Billy Bragg and Wayne Kramer – Musicians, Jail Guitar Doors Co-Founders
Musicians and activists Billy Bragg and Wayne Kramer came together in 2009 to form Jail Guitar Doors, a non-profit organization that provides musical instruments and opportunities to help rehabilitate prisoners. The organization's name comes from a 1977 song by The Clash called "Jail Guitar Doors," which detailed the...More
Musicians and activists Billy Bragg and Wayne Kramer came together in 2009 to form Jail Guitar Doors, a non-profit organization that provides musical instruments and opportunities to help rehabilitate prisoners. The organization's name comes from a 1977 song by The Clash called "Jail Guitar Doors," which detailed the imprisonment of their hero, the MC5's Wayne Kramer.
British anti-folk rocker Billy Bragg is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Born Stephen William Bragg in 1957 in Essex, England, he came of age during the punk explosion of the mid-to-late ’70s. He began writing increasingly socially conscious songs that borrowed from both the punk and folk ethos—songs of angst, protest, dissatisfaction and change—after serving a few months in the the British Army.
Bragg's first album, Life's a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, was released originally on Utility in May 1983 and then re-released in November 1983 on Go! Discs and hit the UK Top 30 in early 1984. His follow-up, Brewing Up with Billy Bragg (Cooking Vinyl), was influenced by the economic and societal transformations occuring in England due to Margaret Thatcher's policies, and he often appeared at political rallies and benefits. These two albums, along with his third EP, Between the Wars (Go! Discs, 1985), were eventually bundled together on the 1987 compilation, Back to Basics (Elektra).
In 1986 Bragg released Talking with the Taxman about Poetry (Go! Discs), which became his most successful album to date and even hit the top ten on the British album charts. Two years later, after touring with other like-minded bands including The Style Council, Madness, and The Smiths, in an effort to persuade younger voters to vote Labour in the next election, Bragg released the Joe Boyd-produced album, Workers Playtime (Go! Discs, 1988), which featured a backing band for the first time. That same year, Bragg scored a #1 hit on the UK charts with his cover of The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home,” recorded for a children's charity project. Bragg released three albums of his own material in the '90s: The Internationale (Go! Discs, 1990); Don’t Try This At Home (Go! Discs, 1991) which featured his hit song "Sexuality"; and William Bloke (Elektra, 1996), a return to the stripped down albums of Bragg's past and a shift in focus toward family, as he was a new father.
Bragg was approached by Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora about setting new music to some of Guthrie's 2,500 unfinished songs. He collaborated with Wilco on what would become Mermaid Avenue (Elektra, 1998) and Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (Elektra, 2000), both of which were nominated for Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Following the Mermaid Avenue sessions, Bragg toured with a new backing band, The Blokes, eventually releasing a new album with them, England, Half English (Elektra, 2002). In 2003, a double album was released featuring 40 tracks from his career called Must I Paint You a Picture?: The Essential Billy Bragg. In 2008, Bragg released a solo album called Mr. Love & Justice (Cooking Vinyl), followed by 2011's Fight Songs, a compilation of songs previously released as free downloads. In March 2013, Bragg released his first new studio album in five years, Tooth & Nail (Essential Music).
Wayne Kramer is a guitarist, singer, songwriter, and film/television composer. Kramer co-founded the MC5 in Detroit, Michigan in 1964 with his friend, guitarist Fred Smith. The band went through some lineup changes in its first years, but settled with vocalist Rob Tyner (who actually renamed the band MC5), bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson. The band quickly became known for their live performances and often overshadowed the groups for which they opened. MC5 was signed to the new Elektra record label in 1968, and released their first album, Kick Out the Jams, which was recorded live over two nights in Detroit. Their second album, Back In the USA (Atlantic, 1970), featured a radically different sound, which the band later attributed to producer Jon Landau, and garnered mixed reviews. Their third album, High Time (Atlantic, 1971), was the band's final album. Atlantic dropped the band after losing money on Back In the USA and High Time, and bassist Michael Davis left the band, in part due to his drug use. MC5 performed a reunion show in Detroit on New Year's Eve in 1972, but with only a fraction of their usual audience on hand, the show ended after a few songs and the band broke up permanently shortly thereafter.
Like Billy Bragg, Kramer and the MC5 were influenced by the punk movment and were involved in politics. MC5 was briefly managed by John Sinclair, who founded the White Panthers, a militant organization influenced by and supporting the Black Panthers. The band also incorporated unloaded rifles into their stage shows early in their career, and performed for eight hours at a protest against the Vietnam War at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The protest was broken up by a police riot and the event was featured in the documentary Get Up, Stand Up: The Story of Pop and Protest.
In 1975, Kramer was caught selling drugs to federal agents and went to prison for over two years. While in jail, Kramer practiced guitar and regularly performed with a prison band, including jazz trumpeter Red Rodney. After he was released from prison, Kramer moved to New York and worked as a carpenter, in addition to playing music and recording/producing music for other artists. In 1991, Kramer and the other surviving members of the MC5 reunited for a benefit show for the family of vocalist Rob Tyner, who had died of a heart attack at age 46. Fred Smith also died early of a heart attack, at age 45 in 1994.
In 1995, Kramer released his first solo album, The Hard Stuff (Epitaph), which he self-produced. He released four more albums in the following years: Dangerous Madness (1996), Citizen Wayne (1997), the live album LLMF (1999), and Adult World (2002). In 2001, Kramer and his wife/manager Margaret Saadi Kramer formed MuscleTone Records. The new label partnered with Levi's for a televised live performance with the surviving members of the MC5 and guests, which was such a success that it led a world tour lasting several years. In addition to his solo work, Kramer has scored music for television and film, including Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Bobby Ricky, Step Brothers, and Eastbound & Down.
Following a 2009 performance for inmates at Sing Sing prison, Kramer founded Jail Guitar Doors with Billy Bragg and Margaret Saadi Kramer. For his work with JGD, which includes providing instruments for inmates and playing prison concerts across the US, Kramer was given the Artistic License Award by the California Lawyers for the Arts. On September 6, 2013, Kramer and Bragg held a benefit concert for JGD at the Ford Theatre in Los Angeles, and that day was declared "Jail Guitar Doors Day" by Hollywood Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell.Less