In light of the news of MC5 bassist Michael Davis dying at the age of 68 on Friday, I couldn’t help recall the time MC5 guitar player Wayne Kramer showed up to play a gig at Cedar’s Lounge on Sept. 16, 1999.
By this time in his career, Kramer was on the straight and narrow after having battled through years of drug problems and tussles with the law. He did three studio albums for Epitaph Records from 1994 to 1997 and was supporting a live album for the label when he played Cedar’s. On that night, his backing band was the excellent Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs out of San Francisco.
I remember the Cheetahs played a set without Wayne first and received a fairly enthusiastic response. They took a break and Kramer, in his early 50s at this point in his life, sauntered on stage a few minutes later clad head-to-toe in this blue denim get-up. Every one in the joint was immediately drawn to his legendary presence and he took control of the room without much trouble.
A particular highlight for me was his version of the MC5 classic “Rocket Reducer No. 62”. He had the usually jaded patrons up on their feet joining into the various sing-a-long parts (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa) to this song. It was a much different dynamic than what was heard on the Kick Out The Jams album and if you closed your eyes you could probably imagine what it was like at the Detroit Grande Ballroom back in ’68.
In 2004, Kramer reunited with the remaining members of the MC5 (Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson and Michael Davis) for a tour. I saw that reformed band play in Cleveland, but it was not as good as the show Kramer put on in Youngstown. I think a lot of had to do with the presence of the Cheetahs. Those dudes knew their role and were committed to harnessing the powerful sound of that era the best they could. It also helped that they were young and willing to push Kramer to his limits.