Several months ago, guitarist Tom Morello called up former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer to tell him about a new rock-rap supergroup, the Prophets of Rage – a gathering of members from Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. A central subject of that call: Could Kramer help Morello’s new band arrange to perform inside a prison?
As co-founder of the charity Jail Guitar Doors, Kramer was the man to call. A concert by Prophets of Rage was set for last week at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California, where warden, staff and more than 700 prisoners were waiting for them. Then state prison officials in Sacramento pulled the plug at the last moment, as Kramer and the band were en route from Los Angeles.
Rolling Stone was on site as the band and Jail Guitar Doors discussed options and built a stage right outside the prison to perform a three-song set. “No rules apply on the street here,” bassist Tim Commerford told RS, minutes before their performance, gesturing toward the prison. “They live right there, so they’re going to hear it.”
It was another chapter in the mission of Jail Guitar Doors, which donates guitars and other instruments to jails and prisons across the country as a means to rehabilitation. The charity was named after the Clash song of the same name, which includes a bit of Kramer’s biography in the lyric: “Let me tell you ’bout Wayne and his deals of cocaine … /Then the D.E.A. locked him away.”
“I’m an archetypal drug-war prisoner,” Kramer told RS of the 1970s federal drug conviction and prison sentence that followed the breakup of the MC5. He has now brought the program to more than 60 U.S. prisons and jails.
“Wayne Kramer is a hero of ours,” Prophets rapper Chuck D said. “We hope to do these types of things throughout the United States.”