The MusicNerd Q&A With Wayne Kramer

Photo by Ivy Augusta
Photo by Ivy Augusta

“Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” That was the battle cry of the legendary MC5 in 1969. Fast-forward 45 years and MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer is looking to rally the troops once again.

Kramer is in the last 10 days of an extensive PledgeMusic campaign associated with his latest musical outing, Lexington. The record, out now, sees him team up with the Lexington Arts Ensemble and owes as much to jazz as it does rock, proving Brother Wayne’s abilities of being a musical revolutionary are alive and well.

Unlike many other crowd-sourced campaigns that fund the making of a record, Kramer’s PledgeMusic campaign is raising funds to help bring Lexington on the road while also raising money for the charity he founded with Billy Bragg, Jail Guitar Doors USA. PledgeMusic supporters are able to purchase a myriad of items from all eras of Kramer’s extensive career.

The MusicNerd Chronicles had the pleasure of speaking with Wayne Kramer earlier this week:

Was a jazz record something that you had burning in you for quite some time?

It is definitely something that I knew I wanted to pursue. I have been friends with Charles Moore since 1967 and have worked on many musical projects together. We shared so many ideas about music and life in general that we were always thinking that we would do something together when the opportunity arose.

You served a sentence at what was once known as the “United States Narcotic Farm” and then ended up composing the score to a PBS special on the facility, which is now the Lexington Federal Penitentiary. What kind of emotions did that bring out in you?

Doing the score served as a great pathos in the experience. Serving a prison term in the American punishment regime is a world of humiliation, defeat, bitterness, racism and violence. When you’re in prison, you never know what might happen next. The people in those institutions are profoundly damaged and can only relate to others in a transgressive manner. For what it’s worth, I caught the back-end of the good times. My time was at the end of an era where they looked to rehabilitate prisoners. Now it is an atmosphere of retribution.

In your experience, what kind of impact has your Jail Guitar Doors program had upon those who are incarcerated?

There are now imperial longitudinal studies that prove that prisoners who take part in arts and correctional programs have lower recidivism rates than those who do not. I know a guy who was the director at a California State Prison for 30 years. He told me that the only thing that gets through to many people in prison is arts and organized sports. Art is one of the only things that can reach people on a different level so if you are looking to change the hearts and minds of those in prison, you have to connect with people on an artistic level like art, music, songwriting, poetry or theatre.

Why do you think art and music connects with prisoners on such a deep level?

Many of the people in prison never learned how to stay in one place and finish a task because that is what they want to do. When we donate a load of guitars to a prison, they are not gifts. They are tools of restoration to help those behind bars process and probe and tell their story in a new, non-confrontational way. Music is so much more complex than any language. Nothing else you do requires such brainpower. First, you have to consider are my hands and fingers going to the right places on the guitar? Am I playing in time? Am I playing in tune? If you’re playing with others, you have to take in what they are playing and how you fit into that puzzle. If you’re playing in front of an audience, are they relating to the music? What is their reaction? It is one of the most transformative experiences that anyone can take part in.

Part of your PledgeMusic campaign sees you auctioning off items from the MC5 era as well as your solo career. Is it a bittersweet thing to be saying goodbye to some of these things?

I am definitely attached to some of the guitars but otherwise, I don’t put a lot of value on material things. We are just more-less renting everything in our lives anyway. I can’t take any of this stuff with me so if it brings happiness to someone else, I think that’s great.

Although the MC5 didn’t get their due until long after you had gone your separate ways, it must still be incredible to know the impact that the band has had on others.

I have been lucky to have been a part of some reconstituted MC5 shows and have to say that it is very humbling to go out there and see firsthand what that band means to some people. To be on stage at the Reading Festival in England and have 30,000 people that knew the music was absolutely mind-blowing. I was so grateful for the opportunity.

An abbreviated version of this interview was published in the June 19, 2014 edition of Here Magazine.