Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Found this photo of the New Race while organizing my garage. L-R rob Younger, Deniz Tek, Warwick Gilbert, Ron Asheton is not pictured,and myself. Read more about the New Race: First and Last Tour HERE
Monday, June 26, 2017
Good morning folks! Yesterday I happened to be scanning the tv news and caught a glimpse of a mass of young drummers all playing "Seven Nation Army" originally a White Stripes tune.
All of these young drummers were playing a complete 4 piece kits. It sounded fantastic! I was like what the heck was that??
So I called Kimmer and asked her if she knew what this amazing group event might be and she did not. But she did post my question as a Machinegun Challenge on Facebook and asked our friends if anyone knew.
Within minutes Meme "Screaming Me Me" King from Phoenix AZ wrote in. Meme is so forward thinking and possesses such great taste in music, she knew the band was Rockin' 1000 straight away.
Rockin' 1000 is a huge conglomeration of young musicians mostly from Italy but players from other countries are included as well.
Thanks for the tip Ms Meme! Here is the video that I saw.Hope you all enjoy them as much as I did. KOTJ -D
The Rockin' 1000 is a group of rock musicians from mainly Italy and a few from other countries such as Canada, Mexico, England, Austria, Croatia, Bosnia and Germany.
Get their new CD click one of the links below
As the name indicates, over a thousand musicians play and sing simultaneously at their concerts. The home of the organization is in Cesena in Italy, originally assembled in July 2015 as a stunt to get the Foo Fighters to visit their hometown, which finally happened on October 2015.
They are now an established presence, and have made subsequent appearances. They have been described as the "biggest band in the world." They were originally organized in a crowdfunding effort by Fabio Zaffagnini. Their initial performance in 2015 was made under the direction of Marco Sabiu. They played an 18-song concert on July 24th, 2016 in Cesena, Italy in the Orogel stadium in front of an audience of around 15,000 people.
2017 - the Thousand will play together on the roof of Europe 🔥
Finally, here it's the Where and When.
Stay tuned to find out the What and How.
# Rockin1000 https://www.rockin1000.com/en/vv.php
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
With the Stooges and the MC5, Elektra Records had cornered the market on the proto-punk sounds emanating from Detroit in the late 1960s. The Motor City five made their debut for the label with a live album recorded during two free concerts at the band's stronghold, the Grande Ballroom.
KICK OUT THE JAMS was a call to arms from the avowedly political quintet, and to judge from this blistering Halloween set, high-energy was at the top of their agenda, with incendiary opener “Ramblin' Rose” and independent single “Borderline” among the highlights. In both sound and attitude, MC5 was way ahead of its time, and this show caught the band at the peak of its rabble-rousing power.
Stream the Album Here
Monday, April 10, 2017
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a “machine gun” as a gun for sustained rapid fire that uses bullets; broadly: an automatic weapon.
The Rock & Roll Dictionary has a different characterization of the term. It states that a “machinegun” is a drummer from Detroit, Michigan who employs a battering style of rapid, hard strike drumming whom is also a founding member of the legendary Detroit rock group the MC5; broadly: Dennis Thompson.
Apparently Noah Webster had never been to Detroit…
Dennis “Machinegun” Thompson, co-founder of Lincoln Park hero’s The MC5 and now proficient blogger, is a man of many words, sentiments and ideals. Exploding onto the scene in 1964, DMGT became one of the original bad ass drummers of the era. He has held relationships and collaborated on stage with music’s elite, and has conquered all there is to accomplish in the Rock & Roll world.
Now, as he continues his worship of drumming, Dennis has added a new-fangled hobby to his extensive activity catalog: Blogging. Unlike many of the music legends from the ‘60s era, Dennis actually writes his own material and contributes to his blog project consistently. From the tales of playing with the Who, to rolling around and partying in Australia with Ron Asheton, Dennis relays these memorable instances through his own perspective and idiom for all fans and interested parties to enjoy.
Jarrod Dicker sat down with Machinegun to converse about his celebrated musical history with the MC5 and beyond, some upcoming aspirations and projects, his philosophies on life and politics and his current pastime blogging. Let’s Kick Out the Jams!
THIRSTY: Hey Dennis, Jarrod Dicker here from Thirsty magazine. I know you’re going through a tough time (read: Machinegunthompson.com) and I truly appreciate you taking time to speak with me.
