The MC5’s Wayne Kramer – The 13th Floor Interview

Wayne Kramer and The MC50 are opening for Alice Cooper at Auckland‘s Trust Arena on 20 February. John Baker got him on the phone to talk 50 years of rock & roll…

JB: Hey Wayne – I’m gonna crash straight into it. I’ve got my copy of High Times open in front of me. What is that outfit you’re wearing at the bottom? I think we’ve got Michael, he’s dressed as an Arab. Rob’s as a Caveman.

WK:  I think that’s one of my girlfriend’s miniskirts. An empire waisted miniskirt.

JB: It looks fantastic. You’ve got a great pair of gams.

WK:  Thanks so much. I got them from my mother.

JB: So Wayne, show me a man who’s chasing a dream and I’ll show you a man who’s sleepwalking. You’re living the dream.

WK:  Some would say – I say that myself from time to time.

JB: Tell me, where does your energy come from? You’re the other side of seventy and most seventy year olds are kicking back at this stage.

WK:  Yeah. Well, you know, as finitude becomes a larger and larger issue as time goes on, I started to conclude that I need to live life to the fullest every day because one day it will run out and I’ll be done. And I don’t want to arrive on that day saying oh I wish I would have done this or I wish I would have done that. I want to do it all and do it all while I can.

JB: That’s what it looks like. When I look at the YouTube clips, you bound onstage. Your interviews – you’re full of energy and you’re incredibly trim.

WK:  Thanks – I’ve been very fortunate.

JB: It sounds like it. So tell me becoming a father late in life – what’s it like?

WK:  Yeah, it’s the best. Fatherhood is the greatest. I’m so glad I waited until I was just about done being a child to look after one. I have a little more patience at this stage of my life and it seems to align well with a six-year-old little boy. We get along great and he’s constantly inspiring. I never had trouble with inspiration before, but when you have that little human being looking up at you and you realise if you don’t do your work, this kid will starve to death. It inspires you.. We talk a lot of shit and at some point, we gotta deliver. And looking after a kid means you gotta be on your job all the time.

JB: Totally. No excuses.

WK:  I adore children and, it’s funny, I never gave it much thought because I was so self-obsessed and self-seeking and selfish that it took getting to this age to get out of myself and be able to pay attention to people around me and hear what they’re saying to me.

JB: Your turning point comes round in your early fifties where suddenly you realise your blaming everybody…

WK:  Right, you gotta grow up at some point. I cannot claim maturity. I’d like to think I know what it is and I’m moving in that direction, but I can’t really tell you I’m all mature now.

JB: Now another great moment on High Time is Poison. It’s a mantra I love to follow. Truth and love are my law and worship. Can you continue on from there?

WK: … Form and conscious, my manifestation and guide. These are just fundamental tenets that I try to use as a design for living. You’ve gotta have a plan. Even if you change the plan, you gotta have a plan.

JB: So the Wayne Kramer that wrote that in 1971, do you think he had any idea of the Wayne Kramer in 2019?

WK:  Well, there are elements that have not changed.

JB: Are you still on the tour with Alice, or are you taking a break?

WK:  We’re on a break right now. We’ve been working on his new album and then I came back to LA. I’m starting a film that I’m scoring that I’m going to try to finish before we leave for the next leg, which will bring us to Australia and New Zealand.

JB: Right. Now Alice. Can you tell me the first you saw time you saw the Alice Cooper Band? Was it at the Grande Ballroom?

WK:  No it was in Philadelphia. We were touring and we heard that Alice Cooper was playing with us that night. And their roadie came over to our dressing room – stuck his head in and said, “Hey is the MC5 gonna wear all their shiny clothes tonight?” And we said, “Of course we are!” And they went, “Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Cos we were always trying to outdo each other with our clothes.

JB: Tell me, did the Alice Cooper Band kick out the jams at that time?

WK:  They do kick out the jams. They’re a good band. Really excellent band that made some great hit records that hold up very well over the year. I go out and listen to them on tour if I got a break, after we perform I’ll go out and watch Alice perform and those songs are great songs.

JB: They certainly are.

WK:  No more Mr Nice Guy, it’s a great song.

JB: Can you remember Alice at the Grande Ballroom? The Alice Cooper Band.

WK:  I don’t remember them ever playing at the Grande. I’m sure they did, but I don’t remember it.

JB: I had the pleasure of going to the Grande in 2001, or what was left of it and kicking out a brick from the back door and bringing it back to New Zealand.

WK:  Good! They’re working now to try and restore it.

