HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: October 2011. We had the great honour to talk with a true legend: Wayne Kramer. He was the leader and guitarist of MC5, a revolutionary group from Detroit which influenced not just bands, but whole music movements. Wayne except a musical hero, he was and still remains a passionate person, an activist and a social critic. His songs have been covered from a variety of artists as Rage Against The Machine, Pearl Jam, Hellacopters and Jeff Buckley. His latest solo work is called “Lexington” and contains free jazz music. Read below the very interesting things he told us :
Which are the current music projects you’re involved in? How close is new solo album?
I’ve done a new album, called “Lexington”. Its subject is the period I was in prison (ed: The prison was called “Lexington”). It’s free jazz music. Also, my work here is to write music for television and films. I recently wrote music for HBO TV series called “East Bound And Down” which is on the third season. I’m very busy.
You do great work with Jail Guitar Doors USA Foundation. Did your staying in prison made you more concerned about prisoners’ lives?
Yes, of course. People don’t think about the people who are in prison. I did the same before I go to prison. People don’t care about the life of the prisoners. We have 2,5 millions prisoners in United States and nobody cares about them. If they were 2,5 millions white men everyone would care, but there are mostly black and brown people. So, there is still a racistic approach even in the subject. Laws are very strict here. High-profile citizens don’t go to prison and the poor people spend many years in prison for a common breach of law. During summer I did a tour with Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine) and I was happy to see that there is a whole new generation of thinking Americans, who are very active about the political and social things, they participate in demonstrations and they care about what happens in the world.
During the last years you’ve done some shows playing Johnny Cash songs. I didn’t know that you’re a fan of his work!
Of course, I like his music. He was great.
Had you ever had the luck to meet him?
No, I never met him.
Is it possible to tour again with you former bandmates from MC5?
I really don’t know. There are some health issues with some of the brothers, so that is impossible to happen now.
Do you still enjoy playing “Kick Out The Jams” in live shows? You’ve played it countless times.
Yes, of course. This song is part of me. It is in my DNA!
What do you remember the most for the early MC5 days and the historic performances in Grande Ballroom?
I remember the comradery and the partnership with the other bands. There were some great bands then, there was a whole movement then in Detroit. We were very young and naïve, we didn’t know that there was a atomic bomb which could blow up anytime and could destroy the world. We didn’t know these things, we just liked playing music. I have very fond memories from these days.
Do you think John Sinclair (ex-MC5 manager, poet, philosopher) helped MC5 or he kept them as an counter-culture band?
Yes, I love John Sinclair, he still is a very good friend of mine. We are always talking on telephone. He remains a friend of mine and I think he was very important and he still is. He’s a great poet. And not only that, he’s a great thinker too. We will reunite soon to celebrate 40 years since he released from prison (ed: John Sinclair spent two years in prison for two joints. John Lennon among many artists protested demanding his freedom and also wrote the song “John Sinclair”).
Do you remember the tour with Cream in ’68?
Yes, I remember the performances.
They were superstars then.. Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce..
They were about being superstars. They were on the verge of being. They weren’t then.
But a few months later, in November 1968, Cream disbanded.
You know, that happens with the bands (laughs). It’s very hard being in a band and marry four other people.
How do you feel observing the MC5 influence in Motorhead, the whole punk rock and grunge, even in artists like the late Jeff Buckley who admired your work?
It’s very flattering. It’s nice the people respect your work. But I don’t stay in this, my life continues and I think I still have a lot of things to do in the future (laughs).
Yes, you are still very young. Do you like the music of other Detroit artists like Stooges, SRC, Mitch Ryder and his bands, and others?
Sure. Mitch Ryder was very important, he was great. The guys from Stooges are my brothers, you know. All these people from Detroit did some great music then.
You ‘ve played many times with Tom Morello who is a great musician. Do you think it a bit contradiction being a politically concerned person and still belonging in a multi-national company as Rage Against the Machine and Tom’s solo career?
No, I don’t think this is a contradiction. People should think that we aren’t guerrillas who do raids in the cities, they get ammunition and they return to the mountains. We live in a real world and we do things which apply to this world. We use the mass media to promote our work. We use all the means which are available to us. Of course, it isn’t necessary to use all of them (laughs).
Do you think that the fact the major record labels are on the way out, is a kind of justice for one hundred years of monopoly and corporate greed, as Ian MacKaye from Fugazi told us?
