not all those who wander are lost

This thread will be delving deeper into the local history of one of the greatest bands in rock-n-roll, the MC5. These guys all grew up together in Lincoln Park, Michigan – a downriver suburban Detroit city.

Wayne Kramer (Wayne Kambes) Rob Tyner (Robert Derminer)
Frederick Dewey Smith (Fred “Sonic” Smith), Dennis “Machinegun” Thompson and Michael Davis

The leader of the band who started as lead guitarist, Wayne Kramer, changed his name to disassociate from his estraged father. Singer Rob Tyner took his name from McCoy Tyner, jazz genius John Coltrane’s piano player.

Fred “Sonic” Smith was originally from West Virginia, and moved north in his early teens. The name “sonic” came after he purchased a Fender Duo-Sonic guitar. Fred didnt care for the guitar, which was a short scale “student” model of the Fender Mustang, and returned it. The name stayed.

Fred would later become most known for playing a Mosrite guitar, and later the Rickenbacker 450. The impact of his genius ripples through rock history to this day: you will notice that Johnny Ramone happened to choose the Mosrite guitar, as did Kurt Cobain. This wasnt because they listened to the Ventures.

The concept that the work of Sonic Smith spawned a whole new generation of punk and grunge and alternative rock is crystallized in the name of the band “Sonic Youth” who named themselves in deference to the source.

In his post MC5 days, Fred had a band called Sonic’s Rendezvous which is known now as “the best band you’ve never heard of”.

This is the 1959 Fender Duo-Sonic that I grew up playing.

The bands manager, John Sinclair, became as infamous as the MC5. John is a great poet.

Here is John in modern times at last years Jazz Festival in Detroit. He remains an activist, artist, writer and continues to be a vital part of the Detroit art and music community.

After the breakup of the 5, the various members moved to different places and continued on with their lives.

Rob Tyner was always the most domestic and grounded member of the band. He ended up moving with his wife and kids to the sleepy bedroom community of Berkley, Michigan. He formed bands and worked with local Viet Nam vets on various charity projects. He stayed very close to the arts community in Detroit’s Cultural Center around WSU, CCS and the DIA.

On September 17, 1991 Rob went to a Berkley grocery to do some shopping. When he arrived home he had a massive heart attack and crashed his car into his sons car in the driveway of his home. He was found slumped over the wheel and was pronounced dead at Royal Oaks William Beaumont Hospital shortly after. He was survived by his wife and two children.

Rob Tyner was laid to rest wearing an MC5 tshirt at Roseland Cemetery in Berkley.

The man who created all the MC5s Grande Ballroom poster art, Gary Grimshaw, grew up with the 5 in Lincoln Park. He designed this monument for Robs gravesite.

On the flipside of the monument we see the name of the persona that is known to history, Robin Tyner. “Let Me Be Who I Am” is taken from the themesong Kick out the Jams, – its says all that can be said about this wonderful guy. By all accounts a peaceful and friendly person who was well read, spiritual and a very good artist who drew all sorts of hilarious cartoons. Robs “spirit guide” was the Buffalo. The inscripted buffalo on his tombstone is from his own drawing.

Rest in peace Brother.

Fred Sonic Smith went on to form Sonic;s Rendezvous. New York poet and musician Patti Smith happened to be introduced to Fred right here at Detroit’s famous Lafayette Coney Island. She never heard of him or the 5, but liked him instantly and invited his band to open for hers. After Fred left the Coney, Patti asked a friend who he actually was. “The best” was the answer.

This is the Old Mariners Church along Jefferson on the river. This church became the stuff of local legend after the Edmund Fitzgerald was lost in Michigans Lake Superior near Whitefish Bay. Gordon Lightfoot recalls the tale in the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

“In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
At the Maritime Sailors Cathedral
The churchbell chimed, until it rang 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald”

Every year to the day they still hold the service and ring that bell.

Fred “Sonic” Smith and Patti Smith were married here at the Old Mariners Church.

Fred and Patti settled down here in the lakeside community of Saint Clair Shores, Michigan – the city where my parents lived when I was born, and just a couple miles from where I live now.

In the late 1980’s, Freds health began to decline.

This is St. John Hospital in Detroit where I was born.

After collapsing at their home, Fred was rushed here to St. John. He passed away on Friday, November 4, 1994. His last public performance was a charity benefit for Rob Tyners children.

Fred “Sonic” Smith was laid to rest in the gorgeous pastoral setting of Detroits historic Elmwood Cemetery. His grave marker is one of the most striking an unique I have ever seen, which is entirely appropriate. He rests among the giants of Detroits history, Mayor Colman A. Young, the Strohs Family, members of the Ford family, governors, war heroes, firefighters…

According to Patti:

“The stones on his grave are ancient ship
markers from the coast of Ireland.
A master carver who was nearly 90
years old inscripted it.”

