY: Was James Jamerson, the Motown bassist, your connection?
WAYNE KRAMER: Yeah, that's what I told everybody - "Play like Jamerson."
And they went, "Who?" So I got ahold of Al Slutsky, who wrote the Jamerson book Standing In the Shadows of Motown. I called him and I said, "Al, none of these guys know about Jamerson, man. Call Hall Leonard Publishing. Tell them to send me twenty copies of your book and charge it to Epitaph.” I'm making every bass player that I meet learn this stuff.
WOODY: How did wind up in Nashville in the first place, and how long were you there for?
WAYNE KRAMER: I was there for two years. My wife was in a graduate program at Vanderbilt. I didn't move there for the music. I'm not really interested in being Ricky Van Shelton's lead guitar player. Music Row is real white-bread, Republican, Bible-belt, conserservative - all the shit I'm not.
DALTON: I wanted to ask you about one of the songs on your new album, "The Edge of the Switchblade." That seems to be autobiographical.
WAYNE KRAMER: Yeah, that's kinda my MC5 tribute song. Mickey Farren asked me one time, "Why don't you write a song about what it was like being in a band with Johnny Thunders?" So I wrote this song called "The Candle Burned at Both Ends," and it's about what it was like trying to be in a band with Thunders. And after I finished it, I thought, "Damn! If I'm gonna spend all that energy writing a song about a scumbag like Johnny, I might as well write a song about my band, that was, you know, about something!"
DALTON: Do you see a lot of bands out there today and say "Hey, we were doing that 30 years ago."
WAYNE KRAMER: There aren't very many bands that are as stretched out as the MC5 was. The MC5 brought a lot more to it than just electric guitars. We had a lot of other shit going on in that band.
DALTON: What was up with the MC5 and Zenta?
WAYNE KRAMER: Reefer. Smokin' up reefer and everything starts getting funny. You start expanding and an idea leads you to the next idea. The guy that was our MC, J.C. Crawford, he had this kind of scam going where he called it the "Church of Zenta." When we had to do two sets somewhere, he would get up between shows and have an appeal for funds for the Church on Zenta.
DALTON: Really for beer and food and shit?
WAYNE KRAMER: Exactly, and he'd just go and collect money for the Church.
WOODY: What would sniffing "Rocket Reducer" do?
WAYNE KRAMER: About the same as sniffin' glue. Tovin, I think, is the active ingredient. It's a paint remover. It got ya fucked up, that's for sure. There was a lot of experimentation in those days.
DALTON: How did "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa" get added to that?
WAYNE KRAMER: Just sounded good, like a rock lyric.
DALTON: What was it like being part of the "Red Chinese Communist conspiracy to corrupt the youth of America" (according to Spiro Agnew before a Senate Hearing).
WAYNE KRAMER: (laughing) It was great fun. Still is. The Revolution is a two-part thing. The part about destroying the government and starting all over - that part didn't work out. But the other part about the revolution of ideas did work out. That music changed a lot of people's lives. That's one of the powers music has, if you utilize it correctly.
WOODY: Did you think back then that twenty five years later you'd still be talking about it?
WAYNE KRAMER: No, actually back then we didn't think the planet was gonna exist.
We figured the whole thing would be burned to a crisp anyday now. Between the war in Vietnam and the Cold War, knowbody knew that Russia was gonna fall apart due to lack of maintenance. We just figured at the rate we were going, once we discovered pollution and all the environmental damage, we just figured we're not gonna make it another 20 years. We figured this was one experiment which failed.
DALTON: With the Black Panthers and Bobby Seale, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton and those guys - when you came out publicly in support of them and started the White Panther Party did you get a lot of resistance from the white community?
WAYNE KRAMER: Well, from the police we got incredible pressure. The prevailing attitude in police agencies was "When is somebody going to do something about the MC5? We can't have people saying the things they're saying and doing the things they're doing. Telling the youth of America to burn their bras and fuck in the streets. We can't have this!" They were romantic times, but that was then and this is now.
DALTON: The problems that accompanied the end of the MC5 have been well documented. What was it like having The Man put you in the slammer? How did that
affect your views on life and The System?
WAYNE KRAMER: Well, it made a believer out of me (laughing). I will not deal any more narcotics again in my life. It was all part of a downward spiral. When I lost my band, I also lost my brothers. Those were my guys and we went through the fire together. Then all of a sudden I lost them and doing wrong was a way of covering up some serious denial. I fucked up and went to jail. At this point, I've come out on the other side. I've been sober for years. I don't care what Snoop Dogg and all them say - jail sucks. Jail is a huge waste of time and I don't encourage anyone to go to jail. Jail is not where it's at.
WOODY: Is it true you met Red Rodney, the be-bop trumpeter, in jail?
WAYNE KRAMER: Yeah, Red taught me a Berkeley School of Music course in writing and arranging. He was my musical father.
WOODY: So you actually played with him?
WAYNE KRAMER: Oh yeah, we had a jailhouse band. We'd do regular programs for the population.
WOODY: One of the reasons I like the MC5 so much is because there's a lot of variety. Each album was different and you can hear the influence of each album on different bands.
WAYNE KRAMER: We had a ritual riding in the van on the way to a gig where we'd smoke a lot of joints and blast James Brown or John Coltrane as loud as we could to get ourselves pumped up to go out there and destroy. Henry Rollins told me that Black Flag had a ritual. They used to play "Kick Out the Jams" in the van on the way to a gig to get pumped up and destroy.
WOODY: Is it true you used to iron (singer) Rob Tyner's hair when it was wet and put in big curlers so he would get the power-fro?
WAYNE KRAMER: (laughing) The concept of "natural" hadn't really developed yet and Rob had kinky hair. He had afro-style hair and he tried and tried and tried to make it straight because he wanted hair like the Beatles. We'd have to hide backstage so Rob could do his hair. And, of course, he'd work so hard on-stage and sweat so much that by the end of the set - BOING! It was out again. Once, he actually got a process. We went to this black barbershop in Detroit where they did konks and they konked him! So it was like a bowl on his head, like Billy Preston. (laughing harder) And then one day he came over and he had cut it off and he had this small little afro. I said "Jeez, that's beautiful." And it was, and it got bigger and bigger.
DALTON: Do you still have MC5 groupies tracking you down, writing you weird letters and stuff?
WAYNE KRAMER: Not too much.
WOODY: Other than us? (laughter all around)
DALTON: You played with G.G. Allin at one point.
WAYNE KRAMER: I did some recording sessions with him, yeah. But that was before he turned into the megalomaniac, or just maniac. Then he was just a slightly over-enthusiastic rock and roll guy. But he wasn't, like, maniacal.
WOODY: He didn't take any ex-lax at those sessions?
WAYNE KRAMER: (laughing) No, he was just real enthusiastic about his songs and his band - like a nice young man. But he turned into a nut.
WOODY: Do you know what's going on with the book No Greater Noise about The MC5?
WAYNE KRAMER: I saw the author, Ben Edmonds, a couple of weeks ago. He's trying to pull it all together now. The writing's done. When I was living in Key West, he came down there and had like 180 specific questions in chronological order. It took three days and we did it for 8 hours a day. It was like past life regression therapy. I had to relive the whole thing in sequence. Listen, I was proud to have been in the MC5. It's one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. But really, it was a long time ago. That was then and I'm here now.
©1994 by Woody High & Dalton
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