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The MC5 is an Americanmarker punk rock band first formed in Lincoln Park, Michiganmarker. The band was originally active from 1964 until 1972, before reforming in 2003 with punk singer Handsome Dick Manitoba, of The Dictators, as its new vocalist. The original band line-up consisted of vocalist Rob Tyner, guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith, bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson.

"Crystallizing the counterculture movement at its most volatile and threatening", according to Allmusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the MC5's far left political ties and anti-establishment lyrics and music positioned them as emerging innovators of the punk movement. Their loud, energetic style of back-to-basics rock 'n' roll included elements of garage rock, hard rock, blues-rock, and psychedelic rock.

The MC5 had a promising beginning which earned them a cover appearance on Rolling Stone magazine in 1969 even before their debut album was released. They developed a reputation for energetic and polemical live performances, one of which was recorded as their 1968 debut album Kick Out The Jams. Their initial run was ultimately short-lived, though within just a few years of their dissolution in 1972, the MC5 were often cited as one of the most important American hard rock groups of their era. Their three albums are regarded by many as classics, and their song "Kick Out the Jams" is widely covered.

Tyner died of a heart attack in late 1991, aged 46. Smith also died of a heart attack, in 1994, at the age of 45. Nine years later, Kramer, Davis and Thompson decided to reform the MC5, and this reformed line-up currently performs live.

First incarnation

Early years

The origins of the MC5 can be traced to the friendship between guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith. Friends since their teen years, they were both fans of R&B music, blues, Chuck Berry, Dick Dale, the Ventures, and what would later be called garage rock: they adored any music with speed, energy and a rebellious attitude. Each guitarist/singer formed and led a rock group (Smith's Vibratones and Kramer's Bounty Hunters). As members of both groups left for college or straight jobs, the most committed members eventually united (under Kramer's leadership and the Headhunters name) with Michael Fraser on vocals/bass and Grant Palmer on drums, and were popular and successful enough in and around Detroit that the musicians were able to quit their day jobs and make a living from the group.

Kramer felt they needed a manager, which led him to Rob Derminer, a few years older than the others, and deeply involved in Detroit's hipster and left-wing political scenes. Derminer originally auditioned as a bass guitarist, though they quickly realized that his talents could be better used as a lead singer: though not conventionally attractive and rather paunchy by traditional frontman standards, he nonetheless had a commanding stage presence, and a booming baritone voice that evidenced his abiding love of American soul and gospel music. Derminer renamed himself Rob Tyner (after Coltrane's pianist McCoy Tyner). Tyner also invented their new name, The MC5: it reflected their Detroit roots (it was short for "Motor City Five'), was vaguely reminiscent of a sports car name (like the GTO), and echoed the Dave Clark Five, at the peak of their popularity in 1964–1965. In some ways the group was similar to other garage bands of the period, composing soon-to-be historic workouts such as "Black To Comm" during their mid-teens in the basement of the home of Kramer's mother.

The music also reflected Smith and Kramer's increasing interest in free jazz -- the guitarists were inspired by the likes of Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra and late period John Coltrane, and tried to imitate the ecstatic sounds of the squealing, high-pitched saxophonists they adored. The MC5 even later opened for a few U.S. midwest shows for Sun Ra, whose influence is obvious in"Starship". Kramer and Smith were also deeply inspired by Sonny Sharrock, one of the few electric guitarists working in free jazz, and they eventually developed a unique interlocking style that was like little heard before: Kramer's solos often used a heavy, irregular vibrato, while Smith's rhythms contained an uncommon explosive energy, including patterns that conveyed great excitement, as evidenced in "Black To Comm" and many other songs.