MGT: This is sort of a sluggish time for me right now. I took care of my father for ten years. Myself and my wife Patrice took care of him the ten years after my mom died and we had a lot of great times together. It was pretty tough to see him go because he went slowly. I don't wish it upon anybody. It’s tough losing your parents. I'm getting through it.
READ FULL INTERVIEW HERE
Sunday, April 9, 2017
MC5 - History - Part 1 Formed in 1964 by guitarists Wayne Kramer & Fred :Sonic" Smith as the Bounty Hunters they recruited Rob Tyner on vocals (originally wanted to be their manager) who comes up with the name MC5 and recruited Michael Davis (bass) and Dennis Thompson (drums).
The name MC5 was created by Tyner and chosen because it sounds like a car part and also stands for Motor City 5 which is apt because the band emanate from the tough city of Detroit a city famed for its car industry and simmering racial tensions in mid sixties America.
The band endures play offs, battles of the bands and any gig they can get taking an aggressive, competitive edge to these events honing their skills, performance and solidarity but without much success.
However with the burgeoning hippie scene the band's fortunes take a turn for the better when they take on John Sinclair, leader of the Trans Love Commune, as their manager. Sinclair was a major figure Detroit's counter culture and had served two prison terms for marijuana related offenses.
The MC5 had several managers in their history, Bruce Burnish, John Sinclair, Jeep Holland, Ronan O'Reilly, and Jon Landau
READ FULL STORY
Each MC5 record showed a chronological maturity based on growth from our first records to the next one. We went through so many experiences from the bizarre to the sublime. The 5 encountered the dangers of being so politically and musically honest & forthright. Changes we were uncontrollably thrown into, so we morphed like butterflies to survive! We rolled with the haymakers...
Well, what it was, was that I had a friend named Billy Vargo who played guitar, and I'm thinking, how old were we, we were like maybe 15-years-old, and he was the leader of the band. We had three guitars, no bass, and me on drums. And I was doing it, I was playing.
My brother (rip) was 10 years older than I am, and he was a musician all his life. So when he was sixteen, I was six years old, and they had a rock and roll band, practicing music in my basement.
The drummer would leave his drums, so four year old, five year old Dennis would run down there and bang on the drums and Mom would yell down there, "Dennis, get off those drums, they're not yours!" But she'd always give me at least 10 minutes, you know?
So I got it from my brother, and at the tender age of twelve years old I was already playing weddings, and by fourteen I was playing clubs with my brother. So anyway, in high school and junior high school, I met the other guys and we had a band.
The band was called The Bounty Hunters, for Steve McQueen back in those days. Wayne played in the Bounty Hunters for a real short time.
Wayne taught Fred Smith how to play guitar...Fred would go over to Wayne's house and Wayne would show him how to play chords, and that's how that happened.
Fred became actually the better rhythm guitar player, by his natural, innate ability.
So I'm in high school, and this is about, we're talking maybe eleventh grade, maybe tenth grade, they formed the MC5, which was Wayne Kramer, Fred Smith, Rob Tyner, Bob Gaspar on drums, who has passed away, and Pat Burrows on bass.
They were in the band for maybe six months, and they aced out and did the Dave Clark Five show at the Ford Auditorium in downtown Detroit.
Well, they started moving into this avant-rock business, where they bought more amps and started getting louder and louder, and Bob Gaspar the drummer was bitching, he says, you know, "I gotta keep slamming these drums so hard, I don't wanna play this way." And Pat Burrows the bass player was gettin' pissed off, and said, "I don't wanna do this crazy stuff." (He was from the James Jamerson school of Motown bass playing). So these guys got disaffected.
So one day Wayne pulls up on his motorcycle at my house, and I'm still in 10th grade, so that's makin' me 15, 16? Somewhere around there...pulls up and says, "Hey, do you wanna play this job we got? Our drummer quit. It's a place called the Crystal Bar." And what it is, is a shot and a beer joint -- it's a dump.
They had flyers made up and everything...the name of the band's the Motor City Five. "Okay, I'll do the job." He shows up on his motorcycle in the middle of the night and [I] went down and did the job for the weekend. We had about three toothless bums just sittin' there. And here we are onstage playing "My Generation" and Yardbirds and Kinks and all.