Look, some people might get teary or sentimental going to Graceland to see where Elvis is buried, or at Arlington to see the graves of John or Robert Kennedy. I guess people who know about MC5 and Sonic Smith will understand my reaction when I was first here. That’s all I have to say about that.

Fred was survived by a daughter, a son and his wife Patti. His son is a brilliant guitarist.

Patti had two memorial decorations installed on the Mariners Church where they were wed. Subtle and integrated, unless somebody told you, you may never notice that they are not part of the original church design.
This one is above the entrance on the south side facing the river and Canada.

This one is on the tower facing downtown.

Wayne, Dennis and Michael are all alive and well out there. They have reunited as the 5 on occasion, and they all have played in various band projects. Wayne has released several albums of material and occasionally tours. He is still an incredible guitarist.

In hindsight it now all seems so sad. But there’s an old abandoned ballroom out on Grand River where history will echo loudly in our collective memories forever.


14 Responses to Kick out the Jams

  • One more comment and I’ll shut up! There’s a shot in the MC5 doc. of Wayne playing a Epiphone just like the one Strings from the Hellacopters plays (on their website, he says it’s a ’64). I think one of the most poignant scenes in that movie is after Wayne tells the story of how he left the stage halfway through their final set, he just looks into nothing for what seems like an eternity. Moving stuff indeed!

  • wow…great read! Thank you

  • Thanks for the spellcheck Pam. Ive never found any reference that she knew or had ever heard of Fred or the 5 prior. These stories all change and shift each time they are told though. The stuff of legend.

  • Patti Smith spells her name with an “i”. Also I had always heard that she did know who Fred was had been an MC5 fan.

  • Susan L. – nobodys laughing dear, the idea is to spread the word. Go out and buy the live Kick Out The Jams album asap !

    Anon – yep yep, my pal Steve hooked me up with a boot of the MC5 documentary. I wish there was more live footage with intact sountrack – but beggars cant be chosers. The b&w footage from the Wayne State concert are amazing, especially “looking at you”.

    Livedog2 – yep yep, new camera at work now. Havent had the opportunity to really try it out just yet – but Ive been shooting with it for a couple weeks. Nikon rocks. As always thanks for the encouragement. Sorry I missed your call when you were in town recently, I was over my head busy for bout a week there.

  • You must be using your new photo equipment because your images use to be awesome now they’re so good that I don’t have an adjective that adequately describes them properly other than to say that you are in a class of your own!!!!! The best photographers will stand in awe of your work!!!!!!!! I know I do!!!!!!!!!!! And, the tribute to the MC5 stands by itself as a sincere echo of their greatness that revirbirates off of their passing through this space and time!!!!!!! Ave Atque Vale!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • there’s been a lot of activity at tiger’s stadium on last month or so. 2 sundays ago I parked, walked past about 8 trailers and started to walk through an opening. a “represntative” for tigers asks me what i want. i say what’s going on here? he says nothing you need to see.

    The garage door lend right to the field. At least they should let tours on the field before it gets leveled.

  • excellent post…. there’s a newish MC5 dvd floating around with a lot of live clips and a fair amount of their music. Good stuff.

  • I can’t believe I’d never heard of (and don’t laugh) MC5 until now. Man, I’d been missing out! Anyway, your tribute to them was great. Too bad about that legendary ballroom. It must have been awesome to have been there when MC5 rocked the stage.

  • That was a phenomincal piece of posting. Thanks.

  • Great Photo Tribute Df..
    Lest we forget, acts like the Clash and the Sex Pistols also listed the 5 as critical influences. The MC5 had only one aim in their live shows and that was to lay waste to their audiences. They consistently did. Grande Impresario Russ Gibb has said “had the MC5 come of age in the media capitols of NYC or L.A. they would have been bigger than the Rolling Stones”.
    However, I don’t think that the MC5 could ever have existed without Detroit!

  • Yeah pdtpuck, and those Crestwoods were pretty rare – I think a run of only about 200. When I was a kid a friend named Lorne had one, it was kind of an odd guitar to play – strange feeling neck joint. You can also see Wayne playing Freds Crestwood in Europe in some film clips. Epi’s are good guitars and highly underrated to this day.

    Early on they played various guitars. Fred played a Gretsch Tennessean like George Harrisons. Wayne played all sorts of stuff – hes known for the flag covered Stratocasters, but he also used a Dan Armstrong, an SG and a few other things.

  • Awesome tribute dFunk.

  • sweet, dF. Didn’t Fred Smith also play a Epiphone Crestwood at some point in his career? Nicke & Strings from the Hellacopters play copies of them as a tribute.