Success in Detroit

Playing almost nightly any place they could in and around Detroit, the MC5 quickly earned a reputation for their high-energy live performances and had a sizeable local following, regularly selling out to audiences of 1000 or more. Contemporary rock writer Robert Bixby stated that the sound of the MC5 was like "a catastrophic force of nature the band was barely able to control," while Don McLeese notes that fans compared the aftermath of an MC5 performance to the delirious exhaustion experienced after "a street rumble or an orgy." (McLeese, 57)

Their debut single was released by Trans-Love Energies in early 1968, comprising two original songs: "Borderline" and "Looking at You." The first pressing sold out in a few weeks, and by the year's end, had gone through more pressings totaling several thousand copies.

That summer, MC5 toured the U.S. east coast, which generated an enormous response, with the group often overshadowing the more famous acts they opened up for: McLeese writes that when opening for Big Brother and the Holding Company audiences regularly demanded multiple encores of the MC5, and at a memorable series of concerts, Cream — one of the leading hard rock groups of the era — "left the stage vanquished" by the Detroit upstarts. (McLeese, 65) This same east coast tour led to the rapturous aforementioned Rolling Stone cover story that praised the MC5 with nearly evangelistic zeal, and also to an association with the radical group Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.

The MC5 became the leading band in a burgeoning hard rock scene, serving as mentors to fellow South-Eastern Michigan bands The Stooges and Up, and major record labels expressed an interest in the group. As related in the notes for reissued editions of the Stooges' debut album, Danny Fields of Elektra Records came to Detroit to see the MC5. At Kramer's recommendation, he went to see the Stooges. Fields was so impressed that he ended up offering contracts to both bands in September 1968. They were the first hard rock groups signed to the fledgling Elektra.

Radical political affiliations

According to Kramer, the MC5 of this period was politically influenced by the Marxism/Maoism of the Black Panther Party and Fred Hampton. Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton prompted John Sinclair to found the White Panthers, a militant leftist organization of white people working to assist the Black Panthers. Shortly after, Sinclair was arrested for possession of illegal narcotics.

Under the "guidance" of John Sinclair (who dubbed his enterprise "Trans-Love Energies" and refused to be categorized as a traditional manager), the MC5 were soon involved in left-wing politics: Sinclair was active with the White Panther Party and Fifth Estate. In their early career, the MC5 had a politically provocative stage show: they would appear onstage toting unloaded rifles, and at the climax of the performance, an unseen "sniper" would shoot down Tyner. The band members were also all using the drugs LSD and marijuana, though not all group members agreed with Sinclair's politics, as Thompson would later reveal in a 2000 interview for an article published in Goldmine magazine.

The band generated political controversy by performing before the outbreak of violent protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicagomarker. The group's appearance at the convention is also notable for their lengthy performance: in an interview featured in the documentary Get Up, Stand Up, Kramer reported that while many musicians were scheduled to perform at a day-long concert, only the MC5 initially appeared. The MC5 played for over eight hours straight; of the other scheduled performers, Kramer stated in Get Up, Stand Up that only Neil Young actually arrived, though due to the chaos at the convention, Young didn't perform. Dennis Thompson asserted years later that "Country Joe" McDonald (Country Joe and the Fish) was also present at the scene (Thompson, 2000). Other performers at the convention included the protest folk singer Phil Ochs.


Kick out the Jams

The MC5 earned national attention with their first album, Kick Out the Jams, recorded live on October 30 and 31, 1968 at Detroit's Grande Ballroom. A live debut was all but unheard of in 1968 (and is still rare today), but Elektra executives Jac Holzman and Bruce Botnick recognized that the MC5 were at their best when playing for a receptive audience. The first song, a version of the obscure Ted Taylor R&B song "Ramblin' Rose," featured a ragged falsetto lead vocal from Kramer before Tyner joined the group onstage. Containing such songs as the proto-punk classics "Kick Out the Jams" and "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa", the spaced-out "Starship" (co-credited to Sun Ra because the lyrics were partly cribbed from one of Ra's poems), and an extended cover of John Lee Hooker's "Motor City is Burning" wherein Tyner praises the role of Black Panther snipers during the Detroit Insurrection of 1967marker. The album is generally regarded as one of the best live rock and roll records: critic Mark Deming writes that the gleefully lusty Kick "is one of the most powerfully energetic live albums ever made ... this is an album that refuses to be played quietly.