That's when I joined the Five. -D
Friday, April 7, 2017
THE CELLOPHANE FLOWER AT THE FORK IN THE ROAD
Written by Dennis Thompson
The man of the future must be created!” Thank you Gray and Francois These are Fred’s words. Those of you familiar with the album “High Time”, have seen the photo of Fred in full super sonic hero costume boldly standing in front of a blown up map of our planet earth. Fred’s quote circumscribed that photo. The year was 1971…
The man was truly ahead of his time. I remember the first time he wore that “Man of the Future costume live at the Grande Ballroom. Boy, did he ever put our then manager John Sinclair in a state of shock! “He’s lost his mind”, Sinclair shouted. But that is another story… Fred, you were always a mystery to me. You gave real color to the meaning of the word “paradoxical”. At one in the same time, he could be angry, but controlled, rough, but ever so smooth. He could be both distant and moody, but oh, so close and crystal clear.
The penultimate rebel, aloof and arrogant, but also your best friend and quiet comrade, and always at the ready to back any of us up when the stuff hit the fan The calm in the center of the storm. The strength. The man of the future must be created… You see, he was my cellophane flower in the fork in my road… At this very moment, this life we all share in this flesh and blood experiment is a gift! There is only five seconds, two roads, and only one cellophane flower. At this very moment your heart beating is a miracle.
Whomever God you pray to, whatever beliefs you hold so dear, you are nonetheless a co-creator. Fred felt we are all co-creators if we do not block ourselves. There is so much work to be done. If all you see is the cellophane, and meekly take the plastic smooth road, your paradise is lost. If you do not exercise your imagination you are at the mercy of folly, deception, and confusion. Your responsibility is to control your own destiny, your own future. This is what Fred taught me. Fred saw that cellophane flower at the fork in the road.
He picked that flower out of the ground and decided to make it real. He chose the hard and bumpy road and gave life to that flower. He gave it color, texture, and a heavenly aroma and most impotantly realism. I proudly pledge to join him in this ascension, solve the riddle of the maze, and become as he, a co-creator and a man of the future.
After all, what rebel worth his salt should weaken and give into cellophanes oblivion? I was his drummer, his friend, and I will miss him deeply. Fred, you were my John Coltrane. You changed my life and my way of looking at the world. You taught me to reach deep in my soul and find the man of the future in MY own image. Bless you my dearly departed friend and thank you forever.
KICK OUT THE JAMS EVERYONE! -D
REPOSTED FROM 2009
I just heard on Monday of the passing of Steve “The Hawk” Harnadek. A friend caught the write up in the Detroit Free Press Obits section on Monday July 27th, and called me about it.
This is a sad day for me. Steve was my best friend during the early MC5 days. We would slip out of the MC5 house on tens of occasions to have some good fun. Just the two of us, but sometimes Michael would go with us. We especially loved going to the Stooges house for fun and games. We had to get out of the MC5’s band house at times just to get away.
So today I got hit with the concept of the shifting sands of personal priorities. I was feeling a bit angry that morning and afraid. Afraid of losing my father.
Boy, you can plan for the day, like a to-do list, or whatever, but indeed, you cannot plan for outcomes. No matter your intentions, be they good, bad, or indifferent, the capricious vector of random chance will lead the way of your day.
Everyone I know and work with was kind of depressed and feeling blue this day. Strange…
Never fails. If your expectations are rigid and inflexible, you will experience pain when they do not arise as you planned. Better to stay loose, rolling with life’s punches. The level of your inner peace and serenity is in direct proportion to your level of expectation. A man in the pursuit of peace will always expect the unexpected. At all times.
Ever prepared for that dismaying phone call, or that unannounced visit from a relative or friend, or bad news such as a good friend passing away. Steve was an essential part of our crew. He constantly kept me laughing to the point of tears. He had great little quips like “Strictly weird”, and “O-mind”, (meaning a person was totally out of it smashed.)
He watched our backs like a bodyguard. He worked his ass off. He was a joy to be with. I will miss him dearly. Our crew consisted of the Five, John Sinclair, our manager, Steve and two or three road men. Last but not least, Jessie Crawford, (our Spiritual Advisor). Actually, he was really our great friend and all around helper and made us laugh all the time. His main gig was to introduce the band on stage. “Brother’s and sisters, the time has come for each and everyone of you to decide if you are going to be the problem or the solution, It takes five seconds, etc…”
After introducing the band we would run on stage to a huge roar from the crowd and then Jessie would run and get behind me and the drums. I would break 10 to 20 sticks per show, (to drummers, they were 2B size) and Jess would hand another stick to me the instant I broke one. Thanks Jessie wherever you are. So, like today, we had a 10/12 man gang.
