The 30 Most Badass Guitarists of All Time
WAYNE KRAMER & FRED "SONIC" SMITH
Born April 14, 1948 (Kramer); September 13, 1949 (Smith; died November 4, 1994)
Bands The MC5 (both), Gang War (Kramer), Sonic Rendezvous Band (Smith)
Iconic Guitars Custom Strat with American Flag finish (Kramer); Mosrite Ventures (Smith)
Coolest Riff “Ramblin’ Rose”—Kick Out the Jams (MC5)
The MC5 were the nexus where radical politics and proto-punk belligerence first came together. This dangerous mixture touched off an explosion that’s still rocking the world today. The group burst out of Detroit in the cataclysmic year of 1969, with its roots firmly planted in mid-Sixties garage rock, and mutated by injections of inner-city R&B and free-jazz mayhem.
The MC5 was founded by guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith, friends since their teen years and veterans of the Detroit garage rock scene. They honed a two-guitar attack that owed much to the heavy rock sounds being popularized at the time by acts like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin. But Kramer and Smith laid down their riffs with more reckless abandon and a greater sense of desperate urgency than any of those groups.
Many Sixties rock acts made political statements, but the MC5 were among the first rockers to make a serious commitment to revolution, aligning themselves closely with the White Panther Party (a Black Panther offshoot organization) and effectively serving as the White Panthers’ agitprop machine. Their blue-collar Detroit roots lent a certain gritty gravitas to their stance. These weren’t effete rock stars dabbling in left wing chic but working-class guerrillas with ammo belts strapped across their bare chests and guitars brandished as rifles.
Kramer served a prison sentence on drug-related charges after the MC5 split up. When he got out, he teamed up with Johnny Thunders to form Gang War and later re-emerged as a solo artist on L.A. punk label Epitaph. Smith went on to lead the punishingly loud Sonic Rendezvous Band and married New York punk rock poet, artist, singer and originator Patti Smith. He passed away in 1994. But from the Clash to Fugazi, Crass and Green Day, the politicized wing of punk rock continues to fly the banner first raised by the Motor City 5.