Between Takes: John Sinclair, The MC5, and Kickin’ out the Jams

In Episode 005 of Between Takes, poet and activist John Sinclair to discusses his time working with legendary Detroit Rock group, The MC5.

Welcome to Between Takes; where artists and musicians tell stories about what happens behind the scenes.

WDET’s Sam Beaubien has been dedicated to making music in Detroit for 20 years, and this series connects you with the stories he has heard on gigs and at recording sessions.

Get a look into Stevie Wonders audition for Motown Records, sessions with funk master George Clinton, renowned hip-hop producer J Dilla’s first days with a drum machine, and many more stories about what shaped the legacy of this musical city. 

Episode 005

“What we want is a place for artists – musicians, painters, poets, writers, film-makers – who are committed to their art and to the concept of community involvement to meet and work with one another in an open, warm, loving, supportive environment.”


John Sinclair is a poet, writer, and political activist from Flint, Michigan. Sinclair was also heavily involved with the Detroit music scene during the 1960’s and 70’s, throwing free concerts and providing support for Detroit’s rock, jazz, and experimental music.

One of his most important contributions was his involvement with The Detroit Artists Workshop, which was founded by Wayne State art students and Cass Corridor artists and musicians in November 1964. Sinclair wrote the manifesto for this space, saying:

“What we want is a place for artists – musicians, painters, poets, writers, film-makers – who are committed to their art and to the concept of community involvement to meet and work with one another in an open, warm, loving, supportive environment (- what they don’t get in the “real” world) – a place for people to come together as equals in a community venture the success of which depends solely upon those involved with it. To this end we have acquired a “studio” workshop which will be maintained (rent, electricity, heat) by the artists themselves…”

While living in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, Sinclair met The MC5 because they lived in the same neighborhood. During this time, Sinclair took on the role of manager for the band. The band’s politically charged music and its “Yippie” core audience aligned with Sinclair’s own radical ideas.

In 1968, while working with the band, he founded the White Panther Party, a militantly anti-racist socialist group and counterpart of the Black Panthers. The band was impacted by Sinclair’s ideas and influenced their music.

Doug Coombe
Doug Coombe

During this period, Sinclair regularly booked The MC5 at the Grande Ballroom in what later came to be known as the “Kick out the Jams” shows. He went on to book the band to perform a concert outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. After the band’s performance, police broke up the massive anti-Vietnam war rally. Eventually, the MC5 came to find Sinclair’s politics too extreme and the band separated in 1969.

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Author

  • Sam Beaubien

    Sam Beaubien is a musician, composer, producer, and educator in Detroit. He is also the founder and leader of the acclaimed ensemble, Will Sessions.