JB: Do you think that’ll ever happen?

WK:  You know, it’s a very difficult undertaking, but I have high hopes for it.

JB: OK. Fingers crossed. Has the neighbourhood improved? When I was there it was pretty dire.

WK:  It’s pretty rough. But the big corporations are willing to put money back into Detroit and the neighbourhood could support a venue that was a destination. And we’d like to set it up so that during the week it could be used by the community for music lessons, for after school programmes, to involve the people that live in the area. And then then let it be a high-end rock venue in the evenings.

JB: Fantastic. I hope that happens, but it’s gonna take quite a bit of an investment.

WK:  It’s gonna take some work. That’s for sure.

 JB: Wayne – also – 1972… The MC5 played on probably one of the greatest rock & roll bills ever. At Wembley. I mean Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screaming Lord Such. Gary Glitter even. And the MC5.

WK:  Yeah, it was a hell of a day.  That was the day that Chuck Berry socked Keith Richards. Everybody was just smokin’ that day. And the two headliners, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, they played it to the hilt and it was really fun. It was a great day. Unfortunately, The MC5 made a huge strategic error by performing in… we were trying to change the look of the band a little bit. And we went out there with our science-fiction idea and all those 60 thousand teddy boys, when they saw that glitter and lamé and they thought we looked like rough trade from Venus.Had we come out in our street clothes they would have loved us in our jeans and our cowboy boots and black leather jackets. But we came out with our new look on and boy they hated it.

JB: I think teddy boys are still a little narrow minded.

WK:  Yes.

JB: A question for you. Who would be your top 5 Detroit guitarists? Of the last 50+ years?

WK:  Well, there’s… now who do I really love from Detroit? Well, there’s a jazz guitarist from Detroit named Ron English who I admire a great deal.

There’s the great Jim McCarty, from Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels – he’s a great guitar player.

JB: He certainly is – those stinging guitar leads.

WK:  Stinging. Yes! And he was always that good. In 1962 he was that good. Let’s see… who else. Well, there’s a great session musician named Joe Podorsek that I love a great deal. He was one of my teachers when I was a kid.

Amongst the rock guys – who else is there? There was a guy named Paul Warren. Paul played the electric guitar on Papa Was a Rolling Stone. He was a very tasteful guitar player. There’s probably a few more – Ray Monette… and of course, the Motown guitar players – Jim Messina and Robert White. Those guys were incredible.

JB: Of course. What about Dennis Coffey?

WK:  Of course Dennis – forgive me for leaving him out.

JB: and moving ahead, what about Jack White?

WK:  Jack’s pretty good all the way around. He’s a pretty good drummer and plays guitar fine and really knows how to write a song.

JB: He certainly does. I remember when The White Stripes used to break into Looking at You !

WK:  (laughs) I just saw him the other night. He was doing well.

JB: . Good. And tell me, what’s your favourite cover version of Kick Out the Jams? If there is one.

WK:  It’s actually by an Australian band called Deep Street Soul. It is fantastic. It’s like they understood what we were going for. Because the MC5 was really a soul band with electric guitars instead of a horn section.

JB: True. She really nails it. And speaking of… and that’s with Tia Hun singing right ?

WK:  Yes.

JB: And I remember seeing you guys in 2004 with Lisa from The Bell Rays singing. I think it was my favourite line-up from that time.

WK: . Yeah, yeah – Lisa’s tremendous. She’s a force. We  keep in touch. We see her fairly often.

JB: Now I’ve got a question from a person in Detroit. He said to ask what are your memories of, was it St Hedwig’s?

WK:  St Hedwig’s?

JB: In Southwest Detroit?

WK:  Yes, of course! That was the local Catholic School and Church. And they had a big yard. And that’s where all the kids went to play ball in the summer and fly kites and ice skate in the winter and play basketball. It was like the community centre. And I used to attend that church when I was a boy. Of course I didn’t understand anything about what was going on. They stood up so I stood up. They sat down so I sat down. They got on their knees, so I got on my knees. I didn’t know the lyrics to any of the songs and by the way they sang, they didn’t know them either.

JB: Well, that’s Catholicism for you, isn’t it?

WK:  Catholics can’t sing.

JB: (laughs) OK, another question. Miss Mackenzie. Who was she? And where is she now.

WK:  She was a word that rhymed with frenzy.  I’m sure she is somewhere, but we weren’t writing about her. We were just trying to come up with a work that rhymed with leave in frenzy.

JB: Thank you, Wayne!