Here is a good Steve, Wayne & Dennis story. It was in the rolling hills of San Francisco Marin County where we were staying a few days at the famous Dr. Timothy Leary’s home. “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” was his mantra. He passed away in 1996. He was gracious enough to put us up while we were on tour there. Sorry we drove you and your wife nuts Doc.
The three of us were in a rented Mustang and we were high on multiple choice drugs headed back to the Doc’s house from a night of mischief on the town. We were driving on a twisting two lane road populated with all these expensive homes. I was in the back seat and we were all laughing and joking around.
Then I get this goofy idea. “Hey Steve.” (he was driving and I was in the back seat) “You gotta sing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” in falsetto and I’m gonna put my hands over your eyes and Wayne will tell you how to turn.” Insanity a-go-go right?
So he starts singing “Mary had a little lamb…” in this high pitched, squeaky falsetto voice and would get in a couple words and then he started to laugh hysterically. I took my hands off his eyes and shouted, “C’mon man! Get it right!”
So we do it again and he almost made it through the whole tune, and then he drove straight off the road. The next thing was “KABOOM!!!” We were parked 30 feet below the road we were on in this guy’s garden! Fortunately we landed square on all four wheels. BABOOM!! CRASH!!!
The guy comes runnin’ out and says “What the f**k is going on here!” “I’m calling the police!” he screamed. We were stunned for a minute but the LSD was so good we all started to laugh again. Talk about crazy…
Well, the cops come and we bullsh*tted our way out of any type of ticket. We sobered up enough to put on the dog. We were very good at this type of instant changing. Actually I think we were all changelings.
We told him the car’s lights went out and we couldn’t see for a few seconds and before we could stop we went over the cliff. We all acted shook up and scared.
We told him who we were, (The MC5) and dutifully put him on the guest list plus two for the ballroom show the next night. The officer called a tow truck for us. The poor guy’s garden was totally ruined, and he threatened to sue us. He never did. I think we gave him a hundred bucks. We made it back to Dr. Leary’s house in one piece and laughed a long time about our adventure.
This was my Steve.
So, be on guard incessantly. Just calmly at the ready. Let your will try and control the day. Any day. You will pay. Trust this. There are costs attached to everything. The less you cling to this material world, and the less addicted you are to sensual, emotional and physical instant gratification, the freer you will be. Anger needs to be tamed. Anger needs to be recognized, and addressed. The same with fear. Fear of all bents and persuasions.
These two menacing and all pervasive human antagonists are always poised backstage to come to the fore, and lead your show. Anger turned inward creates depression. We really need to understand ourselves and our personal relation to fear and anger. Let your imagination be your guide. Taking an in-depth honest approach to your demons gives you the power to see a hell of a lot more clearly than to assume all is well. It is not. Not one of us alive is not in some way struggling with these two ogres.
Listen to yourself. Quiet down and rest your thoughts with some silence each day. Upon awakening, tell yourself the day is going to be a good day no matter what happens. Practice this continuously on a daily basis. You will be amazed at how the bare practicing of letting anger and fear go, will smooth the rough edges and balm your inner soul.
Some will say this is the age of sedation. Doctors in this country are very quick to provide a prescription drug to relax you, alleviate your sadness, your depression. Do cats and dogs need Prozac? Do cows need Zoloft? Do birds require a minimum of 1000 milligrams of Oxycontin to get through their extremely busy day of all that flying and food foraging? You can answer that one. The older I get, the less I presume to know. But I can tell you this, drugs and alcohol are not the solution. They are a symptom of the problem.
Emerson said it best. “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Oh, what divine wisdom he befell. Hell, it’s just too simple to be true.
Steven ‘Hawk” Harnadek, 61, passed away July 19, 2009, at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. Cremation arrangements entrusted to J. Gilbert Purse Funeral Home, Adrian.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
KOTJ is meant to deliver happiness and joy with hi-energy, drive and to elevate one's spirit, confidence and coolness. They have gotten those elements right on. FULL BIO HERE
Have a look and listen to their video below
PINKY DOODLE POODLE
- PDP -
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Besides being the party who propelled the MC5 (and New Order, and New Race, and The Motor City Bad Boys, and...) into the stratosphere with his percussive power, Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson [pictured above, with the MC5] is also undoubtedly the greatest living high-energy conversationalist on the planet. He talks the same way he plays the drums -- energetically, assertively, aggressively, thoughts spilling over each other two or three at a time, punctuated by explosions of laughter.