The album caused some controversy due to the title track's rallying cry of "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" (according to Kramer, the band recorded this as "Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters!" for the single released for radio play; Tyner claimed this was done without group consensus (Thompson, 2000) ) and Sinclair's inflammatory liner notes. The edited version also appeared in some LP copies, which also withdrew Sinclair's excitable comments. The album was released in January, 1969; reviews were mixed, but the album was successful, quickly selling over 100,000 copies, and appearing for several weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.

Back in the USA

Their second album, Back in the USA, produced by future Bruce Springsteen mentor Jon Landau, virtually provided a prototype for punk rock with its short, fast, hard-edged angry guitar rock. The band sounded radically different from Kick, and McLeese writes that except for Tyner's vocals, they were "barely recognizable as the same band." (McLeese, 96) The second album also featured very different production from the first — the MC5 now sounded compressed and somewhat limited in their sonic palette compared to their earlier era — band members later said that Landau was overbearing and heavy-handed in production, trying to shape the group to his own liking.

Reviews were again mixed, sales were mediocre (It peaked at 137 in March 1970) and the MC5's tours were not as well-received as before. Exhaustion was partly to blame, from the band's heavy touring schedule and increasingly heavy drug use.

They had fallen out with Sinclair, as well, and were conspicuous by their absence at the December, 1971 "Free John Sinclair" rally to protest his incarceration on marijuana possession.

High Time

Their third album, High Time would also prove influential on 1970s hard rock bands. The album was poorly promoted, and sales were worse than ever, but High Time was the best-reviewed of the band's original records upon its initial release. The group had much more creative control, and were very satisfied with the results. This release saw the band stretch out with longer, more experimental pieces like Future/Now and the Sun Ra-influenced Skunk (Sonically Speaking).

Record label controversy

When Hudson's, a Detroitmarker-based department store chain, refused to stock Kick Out The Jams due to the obscenity, the MC5 responded with a full page advertisement in the Fifth Estate saying "Fuck Hudson's!" and prominently including the logo of MC5's label, Elektra Records, in the ad.

Hudson's pulled all Elektra records from their stores, and in the ensuing controversy, Jac Holzman, the head of Elektra, dropped the band from their contract, though there were later allegations of strong company support of the controversial content of the LP. Uncommonly, Elektra's classical division (Nonesuch) was operated on a nearly pro bono basis due to profits generated by popular music releases, and the removal of Nonesuch records from Hudson's represented a significant loss for the corporation.

The MC5 then signed with Atlantic Records, ironically now part of the same company as Elektra.

Late career and disbandment

Both Back in the USA and High Time lost money for Atlantic Records, which dropped the band.

On February 13, 1972, Michael Davis left the band (he was using heroin and was all but forced out by the others). The remaining members recorded three new songs — "Gold," "Train Music," and "Inside Out" — in London shortly afterwards for the soundtrack of a film called Gold. This would be the band's final recording session.

The group limped along a while longer, eventually reduced to Kramer and Smith touring and playing with local pick-up groups, playing R&B covers as much as their original material.

The MC5 reunited for a farewell show on New Year's Eve, 1972-73 at the Grande Ballroom. The venue that had only a few years before hosted over a thousand eager fans now had a few dozen people, and, distraught, Kramer left the stage after a few songs.

The band broke up shortly afterwards.

Post-break up

Fred "Sonic" Smith formed a new group called Sonic's Rendezvous Band, married singer Patti Smith, retired from music to raise a family, and died in 1994. Sonic's Rendezvous Band released only the "City Slang" single during their initial time as a group, though later recordings were released post-mortem, and a reconstituted Rendezvous Band (including original member Scott Morgan, of The Rationals and newly-added Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman) reunited in tribute years afterward.

