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After 14 years, Wayne Kramer is back with a jazz album, 'Lexington'

Wayne Kramer

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Fifty years ago, the rock band MC5 got its start in Lincoln Park, Michigan. Fueled by the riffs of guitarist Wayne Kramer, MC5 came to be known as one of the greatest American hard rock bands of all time. 

But with his new album "Lexington," Kramer goes a different route. It's his first full length solo album in 14 years and it's all about Jazz, which you can hear on the track, "Chasing a Fire Engine."

The name Lexington refers to Lexington Federal Prison in Kentucky, a place Kramer spent some time for drug related charges. Kramer says that his prison experience from 40 years ago impacted his album now. 

"I make a living nowadays writing music for movies and television shows and I was hired to score a documentary on the United States Public Health Service Narcotics Farm at Lexington... That was the original designation of the facility. And it was America's first attempt to deal with drug addiction as a social problem.

It was built in the '30s in the progressive era. And through the forties and fifties and sixties they did research there and tried to come up with a cure for addiction. In the 1970s it was taken over by the federal bureau of prisons and I had the misfortune to end up there for a couple of years. So, you know, to score this film kind of dredged up all these memories that I kind of buried in my psyche. I combine that with my anger at hyper-incarceration in America.

I've watched for these 30 years as more and more regular people like me have gone to prison for longer and longer, more severe sentences for non violent economic drug crimes. And I thought you know, I had great musicians together, maybe I can repurpose some of these themes and use this album as leverage for this conversation about this national disaster of hyper incarceration.

Lexington has a storied history according to Kramer.

"Lexington, when it was conceived, was a place where you could actually check in voluntarily to take the cure. The cure being the cure for addiction...Well, in the '30s and the '40s their idea was good clean country air, farm work and some early psychotherapy. Some combination there would cure people of this mental disorder. It didn't work... And all the great jazz musicians... that were addicts went through Lexington. They all went their to take the cure."

And Kramer recognized that as he went through the prison, it left a lasting impact.

"I felt part of a great historical tradition. As twisted as it might be. And I was lucky enough to serve part of my sentence with a great jazz musician. There was a trumpet player named Red Rodney who replaced Miles Davis in the Charlie Parker Quintet. He was in his mid-50s then and he was a unbelievable artist and musician and became my musical father."