This interview took place in two parts, beginning on March 24 and winding up on March 28, 1998. We started out talking about his recent activities.
Ken: What have you been up to lately?
Dennis: Well, lately I've been trying to become a priest, but they won't let me. I've got a CD coming out called Phantom Patriots, Volume One. I'm shopping a label. There are two or three labels that I'm courting; I'm looking for the best distribution deal, and I want accountability for sales. When you work with independent labels, you don't get that.
Ken: Who are some of the people involved?
Dennis: Well, the first round are local people. That's Joey Gados, who played with one of Rob Tyner's MC5 bands; Pete Bankert, who plays with Dark Carnival, has played with, oh Christ, 15 bands, he owns a studio; and Tommy Ingram, who is a young singer, but...he's done the Detroit thing. It's a very powerful unit.
I just talked to Deniz Tek, I'm going to do a version of "Kick Out the Jams" for this, I believe. I'm either gonna have Deniz do the "Kick Out the Jams" instrumental or the theme song, "(We Are) The Phantom Patriots." And Deniz has agreed to do a solo for me. Once I get the DAT version of that finished, I'll send it off to him in Montana, and we already spoke about it and he said he'd love to, 'cause we haven't played together in awhile, and so I'll have Deniz Tek as another Phantom Patriot.
The concept of the Patriots is an ongoing concept. The idea is that every succeeding volume, I'll search to find new people, new players who want to donate their time and their energy to play the music; they won't care about the recognition, they won't care about fame, and they won't care about fortune. They will care about being able to play in a context that is completely, totally free. They're all gonna sign off as...whatever happens, "Dennis, if you can bring me 500 bucks for your initial deposit from sales, or if you can give me a royalty," I'll give them a royalty; I'll make sure they get some money.
There's 50 people that are lined up to do this concept, and the bottom line is, the Phantom Patriots is exactly what it means. We're phantoms, that means invisible; we're spectres, we're ghosts, whatever, shadows, and we are patriots; we love our country, we do the right things. And no one's gonna know who's in the band. Except me. I have to use my name as the hook to work the media. Once I get to the media, I start explaining the concept and they'll get the drift...like a benefit for the masses, y'know? (Laughs)
On Volume One, I bring in these musicians, and there's a synchronicity in the air. I'm bringing the players in to play. What I've tried to do is to get as many of my creative friends as possible to do the computer artwork, to do the marketing, friends that are DJs at radio stations, musicians that wanna just really play, etc., etc., etc.
Ken: Can you describe the music?
Dennis: Well, the first CD is straight-ahead rock and roll. It's bad-ass rock and roll; the songs sound like MC5, the Stooges, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Nirvana; we cover the spectrum.
Dennis: What it was, was a spoken invocation to "Kick Out the Jams," and this was at the Heidelberg in Ann Arbor, three weeks before he died. He was just preaching the Gospel for four minutes. So while I'm wrapping up this Phantom Patriots CD, Pete and the guys shut off all the lights in the studio and said, "Hey, Dennis, why don't you just go crazy, and be you, okay, just go!" So I did, I created a piece. I constructed an actual piece of artwork and I dedicated it to Rob and Fred. I cried a little bit, and I played. I played for four minutes.
Little did I know that Pete Bankert had thought about this, but didn't tell me about it, and he had this dialogue, because back in '91 at the Heidelberg, Pete Bankert was playing bass in Rob's band, so he knew, he knew. So anyway, I come into the studio two days later, and he put the two of them together. It was like, "What the...this is...excuse me." It's really good; talk about your spoken word or your performance art, this is crazy, 'cause I've got a person who's been dead for seven years playing a piece with me, and we're in perfect sync. I played well...Billy Cobham would be proud. Elvin Jones would be proud. Keith Moon, he'd be proud, too. Cool?
Rob died in '91, and Fred died in '94. They were both 46 when they died, and they both died of heart problems. So when I finally hit 47, that day, I swung from the chandeliers. Because I passed that 46-year-old year old curse of the Five, right? (Laughs)
Ken: How old are Wayne [Kramer] and Mike Davis now?
