MC5's Wayne Kramer returns to jail with guitars
In this Jan. 16, 2012 photo, guitarist Wayne Kramer, founder of the band the MC5, plays one of the instruments that will be provided to jail inmates as part of the Jail Guitar Doors USA initiative at Kramer's recording studio in Los Angeles. The Jail Guitar Doors program provides instruments to inmates who are using music as a means of achieving rehabilitation. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — He spent two years in a federal lockup for trying to sell cocaine to undercover agents, and all Wayne Kramer can think about these days is trying to find a way to get back behind bars.
This time, though, the guitar god for rock music's seminal pre-punk band, the MC5, wants to bring his ax with him — and a few dozen others for the inmates to play.
With a little help from friends like the Foo Fighters' Chris Shiflett, former Guns 'N Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke and others, Kramer has formed Jail Guitar Doors USA.
He runs the nonprofit charitable organization with his wife, Margaret, out of the Hollywood studio where he makes a comfortable living these days composing music for movies and television. Over the past two years, Jail Guitar Doors USA has delivered scores of instruments to prisons and jails in Nevada, California and Texas.
"He's a great man. He's taken his skill, his talent and he's putting it to use, giving back to society," says Deputy David Bates, who has worked with Kramer in bringing guitars to several jails run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Bates, who calls music "the universal language," says he's seen the positive impact it has had on inmates.
So, Kramer says, has he. In his case, first hand.
"When I played music in prison, I wasn't in prison anymore," he says, as he sits in his studio over a lunch of vegetarian Thai food.
"And that's what we're trying to accomplish with the instrument donations," he continues. "That this is a way that you can get through this time, that you can go someplace else, you can get involved in your guitar."
Kramer, who is 63, is dressed in blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt over a white T. Although he still looks about as thin as he did in the days when he was tearing up tunes like "Kick Out the Jams," the huge white-guy Afro that once nearly defined him as much as his guitar has given way to thinning close-cropped hair.
He was still in his 20s when he arrived at the federal prison in Lexington, Ky., in the 1970s, scheduled to do four years for trying to sell $10,000 worth of cocaine.
In this Jan. 16, 2012 photo, guitarist Wayne Kramer, founder of the rock band the MC5, plays one of the guitars that will be provided to jail inmates as part of the Jail Guitar Doors USA initiative at his recording studio in Los Angeles. The Jail Guitar Doors program provides instruments to inmates who are using music as a means of achieving rehabilitation. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
The place was bleak and dispiriting, especially for someone who had been a rock star just a few years before. But Kramer would soon discover there was a music class there. It was taught by the legendary jazz trumpeter Red Rodney, who was doing time himself for a heroin bust.