Ian told this poetically. Music industry is for me like auto industry. They didn’t notice the demand of their products. Record companies were informed that things are changing because of the Internet, they knew that, but they did nothing to change themselves. They didn’t notice the power of demand, they didn’t care about their consumers. American auto manufactures back in ‘70s they didn’t change their policies when the oil crisis broke about and the oil prices went from 20 dollars to 60 dollars/barrel. The factories in Michigan didn’t change and the people bought cars from Japan or from Europe. But even then, they didn’t change their policies. So, music industry is for me pretty much like the auto industry or any other industry. Fortunately, some mean executives in recording companies lost their jobs, but also unfortunately some songwriters lost their income who lived from this work. You can’t say if this is right or wrong. Things keep changing.
You are the right person to ask this: Do you think rock ‘n’ roll is dead and now everything is about contracts, managers and deals? So, Jim Morrison was right?
No, for me rock’ n’ roll will never gonna die, because it applies to every normal person. From a 15-year old teenager who wants to start his own band to a person 5.000 old. As far there are these kinds of people, this will be impossible to die. People always will want something to fit with their lives, their feelings, when they get angry etc..
What was the last great band you listened to?
I really like a New York-based band called The Dirty Projectors. There are great. I like their music.
With who musician you’d like to play with and hasn’t happened yet?
I’m really interested in free jazz. I’m interested in people who have a jazz background but they don’t stick to it, they explore it more. They don’t play normal jazz. I like Howard Wiley, he plays alto-saxophone. I’d like to work with him in the future, it hasn’t happened yet. I also like Reggina Carter, she’s a jazz violinist. I have played with her once, but I would like to play to do it again (laughs). I ‘d like to play with these people. So, I prefer listening to jazz, than something else which is unimaginative and common.
Looking in your past, do you feel lucky that you’re still alive?
Yes, I feel amazingly lucky that I’m alive. I’m very very glad that I’m still around. I’ve lived and have been involved in so many things, so I’ m blessing all the time that I’m still alive.. I couldn’t believe that I’m not dead.
Your life should become a film (ed: At this point I was about to tell him that for sure it will be more adventurous than Gus Van Sant’ s “Last Days” about Kurt Cobain, but I hesitated) !
I’m currently thinking about writing a book. I’ll put it out and then it’s not up to me what will happen.
Do you miss old friends like Rob Tyner, Fred “Sonic” Smith and Johnny Thunders?
You know, I don’t erase my past. I don’t have regrets. I keep an open door to my past. But I continue to live, I continue to do my job, to write music. So, things don’t stop for me.
What memories do you have of DKT-MC5 live performances in Greece in 2005?
I had been in Greece twice before I think as a solo artist. In ’96-97 I think (ed: At this point I informed him that the venue has closed and has become a super-market). I enjoyed the shows with DKT. I still remember the first time I visited Acropolis and then the theatre of Dionysus and I feel really struck then. In that particular place, the ancient theatre of Dionysus I realized that I’m doing the same thing: that I’m performing and amuse people, as all the great Ancient Greek writers did. It was very emotional to realize this thing. Very moving. So, as a Greek myself, I think that I’m keeping this tradition. Do you know that I’m Greek?
I had read it, but I didn’t really believe it. Your wife told me that.
Yes, I’m Greek. My grandfather’s name is “Korombos”.
From which place in Greece are you from?
Hope to see you playing in Greece and to meet you here soon.
It would be fantastic to come back playing in Greece. You know, last summer I did some shows playing with Marianne Faithfull in Istanbul, in Turkey.
She played in Greece in that tour, too. Why you didn’t play in Greece?
I couldn’t be in Greece. I traveled from L.A to Istanbul to play with her. Because of my schedule I’m able to play only a few shows and then returning in L.A, because I’m busy writing music for films and TV series.
Last Monday, Tom Waits put out a great album (“Bad As Me”). Are you a fan of his music?
Tom Waits? Yes, I like him very much. He’s really great. Very intelligent.
I don’t have any other questions and I don’t want to spend your time. It would be great to play here soon. It’s surreal that I talked with such a legend. Your music, your lifestyle and your thoughts made me what I am.
Wow. Thank you too. It was great to speak with a fellow Greek brother. Tell to Greek brothers and sisters never to give up and to rock like a fuck.
What?! “Rock like..”
Rock like a fuck!
Wow. That ‘s very rock ’n’ roll (laughs)!!
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Wayne Kramer for his time and his answers. Also, I’d like to thank Mrs Margaret Saadi Kramer for her important help.