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Kick Out The Jams - A biography of the Motor City Five


Kick Out The Jams - A biography of the Motor City Five

Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson of the MC5

Jo Hale/Getty Images


Lincoln Park, MI, 1964


Rob Tyner (1944-1991) - Vocals
Wayne Kramer - Guitar
Fred "Sonic" Smith - Guitar
Michael Davis - Bass
Dennis Thompson - Drums

Creating the First Punk Scene:

From the get go, the MC5 were known for their live performances, owing to both their explosive sound and their politically-charged themes. Playing nearly every night in clubs and theaters in and around Detroit, the band's reputation earned them a spot on the cover of Rolling Stone before they'd even released an album.

The MC5 were hippies who played hard rock, and created a scene that called for more early bands punk like them, like The Stooges. This early creation of a punk scene landed both bands spots on Elektra Records in 1968, becoming the first bands of their kind to be signed to the label.

Dropped By Elektra:

While the Sex Pistols are one of the best known punk bands to get dropped from a label due to their antics, the MC5 did it first. Their debut album, Kick Out The Jams, was banned by Hudson's department store (who were based in Detroit) due to obscene lyrics. The MC5 responded to the ban by publishing an ad in the Fifth Estate, an anarchist publication, that simply read "F**k Hudson's" (minus the asterisks) along with Elektra's logo.

Hudson's response was to pull all Elektra albums from their stores. This lead to Elektra dropping the MC5, who then signed with Atlantic (who's part of the same company as Elektra today).

John Sinclair, The Man Behind the Band:

Much of the MC5's political connections stem from a character behind the scenes. The band's manager, John Sinclair, was an outspoken activist, associated with the Fifth Estate, Work, the White Panthers, and a host of other politically dissident characters and groups of the era. Eventually the band, finding his politics to be too extreme, parted with Sinclair in 1969. He continues to be active, and is now best known as a poet, writer, leader of the Blues Scholars and as the subject of a song by John Lennon (who did a benefit to help get Sinclair released from prison).

Post MC5 - Current MC5:

The MC5 released two more albums before breaking up at a farewell show on New Year's Eve of 1972 at the Grande Ballroom, but they all stayed around.

Rob Tyner was a music promoter in Detroit until his death in 1991.

Guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith released several albums with Sonic's Rendezvous Band. He later married musician/punk priestess Patti Smith and retired in Detroit, where he died in 1994.

Kramer, Thompson and Davis are still active in music, most notable as DKT/MC5, playing with a wide range of special guest musicians and singers. Currently, vocals are performed by "Handsome Dick" Manitoba (the Dictators).

Essential Album:

If you have to ask…

Kick Out The Jams

Along with the sheer controversy associated with it, the MC5's debut album is essential on several levels. It was recorded live, which was unheard of for a debut album, but considered appropriate because the band's live performances were when they truly "kicked out the jams." It's also innovative for its raw energy, something that would influence countless punk bands.

While the whole album is great, there are some notable tracks. Aside from the title track, the MC5's most famous song, another standout track is the band's cover of John Lee Hooker's "Motor City's Burning".

Album Discography:

  • Kick Out the Jams, 1969
  • Back in the USA, 1970
  • High Time, 1971
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