5 Things You Might Not Know About The MC5

Wednesday, June 21, 2017
5 Things You Might Not Know About The MC5

Here’s one thing you probably know about the MC5 even if you don’t know anything else about the MC5: they’re the band who gave us the phrase, “Kick out the jams, mother fuckers!” That alone would have secured their permanent status as music icons, but there’s so much more to them than that. We’ve got the official MC5 playlist ready, so that you can educate yourself about their music, but in addition to the tunes, we’ve also got a list of 5 things you might not know about the band.

1. Although their sound inspired a thousand hard-rocking imitators, the MC5’s original source of inspiration – or at least guitarist Wayne Kramer’s anyway – was free jazz.

“The free-jazz movement, the music of Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, John Coltrane and Sun Ra – that's what originally inspired me and the MC5,” Kramer told Rolling Stone in 2014. “What the most advanced jazz musicians were doing was pushing the music forward, and that was my goal as a rock player in the MC5. I needed a source of inspiration that was unorthodox and provocative on every level. I had reached a point where I could play the guitar okay. I could play Chuck Berry solos and Rolling Stones songs. Sun Ra showed me where to go from there.”

2. The MC5 opened for Big Brother and the Holding Company in Detroit and reportedly blew them off the stage.

“There are some great stories of the MC5’s tenure at the Grande [Ballroom],” recalled Jerry Goodwin, a DJ at WKNR-AM in Detroit at the time. “Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company refused to come on stage after a blistering set that had the crowd frenzied and frothing at the mouth. I think her words were, ‘No fucking way.’”

3. The MC5 played the 1968 Democratic National Convention…and Norman Mailer wrote about it.

In his book Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Mailer had plenty to say about the experience of hearing the MC5 perform live. In fact, he had so much to say that you’re better off reading his piece for yourself, which you can do by clicking right here. Let’s just say, though, that the big question asked by Mailer within the piece is this: “Had the horns of the Huns ever had noise to compare?” So we’re thinking he was a big fan.

4. The band lost their record deal with Elektra because they spoke out about a chain of stores refusing to stock the KICK OUT THE JAMS album.

Okay, actually, there’s a little bit more to it than that. Hudson’s Department Stores were based in Detroit, the MC5’s home town, so you can imagine that the band wasn’t exactly pleased when the chain decided that they weren’t going to stock the album because of its obscene lyrical content. This isn’t an entirely unreasonable position to take when you consider the word that immediately follows the utterance of the album title on the title track. (It’s not exactly the sort of term that a family department store chain wants to have associated with them, y’know?) Rather than attempt any sort of negotiation, the band opted simply to approach a local magazine called Fifth Estate and purchase an ad which featured the following text: “KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKER! and kick in the door if the store won’t sell you the album on Elektra. FUCK HUDSON’S!” Oh, yes, and they also prominently featured the Elektra logo. Suffice it to say that Elektra was not amused.

5. Wayne Kramer has a YouTube account and he’s not afraid to use it.

About three weeks ago, Kramer suddenly started uploading videos to YouTube, and if you’re an MC5 fan, you’ll be in awe of some of the things he’s been posting. He’s only just started, mind you, but to our way of thinking, this clip alone makes his arrival worthwhile: it’s a 1972 performance of the band from Paris’s Gibus Club. Yes, it’s raw, but somehow that makes it even better.