the hard stuff - The I-94 Bar
It’s a truism that stated fact sits at one end of the scale and fiction at the other, with the truth lying somewhere in-between. Ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer has been a divisive figure at times - the stillborn “A True Testimonial” documentary, anyone? - so parts of his story will be disputed by some.
Ultimately, though, it’s pointless buying into all that. “The Hard Stuff” is Kramer’s own story and it’s told from his own perspective. None of the other people still standing are offering alternative perspectives (although the posthumous autobiography from bandmate Mike Davis is out there, too.) On its merits, “The Hard Stuff” is a rollicking read with only a few stones left unturned.
The plotline for dummies: Kramer’s the working class Detroit kid from a broken family who shook off the handicap of an abusive stepfather and forged his own musical way. He was a founding member of the radical chic MC5 and remains a compellingly lyrical guitar player who’s influenced countless others.
“The Hard Stuff” takes us through the rise and fall of the 5, Kramer’s slide into crime, his imprisonment for drug dealing, ongoing battles with booze and smack, career revival and personal redemption through hard work and love.
FLASHBACK: First posted October 16, 1999: It's been quite an odyssey for Wayne Kramer. From 1964 to 1972, he was point man and Fender guitar terrorist for the legendary MC5, the Ur-American garage band turned psychedelic radicals whose high-energy jams prefigured much of the next 30 years of rock and roll dementia.
Kramer sat out a couple of years at the end of the 70s in Federal penitentiary on a drug charge, but resumed his career when he landed back on the street in 1979, playing in Gang War with Johnny Thunders, recording with Was (Not Was) and others.
Then in 1995, when a lot of people had written him off, he roared back into action with an album on Epitaph entitled "The Hard Stuff". Since then there have been three more Epitaph albums and a plethora of side projects.
Brother Wayne joined me at the bar on three different occasions, twice from his home in Hollywood, California and once from the L.A. studio where he's currently producing an album for Damned founder member and former Iggy Pop sideman Brian James.
I was just looking at my review of Bro. Wayne Kramer's reished "Hard Stuff" and I musta been outta my fuckin' mind when I wrote it...that album definitely rates five Rolling Rocks if anything does. Which made me wonder, why am I so hard on Wayne?
Out of print for two years? Shit, hard to believe, but it's good to have this one back in circulation (on Bro. Wayne's new label, with expanded versions of the rest of his Epitaph catalog and even the L-O-N-G gone "Death Tongue" set to follow in its wake - a reissue program long anticipated by true Rock Action devotees, especially those who missed out on 'em the first time). This was, after all, the one that started it all, solo-career wise, as well as serving notice to the world at large that Detroit rock'n'roll was alive and well in the '90s.