MC5 1967

MC5 in 1967

Less a band party crash pad and more a political commune, the MC5 (Motor City 5) house in Ann Arbor was actually one of two houses, side by side, taken over by John Sinclair. The group moved out to the other unit A2 following constant harassment by the Detroit police, though Sinclair’s presence meant that they weren’t really left alone here either. Other residents included rockers The Up and countless artists and political activists. Ann Arbor had an influential music scene that would also incubate breakout groups like the Stooges, SRC, Bob Seger…and the list goes on and on.

This video was shot in the Wayne State Univ. studios, for the show, “Conversations in Depth.” It aired on ch. 56, and was hosted by Seymour Ricklin. That night’s show topic was “The Hippies.” John Sinclair and Harvey Ovshinsky on the panel, with a few other undefined panelists.

The MC5 have always been known for their live performances, their explosive sound and their politically-charged lyrics and themes. The music also reflected Smith and Kramer’s increasing interest in free jazz—the guitarists were inspired by the likes of Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra and late period John Coltrane, and tried to imitate the ecstatic sounds of the squealing, high-pitched saxophonists they adored. MC5 even later opened for a few U.S. midwest shows for Sun Ra, whose influence is obvious in “Starship” that quotes his poetry and credits Sun Ra as a co-writer. Playing nearly every night in clubs and theaters in and around Detroit, the band’s reputation earned them a spot on the cover of Rolling Stone early on.

MC5 Rolling Stone Cover

The MC5 earned a headline on Rolling Stone Magazine before they were signed

Much of the MC5’s political connections stem from a character behind the scenes. The band’s manager, John Sinclair, was an outspoken activist, associated with the Fifth Estate Work, the White Panthers, and a host of other politically dissident characters and groups of the era.

Their manager John Sinclair American poet, writer, and political activist is also known for his defining jazz poetry style. As a young poet in the mid-1960s, Sinclair started managing the Detroit rock band MC5. The band’s politically charged music and its Yippie core audience dovetailed with Sinclair’s own radical development. In 1968, he audaciously founded the White Panther Party, a militantly anti-racist socialist group and counterpart of the Black Panthers while working with the band.

Sinclair managed the proto-punk-band MC5 from 1966 to 1969. Under his guidance, the band embraced the counter-culture revolutionary politics of the White Panther Party, founded in answer to the Black Panthers’ call for white people to support their movement. During this period, Sinclair booked “The Five” as the regular house band at Detroit’s famed Grande Ballroom in what came to be known as the “Kick out the Jams” shows. He was managing the MC5 at the time of their infamous free concert outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The band was the only group to perform before baton-wielding police broke up the massive anti-Vietnam war rally, calling it a riot. Eventually, the MC5 came to find Sinclair’s politics too heavy-handed.

The Motor City 5 was:
Rob Tyner (1944-1991) – Vocals
Wayne Kramer – Guitar
Fred “Sonic” Smith – Guitar
Michael Davis – Bass
Dennis Thompson – Drums


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