MC5 & Stooges: 50 Years Of Influence

In late September, 1968, the MC5 signed a major label contract with Elektra Records. The legendary band was based in Ann Arbor at that time, notorious for their ability to rouse up the rebellious spirit of their audiences. “The 5” negotiated Elektra’s promise to also sign their sister band, The Stooges. On Devil’s Night, 50 years ago, they “kicked out the jams,” recording their debut album live at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. This year, MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer has assembled members of Soundgarden, Fugazi, and King’s X to form MC50–an anniversary supergroup stopping in Detroit (October 26 at St Andrews + Oct 27 at the Fillmore). We spoke with luminaries from the contemporary music scene to guage the lasting influence of those local bands five decades later.

Hiawatha Bailey, lead singer of The Cult Heroes: They represented the sound of the Motor City: living in the industrialized economy, they brought that kind of focus in with their music, the revolutionary aspect of it, music speaking for the party politics. It was more than just going to a concert, you would be getting political education. In terms of influencing other bands… a lot of bands would love to have that kind of influence. People changed their lifestyle based on the music and the politics that it was representing.

Kirsten Carey (aka Throwaway), a Detroit musical artist with Ann Arbor ties: I think it’s downright incredible that Elektra signed both bands – there’s a nearly-zero percent probability that a major label would take that kind of chance today. It’s even riskier for them to make that kind of a gamble now. I think it’s important that “fringe bands” like the MC5 and the Stooges are given the opportunity to make their way into mainstream consciousness, so that people can be confronted by the new ideas in their music, their message, and their demeanor. It’s healthy for pop culture to be challenged like that..

Brent Barrington, bassist for Ann Arbor rock/post-punk band Human Skull: Their influence is essentially inestimable; if you played “Kick Out The Jams” for someone for the first time, it’d probably sound familiar if they’ve ever listened to any punk or garage rock. Their radical left wing politics were central to their presentation, but in a really welcoming and empowering way. They were heavy as a truck, louder than hell, partied hard, and made you question your culture after it went down.

Joel Parkkila, Human Skull’s guitarist: We can imagine a universe where they’d have made even better music if the bands went completely wild in the studio, but then again it’s possible they needed to bristle against the constraints of the existing structures to make what turned out to be pretty revolutionary art

Dustin Krcatovich, writer (FLOOD Magazine,) Co-founder of IMPERMANENT Projects (Portland): The reason their influence stretches further (than punk/rock)— to krautrock, to techno, to noise, and so on— is that they combine that directness and lack of pretension with unabashedly arty impulses. (But) I think it’s a misnomer to qualify Elektra as particularly bold for signing either (band). The MC5 had a HUGE amount of hype around them after barnstorming the ‘68 Democratic Convention, to where they were on the cover of Rolling Stone before they even had a record out! It didn’t even matter if they were any good… a major label was GOING to sign them, if only to cash in quick. Yes, you could argue that they were risky because they were politically dangerous, but Elektra dropped them like a hot potato the second they caused substantial trouble…

Chris Taylor, guitarist/singer and organizer of Ann Arbor’s Fuzz Fest: All credit (for MC5/Stooges getting signed) goes to (A&R legend) Danny Fields–Elektra’s ‘freak in residence.’ There were other bands in Michigan pushing the limits, Bob Seger, Rationals, The Up. This area was really receptive to that gung-ho/give-it-all-you-got kinda rock ‘n’ roll. And there were other bands that were pretty crazy but it might have been more of an act; Iggy was unhinged— and you believed it! The MC5, I love how confrontational they were— I wish there was a band like the MC5 now, motivating young people and speaking out politically like they did. I can’t imagine a world without those (first two MC5/Stooges) records!

Christine Gliha, lead singer for Ypsi-based rock quartet Cig Butts: We’ve had a couple musical mentors that grew up around the scene at that time who influenced us quite a bit. They’ve drawn parallels between what was going on then in this area and what is happening now. It’s an honor to hear that from older generations, and always great fun to hear of tales of the old Grande Ballroom and outdoor concerts in Ann Arbor. (Cig Butts) played in the old MC5/White Panther Party’s house on Hill St. in Ann Arbor. Now a days it’s a student co-op and is renowned for hosting Lutherfest every summer which features a thrall of local bands and is about as close as it gets to a 1970 house show.

8pm – Friday | Oct 26
St Andrew’s Hall $35
431 E Congress St, Detroit, MI 48226

8pm – Saturday | Oct 27
Fillmore Theater
2115 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

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Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

Jeff Milo
Jeff Milo
Jeff covers music for Current, posting weekly show previews and highlighting new bands in the area.

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