John Sinclair, one time manager of the MC5, refined his rock 'n' roll vision in the Upper Peninsula, but not by choice. That he served time at Marquette's branch prison is just one chapter in the fascinating saga of the greatest punk band Michigan ever produced. St. Ignace figures prominently in the story as well.
The MC5 (short for Motor City Five) were at the forefront a self-contained rock scene which developed in southeastern Michigan in the mid-sixties to early seventies. Other forces driving this surging independent scene included the Bob Seger System, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, Frost, Frijid Pink, SRC, the Rationals, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, as well as a few other home-grown bands.
But the MC5 went beyond creating explosive music, they threw their rebellion in the face of the "establishment" and couldn't have cared less about the consequences. And, there were consequences.
They first received national attention when Sinclair arranged for them to play a free outdoor concert at Chicago's Lincoln Park during the riotous 1968 Democratic Convention. The show was filmed by the FBI, evidence the feds were paying close attention to the band. Their initial long-play, the incendiary "Kick Out The Jams," was recorded live at Russ Gibb's Grande Ballroom in Detroit two months later.
Released as a single, the title track had its raw opening line censored to "Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters," at the insistence of Elektra Records. Still the record stalled nationally at number 82 on the Billboard chart in 1969. In July, Sinclair was sentenced to a lengthy term at Jackson Prison for selling two marijuana cigarettes to undercover officers.
He was later transferred to Marquette and wrote the radical manifesto, "Guitar Army," while incarcerated. Sinclair was allowed a record player while in prison and listened to Big Brother and the Holding Company's "Cheap Thrills," Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced" and the MC5's first album, of course.
Sinclair was released on appeal bond on Dec. 13, 1971, three days after a "Free John Now," rally was held at the University of Michigan featuring a performance by ex-Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The event drew attention to Sinclair, and the Michigan Supreme Court later overturned his conviction
Another member of the MC5's inner circle, Lawrence (Pun) Plamondon, referred to as "minister of defense" on the group's first LP, had another unpleasant experience with the law in the U. P.
Plamondon, a revolutionary activist, founded the White Panther Party with Sinclair and established a commune at 1510 Hill St. in Ann Arbor. He later went underground when he learned he was being charged with conspiracy in the bombing of the local CIA office.
The first hippie to make the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list, Plamondon covertly returned to lower Michigan after traveling to various foreign locations. On July 23, 1970, he headed to the Upper Peninsula, where a hide-out had been arranged. Plamondon and two White Panthers were drinking beer as their Volkswagen bus, allegedly filled with guns, moved north, toward the Mackinac Bridge. When a State Police trooper noticed empties being thrown from the vehicle, he pulled it over and forced the occupants to retrieve the cans. Later, when police discovered Plamondon used a fake ID, the fugitive was arrested 50 miles west of St. Ignace.
Although he spent 32 months in prison, Plamondon's conviction was also overturned when the government admitted to wiretapping without a warrant. The case later proved crucial when Nixon resigned following the Watergate break-in.
Plamondon, of Ottawa descent, went on to work for Bob Seger as a bodyguard and also drove semi for Kiss and Foreigner. The author of a memoir on his life, Plamondon now lives in Barry County, and is a respected tribal elder.
Sinclair later formed the Blues Scholars as an outlet for his poetry and has released several compact discs. He emigrated to the Netherlands two years ago.
The MC5, meanwhile, played their last gig on New Years Eve, 1972, at the Grande Ballroom. They were paid $100 each. The band disintegrated amidst heavy drug use, their revolutionary dream unrealized.
While they released only three albums during their brief lifespan, interest in the MC5 remains unflagging today.