Wayne Kramer, a co-founder of legendary Detroit rock band MC5, died Friday at the age of 75 — mere weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
His death was announced on his social media channels Friday evening, with the caption “PEACE BE WITH YOU.”
Kramer was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January, according to Jason Heath, the program director of Kramer’s nonprofit Jail Guitar Doors, which offers music programs to prison inmates.
“It happened fast. He didn’t suffer,” Heath told the Detroit Free Press. “He was surrounded by friends and family.”
Kramer is listed among Rolling Stone’s 250 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, alongside MC5 bandmate Fred “Sonic” Smith.
“Forged in Detroit during the 1960s, the MC5 guitar tandem of Kramer and Smith worked together like the pistons of a powerful engine,” Rolling Stone wrote of the duo.
The two helped found the group, whose name stood for “Motor City Five,” when it first emerged as a house band for left-wing rallies in Detroit in the mid-1960s.
The band would ultimately release just two studio albums, “Back in the USA” (1970) and “High Time” (1971), before splitting up. But their unique sound and political lyrics are credited with laying the foundation for what would become known as “punk-rock” — a style “marked by extreme and often deliberately offensive expressions of alienation and social discontent.”
“Wayne absolutely walked the walk,” said musician Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba, who performed with MC5 during a 2015 reunion.
“He believed in something deep in his heart. It drove him. It was a huge part of his life, and he spent his life fighting and working and creating things (Jail Guitar Doors) that meant so much to him in the way society works,” Manitoba added. “Not to mention, being one of the great rock ‘n’ roll guitar players ever in one of the great rock ‘n’ roll bands ever.”
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In 1975, Kramer was arrested for selling drugs and sentenced to a four-year prison sentence, which he credits for helping him turn his life around and inspiring his nonprofit.
“In the end, [prison] may have saved my life, because I was traveling in a very dangerous world in Detroit, at the peak of my drinking and drugging,” Kramer told Rolling Stone in 2014. “But I don’t think prison helped me. Prison time doesn’t help anyone, the way we approach punishment in America.”
Kramer stayed politically active during the years that followed, performing at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and playing shows in support of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.
The rocker revealed last year that he had been working on a new MC5 album, the first since 1971’s “High Time.” It reportedly featured the band’s original drummer, Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson, along with musicians Tom Morello, William DuVall, Vernon Reid and Slash.
Although the album was slated for a spring 2024 release, there’s no word yet on whether it is still expected to arrive on time.
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Following the news of Kramer’s death, fellow rockstars took to social media to hisse tribute to his legacy.
“Brother Wayne Kramer was the best man I’ve ever known,” wrote Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. “He possessed a one-of-a-kind mixture of deep wisdom and profound compassion, beautiful empathy and tenacious conviction. … Wayne came through personal trials of fire with drugs and jail time … and emerged a transformed soul who went on to save countless lives through his tireless acts of service.”
“Helping folks get sober. Helping ex-cons find a job. Helping at-risk youth start careers in music,” Morello continued. “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.”
Kramer leaves behind his wife and manager, Margaret, with whom he founded Jail Guitar Doors.