The Detroit area added another notch this month to its already impressive musical contributions when suburban Lincoln Park paid homage to hometown band The Motor City 5 with its “50 Years of the Motor City Five: MC5 Exhibition.”
As part of that tribute, a large crowd of rockers, fans, promoters and artists turned out for a new exhibit running until Labor Day at the Lincoln Park Historical Museum. It shared a debut with the newly-renovated Kennedy Memorial Park Band Shell, benefiting from community and state fundraising procurement.
Museum donations include vintage rock memorabilia and fan paraphernalia hearkening back to Detroit’s garage-band days of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Pieces were loaned by local creatives — like the late pioneering poster-artist Gary Grimshaw — and band family members such as Becky Tyner, who sewed many of her husband’s psychedelic outfits.
The MC5, united until 1973, garnered national attention during 1968’s renowned riot at the Chicago-based Democratic National Convention. The group, also part of the era’s political movements, was affiliated with the White Panther Party (WPP) and Yippies (Youth International Party) via manager John Sinclair and his then-wife, photographer Leni Sinclair.
MC5 musicians included lead singer Rob Tyner (Derminer), lead guitarists Fred “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer (Kambes), bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson (Tomich). Billed as Detroit’s loudest band, they punctuated shows with nudity, political activism and profanity-laced lyrics, resulting in arrests, beatings and similar fallout from police and authority figures.
Sinclair, the group’s promoter and conscience, was the Ann Arbor-based WPP’s co-founder and “minister of information.” That primary link to political controversy ultimately spread globally, attracting the attention and support of other revolutionaries. Former Beatle John Lennon was among several musicians and artists to raise funds and awareness for Sinclair’s 10-year jail sentence for marijuana possession of two joints.
Kramer, now in Los Angeles, and Thompson, of Southgate, are the only surviving bandmates. Thompson, 66 and so nicknamed due to a staccato drumming style, appeared at the Lincoln Park unveiling. He expressed appreciation for the “grass roots” honor, comparing it to more “meaningless” salutes via frivolous inductions into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Thompson posed for photos with fans and fellow musicians, including The Secrets’ Bob Slap, who traveled from Indiana for the event.
“John Lennon and Bob Dylan were both addressing issues and politics in their lyrics, but the MC5 was the first band I knew that went totally political in their performances once they hooked up with John Sinclair and the White Panthers,” said Slap, also a founding member of Roseville’s Tidal Waves. The latter had a still-memorable musical hit with “Farmer John.”
“The MC5’s performances became political statements inducing rebellion, anarchy and revolution,” continued the 64-year-old Slap. “And, besides that, they were the loudest band in town.”
Slap, who now lives in rural Indiana on a farm-with-music-studio, was also part of L.A.’s entertainment scene. He added, “There were a lot of garage rock bands of that era that went on to local success in Detroit — the Epidemic, Shy Guys, Wanted, SRC, Rationals, Southbound Freeway, etc. With the Tidal Waves, we were a good band who practiced hard and made our own records that we heavily promoted. As a result, ‘Farmer John’ made it to #1 here in the early days of 60’s Detroit rock. I hope we inspired other musicians and artists to follow suit and pursue their own dreams and ambitions.
“I wasn’t in Detroit long enough to initially make a lasting impression on the local music scene, but I think my work in L.A. with John Angelos of Mighty Quick contributed to the ‘New Wave’ and ‘Punk’ music revival in the late 70’s, when we returned here. John formed The Torpedos and I joined The Secrets — both bands had that edgy Detroit sound and there was a great music scene alive again in Detroit from 1979 to 1981.”
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