Dennis: Wayne'll be 50 in another month, end of April, I believe, and Michael will be 54 in June or July. And I'll be 50 on September 7th, 1998.
Ken: Can you expand a little on the concept behind the Phantom Patriots?
Dennis: The concept of the Phantom Patriots is a book I've been writing for ten years. Essentially it's a roman a clef of the experience of the MC5. The Phantom Patriots are everybody in this country who cares about improving the quality of life here. Raising the job standard level. Raising the educational level. Taking care of the children. All the things that need to be done. And the way to address this is, we'll be patriotic, but we'll be like spectres; we'll be invisible, we'll slowly change the people's attitude.
The idea is to try to remain invisible, try to get a lot of people working and having fun. We're not into it to make money, we're not into it to get laid, we're not into it to be rock and roll stars, we're into it for the love of the art of it all, and the philosophy of it all, and the politic of it all. I think it's gonna be a very, very beautiful ongoing thing. I see one CD per year. I'll be the one that's gonna be visible, and I'll use the MC5 name to market it. But each package is gonna be a creative package, which you don't get much, nowadays. You get standard art department kind of general puff. But I've got a guy who's very creative and artistic who spent three weeks on just the front cover so far. You know why? He doesn't make enough money at his day job and he needed something creative to do. That's sorta like the idea. READ FULL INTERVIEW ON 194 BAR
"You know what 'Black To Comm' means?
Okay. "Black To Comm" was when we were playing the Grande Ballroom, we used to let bands - a lot of bands would use our equipment, and we would say, "Fuck you, if you break it, we told ya... "black to comm." Quite simply, on the P.A. amp, "Comm" is commonly referred to as the negative ground, and the "Black" was the wire... clear from the power source, right?
And that's exactly what it was, it's like, "Okay, just be sure you put the black wire into the comm connection here," you know what I mean? "if we trip over it and knock it out again" - because there was all these wires strewn across the stage." Full Interview Here (Dennis Thompson interviewed by Ken Shimamoto)
Thursday, January 12, 2017
PSF: How did you first hear about the MC5?
In 1968, I was going to college in Ohio and heading back to Boston (my hometown) for the Christmas holiday. I stopped in New York to see some friends of mine who were signed to Elektra- Magic Terry and the Universe, they never recorded but they were kind of an aesthetically legendary band. They were the first band to put together poetry and rock and roll. This was the late '60's so there was no concept too grandiose or far out not to be tried. The idea of a poet screaming in front of a punk band wasn't out of the question. Danny Fields, the guy who bought the Stooges and the MC5 to Elektra, had signed them. All these bands quickly saw themselves as being part of the redefinition of the possibilities of rock and roll.
The first thing they said was 'you're going to school in the Midwest, tell us about the MC5.' I said 'what?' I had no idea what they were talking about. I got the whole MC5 spiel then and saw them do their first show in New York, a free show at the Fillmore run by a group of street people called the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers. These are the same people who three weeks later would disrupt the MC5's show at the Fillmore. On this night, they had just played the Boston Tea Party and it was their first time out of Detroit to play. I saw them and I thought that they were hands down the best rock and roll band I had ever seen in my life. It's an opinion that I hold to this day.
In terms of the context of the time, it was still pretty hippy-dippy peace-and-love with three-hour solos. They were like a throwback to what the New York Times called 'rock's disreputable roots' but at the same time, they were forward looking, into free jazz and metal and all of that. It was like getting the best of both worlds, a reminder of the crotch-level impact of rock while at the same time aspiring to take it to places it had never been before. That just completely blew me away. Also from a performing point of view, they were probably the best rock and roll band I'd ever seen- no one else even came close.
PSF: Did you think there really was a Midwest scene that they were a part of?
In terms of bands like MC5, the Stooges, they all saw themselves as being an alternative to the alternative music that was then popular, epitomized by San Francisco peace-and-love. This was darker, a much more street level kind of a movement. All those bands and the people around them saw this as the next step beyond what was fashionable.
PSF: What about the politics that the band adopted with John Sinclair and the White Panthers? Was that sincere?
