By Robyn Collins
MC5 and a legion of admirers are hoping the second time will be the charm for the revolutionary and revolution-minded rockers from Michigan, when it comes to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.
The group was on the ballot once before, in 2003, surviving members Wayne Kramer and Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson say they would be happy to participate when the Rock Hall’s class of 2017 is inducted during April at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“I had a vision for the band when I started it, and being in a hall of fame was never part of it — but it’s a good thing to be recognized for your work,” guitarist Kramer tells Billboard.
“The band never achieved great commercial success and wealth and any of that, but I think our contribution was significant. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I guess I’ll have to leave it up to the people, all my musicians, all my brothers and sisters that work in the amusement industry to recognize the significance of the MC5 — which they always have. The musicians have always been the band’s greatest champions.”
The Motor City Five – MC5 – formed during the mid-60s in Allen Park, Mich., and released their first single, “I Can Only Give You Everything,” 50 years ago. The quintet, which also included late members Rob Tyler, Fred “Sonic” Smith (who was married to Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Patti Smith) and Michael Davis, was together until 1972 and released three albums. The first record, in 1969, was named after their famous anthem, Kick Out The Jams.
MC5 was known for its outspoken political stance and activism, playing in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and serving as house band for the White Panther Party, founded by band manager John Sinclair.
“You’ve got to remember MC5 was banned from the music business,” Kramer says. “They were afraid of us and what we represented. What we represented was young people of our generation who had serious concerns about a war that they could not justify, about people of color being treated differently than white people, about sexual mores that weren’t consistent with their humanity. These were subjects the music industry didn’t want to confront, so it was much easier to just ban us from the radio and kick us off their record labels and hope that we would go away.
“But the fact that we were the tip of the spear for our generation didn’t go away, and the musicians themselves have been the ones that have continued to be the MC5’s champions, right up to today.”
The group reunited in 1992 to pay tribute to Tyner three months after his death. Smith passed away in 1994, and Davis, Kramer and Thompson began playing together in 2003, touring the following year as DKT/MC5. Davis died in 2012. Kramer acknowledges that would make an induction “bittersweet” but is certain he and Thompson will be happy to represent if chosen.
“I talk to Dennis fairly regularly. We’re still close,” say Kramer, who’s working primarily with film music these days as well as his Jail Guitar Doors initiative to use music as a form of rehabilitation in correctional facilities. “I’m sure it would be very important to both of us. It wouldn’t be a bad thing.”