Hard Time: The MC5’s Wayne Kramer Goes Behind Bars For New Album
By David Fricke for RollingStone
This spring, singer-guitarist Wayne Kramer – formerly of the Detroit revolution-rock band the MC5 – hit a weird milestone, his first Top Ten album. The weird bits: Lexington (Industrial Amusement), credited to Kramer and the Lexington Arts Ensemble, is an all-instrumental record; it was Top Ten on Soundscan’s traditional jazz chart; and it is anything but traditional.
Lexington is fiercely progressive jazz, recalling Kramer’s late-Sixties avant-jamming nights with the MC5. The album is also a soundtrack, Kramer’s score to a new documentary, The Narcotics Farm, about the pursuit of creative freedom inside an institution the guitarist knew painfully well: the federal penitentiary in Lexington, Kentucky.
In 1975, Kramer was caught selling cocaine to an undercover officer. The price was two years at Lexington where he played in a prison band with the be-bop-jazz trumpeter Red Rodney, a fellow inmate,and became the opening line in the Clash‘s 1978 homage “Jail Guitar Doors”: “Let me tell you about Wayne and his deals with cocaine.”
Four decades later, Kramer was approached by the team making The Narcotics Farm – as a subject. “They were looking for musicians, artists, who had served a sentence at Lexington,” Kramer, 66, says. “I asked them who was doing the music for the film. They said they hadn’t thought about it yet. I said, ‘I’m eminently qualified.'” Kramer made Lexington with friends and improvisors from Detroit and Los Angeles, including Dr. Charles Moore, a trumpeter and educator who first recorded with Kramer on the MC5’s 1971 album, High Time. “He played so beautifully on Lexington,” Kramer says. “We collaborated on the compositions and talked about the themes a great deal. In a way, the record gave me a way to express my feelings about my incarceration and mass incarceration in general, in my first language, which is music.”