I think it was sincere. The situation with the White Panthers was basically that they started as a joke. You had all of them sitting around a big table in Ann Arbor smoking a lot of joints and saying 'wouldn't it be cool if there was something for white people like the Black Panthers?' They saw the Panthers as a group that gave black people pride and some sense to fight back against very real oppression that was coming down then. But the White Panthers started out as a joke really, almost an MC5 fan club. It wasn't until they announced the formation of the White Panther party and the 10 Point program that a lot of these ideas were made public. The reaction against it was so swift and powerful and frightening that a lot of these things that they had said tongue-in-cheek in the beginning suddenly came true. They then had to constantly defend themselves as a revolutionary party. It was a situation that started out one way and over the course of its lifetime, based on the political realities of the time, went a whole other way. I'm sure John Sinclair never saw himself winding up in jail.
You look at what they did with the politics. The Black Panthers did education programs and food programs. The White Panther party, as a political entity never really did much. It was just a name. As soon as you put a name to it, you also made it a target. It sort of pushed things in a radical direction that was pretty extreme.
A lot of the interest in the MC5 now is based on the perception of them being this political band. My interest in the MC5 is in terms of what they accomplished as a band and what they contributed musically. The rest of it is all part of the story. The White Panthers are a peripheral part of the MC5 story.
PSF: The band eventually broke with the Panthers and Sinclair. What's the story behind that?
You get a different story about that depending on whom you talk to. John is still very bitter about that and feels that the band sold him out. Wayne Kramer, who now has a close personal relationship with John, tends to be a little more philosophical about it. There are other people in the band who feel other things. You're talking about a situation where each individual has a completely individual take on each situation and they don't always tally up.
Personally, I see the break with Sinclair as being inevitable just because there was so little real organization in the White Panther party as a political situation. The way it came down and the time it came down and the way it looked was far from ideal. When John went to prison, there was no one else there who could take over the reins of the MC5 on a day-to-day basis. If they had had a stronger organization, I think that they probably could have survived all that stuff with the band's associations with Trans-Love Energies, which was what it was called originally. Incidentally, after they were called the Panthers, they were The Rainbow Peoples' Party and they actually did organized politically and did accomplish some real things.
PSF: You were talking about how they incorporated jazz into their music, even before Miles Davis was doing it.
A lot of that comes from Rob Tyner, in the beginning. He named himself after John Coltrane's piano player McCoy Tyner. John Sinclair is widely credited with pushing the band into the free jazz area because that was his main love. But in truth, the band had been exploring that even before they met Sinclair. He gave just gave them the confidence to go further down that road. Rob had been this suburban Detroit beatnik in the early '60s who thought that rock and roll was dead and corrupt. He was only into jazz and blues and was later brought back to rock and roll by the Rolling Stones. But those kind of ideas were there already, as John himself will tell you- they were already floating around in the band by the time that Sinclair found them. In fact, that was one of the things that appealed to him- here was this rock and roll band that had these out-there ideas about what they wanted to do with rock and roll music. John, who had been a jazz snob and rock and roll hater, had seen that here was a rock and roll band that was doing something interesting.
PSF: Compared to the fusion music that came later, how successful do you think the band was with this idea?
I don't think they were very successful with it. You go back and listen to their great jazz-rock epics and not many of them hold up these days. Compared to the very rigid stylized thing that it turned into as fusion, at least there was something fresh about the MC5's exploration of those areas. This was coming from kids who didn't initially aspire to become jazz musicians and didn't have the jazz chops. All those ideas had been filtered back through musicians whose prime inspiration had been Chuck Berry. It was a different thing from the slick thing that fusion would become. I suppose it was more like punk-fusion than anything else.
PSF: How well did their first album capture what you'd seen in their live shows?
To me it didn't really come close. The tragedy of that album was that it was recorded in October 1968. The band had been performing that particular set for the better part of the previous year. In my view, they played that set at that time once or twice too often. It was just kind of past its peak as the set goes. It's exciting, dynamic, crazy, wild and wonderful but compared to the MC5 shows that I saw (I never them prior to recording that album), it's somewhere in the middle. It's not even close to the MC5 but does it kind of get that glorious energy of the moment.
PSF: Why was there such a huge change in the band's sound by the time of the second album?
Because of the volume and because of the primitive quality of the music that they played, the MC5 tended to be dismissed by serious music people as just noise-mongers. It was a very definitive desire with the second album to prove to the rock and roll establishment that the MC5 were great musicians, which in fact they were. From my point of view, they cared far too much about that and the second album was as extreme in its way as Kick Out The Jam had been in its (way). They went to the opposite extreme. One's as bad as the other to me although somewhere in the middle is the ideal MC5, of my dreams anyway.