Wayne Kramer made scattered appearances on other people's records before being incarcerated for drug offenses (in prison in Kentuckymarker, Kramer was unexpectedly reunited with MC5 bassist Michael Davis, also behind bars on a drug charge). After his parole, Kramer worked straight jobs for several years and focused on kicking drugs; in the early 1990s, he returned to the music industry, and has released several well-received albums.

Tyner became a successful producer, manager and promoter in Detroit; he released the warmly-reviewed Blood Brothers in 1990, and died in 1991. For many years, Tyner had been performing using his own moniker, but had also used the MC5 name for some live gigs for a brief period, though he was the only active original member involved. During the mid-1980s, Tyner produced a single for Detroit band Vertical Pillows, and occasionally made brief guest appearances during some of their live shows, singing MC5 covers. A tribute concert to Tyner in 1992 resulted in the first MC5 concert in twenty years.

Second incarnation

First reunions

2003 saw the three surviving members of MC5—Kramer, bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson—performing as the MC5 at the 100 Clubmarker in Londonmarker with Fred "Sonic" Smith's place temporarily being taken by Nicke Andersson of The Hellacopters, vocal chores at that time being filled invariably by David Vanian of The Damned, Lemmy of Motörhead, Ian Astbury of The Cult, and singer Kate O'Brien, as well as seeing Charles Moore and Buzzy Jones reprise their roles in the brass section from the High Time album.

The first real public reunion of the band after their recording years as a group was as a four-piece, at a performance celebrating the life of the late Tyner, a concert event at the State Theater in Detroit MI on February 22, 1992. The event was heavily attended, and included The Rationals, Scot Richardson (SRC), The Romantics, Dee Dee Ramone, The Cult, and other musicians. The band on this evening was unbilled, but their appearance had been rumored--Kramer was the only group member advertised--and the set lasted about thirty minutes. The recording of this show remains unreleased.

In 2004, the band set out on an extensive world tour using the name DKT/MC5. As with the 100 Clubmarker concert, a host of special guests joined them on tour such as Mark Arm of Mudhoney, Nicke Royale of The Hellacopters, Evan Dando of The Lemonheads, Marshall Crenshaw, Lisa Kekuala of the Bellrays, and others.


Since February 2005, the MC5 has stabilized its new lineup, with Handsome Dick Manitoba, vocalist of the 1970s New York punk band The Dictators, singing lead for the band. This lineup performs live.

In May 2006, Michael Davis injured his back in a motorcycle accident. In August 2007, Davis joined The Lords Of Altamont on bass. He also founded and leads the Michael H. Davis Music Is Revolution Foundation, dedicated to supporting music education programs in public schools.

Covers and tributes

The Damned covered "Looking at You" on their third album, 1979's "Machine Gun Ettiquette."On their 2000 album Renegades, Rage Against the Machine performed a cover of "Kick Out the Jams". Singer Zack de la Rocha had already left the band, but their version still featured his vocals. Poison Idea's version of the song appears on their Pajama Party covers album as well as the live album, Dutch Courage. The song was also covered by Jeff Buckley on the DVD Live in Chicago, as well as on the 1994 debut album by The Presidents of the United States of America, and by Blue Öyster Cult on their 1978 live album Some Enchanted Evening. A version of the song performed by Bad Brains with Henry Rollins also appeared on the soundtrack to the film, Pump Up the Volume. More recently, Monster Magnet contributed yet another version of "Kick Out the Jams" to the Varsity Blues soundtrack (it had already appeared as a bonus track on the Japanesemarker edition of their 1998 album, Powertrip). Pearl Jam also covers the song live in concert. Rocket from the Crypt recorded an infamous cover of the song "Gold".

The song What Time Is Love? by the KLF started with the beginning "Kick out the jams", although "motherfuckers" was censored in the UK. Interestingly, this led to an MC5 sample being heard in an attraction at a major family theme park.

Spacemen 3 covered "Starship" on their 1987 album "The Perfect Prescription," crediting it to both MC5 and Sun Ra.

