These days, at 64, Wayne Kramer, legendary guitarist for fast-living Detroit rock band MC5, lives a peaceful, married life in Los Angeles, where he composes music for TV and films.
It's probably not the future the recovering drug addict envisioned while serving a stint in federal prison during the mid-'70s for the attempted sale of cocaine to undercover agents. But one thing kept Kramer going during his two-year lock-up: his guitar.
"Playing music in prison is a way to escape prison, because when you're playing music you're not in prison. You're in the world of melodies and chord changes," Kramer says.
So, in 2009, with a growing desire to bring music into prisons, Kramer staged a concert at New York correctional facility Sing Sing with performances by Perry Farrell, Gilby Clarke, Tom Morello, Billy Bragg and others. Before the show, Kramer learned that his friend Bragg started a nonprofit in England two years earlier called Jail Guitar Doors (named after a 1978 Clash song that references Kramer's drug bust), which works with prisons to distribute guitars to inmates.
Kramer fell in love with the idea. Soon after, he launched Jail Guitar Doors USA under the belief that playing music can help prisoners deal with their problems in a nonconfrontational way and potentially lead to recovery. To date, the organization has given hundreds of guitars to prisoners in numerous states across the country.
"It's the sort of thing that you need someone like Wayne to do," says Bragg, who's prepping for the March 19 release of his 10th album, "Tooth & Nail." "Because when he stands up and looks those guys in the eye, they know he's been where they are."
Kramer's story will be highlighted in the PBS special "Lifecasters," which airs Feb. 7. He's also planning a benefit concert for Jail Guitar Doors this fall in Los Angeles.