"The countless lives he’s touched, healed, helped and saved will continue his spirit and legacy" – musicians praise the life and legacy of MC5 guitarist and activist Wayne Kramer

Wayne Kramer of MC5 performs on stage at Alcatraz on November 21, 2018 in Milan, Italy
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tom Morello, Kim Thayil, Duff McKagan, Stevie Salas, Slash and Alice Cooper are amongst the musicians who have paid tribute to MC5 co-founder and guitarist  Wayne Kramer, who passed away at the age of 75 on 2 February.

According to a report by Blabbermoth.net, Kramer's close friend Jason Heath, who was also executive director of the nonprofit US or initiative Jail Guitar Doors Kramer formed alongside his wife Margaret Saadi Kramer and Billy Bragg, said the cause of death was pancreatic cancer.

The Detroit band made a seismic impact in the alternative US rock scene with 1969 live album Kick Out The Jams, a record that would go on to musicians around the world – and could be considered the beginnings of what would later be called punk rock. But Kramer's work away from music was just as integral to the inspiring legacy he leaves. 

The original MC5 lineup of Kramer, would record two more albums – 1970's Back In the USA and and 1971's High Time – before splitting in 1972 at the peak of their powers. Drummer Dennis Thompson is the sole surviving member of that original band consisting of singer Rob Tyner, Kramer, guitarist Fred 'Sonic' Smith and bassist Michael Davis.

Tyner passed away in 1991 at the age of 46, and Smith died in 1994 at the same age, both from heart attacks. Davis would continue to play reunion gigs with Kramer and Thompson after 2003 until he passed away from liver failure in 2012, aged 68.

In the last couple of years Kramer has celebrated the music of the band with We Are All MC5 gigs, featuring a touring lineup that included singer Brad Brooks, drummer Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction, bassist Vicki Randle (Mavis Staples), and guitarist Stevie Salas (David Bowie). There were plans to release a studio album later this year. 

"I love you Wayne Kramer", Salas wrote in tribute following the news of the guitarist's passing. "You gave a lot of people a foundation to fly from. When you asked me to play guitar with you I didn’t think anything other than YES. I will miss you my friend. RIP legend."

Kim Thayil was another guitarist who had joined Kramer in recent years to perform music of the MC5 alongside his Soundgarden bandmate, drummer Matt Cameron and the band posted the following salute to Kramer on social media."






Brother Wayne Kramer"

Tom Morello's band Rage Against The Machine covered the MC5's Kick Out The Jams on their Renegades covers album, and clearly drew heavily on the band's spirit – musically and politically as activists.

"Brother Wayne Kramer was the best man I’ve ever known," wrote Morello in a lengthy tribute to his friend. "He possessed a one-of-a-kind mixture of deep wisdom and profound compassion, beautiful empathy and tenacious conviction. 

"His band the MC5 basically invented punk rock music and was the only act to not chicken out and performed for the rioting protestors at the 1968 Dem National Convention. 

"I’m pretty sure every album I’ve ever worked on the rawest fastest track had the working title 'MC5' (Sleep Now In The Fire for example). Wayne came through personal trials of fire with drugs and jail time (the Clash song Jail Guitar Doors was written about Wayne) and emerged a transformed soul who went on to save countless lives through his tireless acts of service. 

Whenever any charity or union or human rights activist event was coming up Wayne would always heed the call

"He and his incredible wife Margaret founded @jailguitardoorsusa which founds music programs in prisons as life-changing effective rehabilitation. I’ve played with Wayne in prisons and watched him transform lives, he was just unbelievable. Wayne had a soft heart but was also Detroit tough as nails. A couple of months ago (at 75 years old) Wayne beat the crap out of an intruder in his home that menaced his family. And whenever any charity or union or human rights activist event was coming up Wayne would always heed the call. ALWAYS. 

"From our Frostbite And Freedom performances during the Madison union uprising to Wayne 'Chainsaw' Kramer knee-deep in fire ants in the 9th Ward in New Orleans post-Katrina reclaiming living spaces for those affected. Helping folks get sober. Helping ex-cons find a job. Helping at-risk youth start careers in music. Wayne was a guardian angel to so many. 

"But mostly Wayne was a great friend, a beautiful comrade, and an older brother who helped me to forgive myself for making mistakes, take chances with my music, and never be afraid to help those in need. The countless lives he’s touched, healed, helped and saved will continue his spirit and legacy. 

"He was like a non-fiction Tom Joad. Whenever and wherever any of us kick out the jams, Brother Wayne will be right there with us. (If you want to honor Wayne, donations to @jailguitardoorsusa would be the way to do it)."

Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan also looked up to Wayne as a role model, and got to experience that in a musical environment.

"Just a supremely sweet man, and one hell of a rock and roll fire-starter," McKagan wrote on Twitter. "My story with WK started one day in the '90s when we connected to do Mad For The Racket with Clem Burke, Brian James...and Wayne himself. I was in punk rock heaven around this bunch... and Wayne led us through the whole record with grace and HUMOR! He's been a leader to me and for me... ever since. We will so miss you Wayne."

McKagan's Guns bandmate Slash echoes these sentiments. "My life was forever changed for the better when I met this man and I'm going to miss him immeasurably. The embodiment of all things rock n' roll and a really fucking great human being. RIP Wayne, you will live on in our hearts."

I always respected how passionate he was about his charity Jail Guitar Doors which helped give prisoners access to music, guitars and often hope for their future

Alice Cooper went further back with Kramer than most as a fellow punk rock pioneer, and their friendship and collaborations would continue over the years. 

“I’ve known Wayne since 1968 in Detroit, and we’ve worked together often and as late as last year," wrote Cooper in a statement. "He had a big life, and I always respected how passionate he was about his charity Jail Guitar Doors which helped give prisoners access to music, guitars and often hope for their future. [Producer] Bob Ezrin and I considered Wayne one of our favorite people, and we will miss collaborating with him tremendously.”

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.