The Australian band Radio Birdman recorded a cover of The Stooges' "TV Eye", into which they inserted several lyrics and the characteristic guitar solo from "Looking at You". The Radio Birdman/Stooges/MC5 super-group, New Race, covered "Gotta Keep Movin'" and "Looking at You".

The Michigan band The Gories did an authentic-sounding cover version of "I Just Don't Know," and the song "Sister Anne" may also be found on their House Rockin' LP. The Vertical Pillows, a 1980s Michigan band with strong MC5 influences, had their debut single ("Jump Back"/"R.U.N.") produced by Tyner, who also did live guest sets with the VPs of MC5 songs.

The band The Didjits recorded "Call Me Animal" on their 1990 LP "Hornet Pinata".

The band Corrosion of Conformity released a version of "Future/Now" as a b-side to their "Vote With A Bullet" single.

In 1999, on their album No.4, Stone Temple Pilots wrote a song entitled "MC5" in honor of the band.

The Norwegian Band Motorpsycho covered "Black To Comm" on their live album "Roadwork Vol.1" released in 1999.

Swedish rock band The Hellacopters has performed Kick out the Jams live on several occasions,, released a cover version of "American Ruse" on the split-EP "Respect The Rock USA" (together with Gluecifer) in 1999 and guitarist Robert Dahlqvist named his sideproject Thunder Express after the MC5 song as a tribute.

The band Young Heart Attack covered "Over and Over" as a 2003 single and on their 2004 album Mouthful of Love.

In December 2003, Michael Davis entered a studio in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, to produce Swedish rock band Dollhouse's debut-album "The Rock and Soul Circus" (Released 2004 on Dim Mak Records). Michael Davis himself appears on backing vocals on the MC5 cover song "The Human Being Lawnmower".

Covers of 'Starship' and 'I Want You Right Now' appear on the 2005 Turbonegro compilation album, Small Feces.

"Kick Out The Jams" is included in the 2008 video game Guitar Hero World Tour. The guitar tracks were re-recorded but the original vocal track from Rob Tyner remains.

The Melvins covered "Rocket Reducer #62" which was released on the 1994 promo single of "Lizzy". The song can also be found on the bootleg compilation "Leech" from 1996. Additionally, the MC5's own recording of "High School" appeared in the Ramones film Rock 'n' Roll High School.

The character Rachel Green wore an MC5 t-shirt in Series 9, Episode 18 - "The One with the Lottery."



  • Babes in Arms (1983)
  • Black to Comm (1994)
  • Power Trip (1994)
  • Looking At You (1995)
  • The American Ruse (1995)
  • Ice Pick Slim (1997)
  • 66 Breakout (1999)
  • The Big Bang!: Best of the MC5 (2000)
  • Thunder Express (1999) (Recorded in 1972)

  • Teen Age Lust (recorded 1970, released 1996)
  • Phun City, UK (recorded 1970, released 1996)
  • Live At The Sturgis Armoury (recorded 1968, released 1998)
  • Are You Ready To Testify?: The Live Bootleg Anthology (2005)
  • Live At The Grande Ballroom 68 (2006)

Box Sets
  • Purity Accuracy (2004)

  • "I Can Only Give You Everything" (1966)
  • "One of the Guys" (1967)
  • "Looking at You" (1968)
  • "Kick Out the Jams" (1969)
  • "Ramblin' Rose" (1969)
  • "Tonight" (1969)
  • "Shakin' Street" (1970)
  • "Over and Over"/"Sister Anne" (1971) (Never officially released, only test pressings exist)


See also


McLeese, Don, The MC5's Kick Out the Jams (33 1/3); Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005; ISBN 0826416608; ISBN 978-0826416605Thompson, James H. MC5: Kickin' Out The Jams; Goldmine magazine, issue #512 (March 10, 2000 cover date), Krause Publications. Online version at as part of MC5 Gateway.

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