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Stevie Salas was destined for the MC5

Local guitar icon joins Detroit punk pioneers

Stevie Salas is serious about salubrious songwriting.
Stevie Salas is serious about salubrious songwriting.

MC5 guitarist and co-founder Wayne Kramer replies without hesitation when asked where Oceanside’s Stevie Salas ranks among the guitarists with whom he’s worked. “He’s just…my hero. I would say he’s just about the best. He can really play. One of the things I appreciate is that he is a champion of the lost art of rhythm guitar. He understands the importance of playing and supporting the rhythm, where what you’re playing has to have a rhythmic consideration, where what you’re playing falls on the bar and matters. Guitar players have gotten away with murder for 50 years,” he laughs. “When I started playing, there was a real thing called rhythm guitar.” Deceased MC5 guitarist Fred Smith “was genius. Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and John Lennon were pretty good rhythm guitar players.”

That’s some exalted company, but Kramer isn’t kidding when he puts Salas in their ranks. And as the man who helped lay the groundwork for what would come to be known as punk rock, Kramer should know. His six-string collaborators have included Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave), and Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers), and he’s recorded with punk stalwarts Bad Religion.

Local hero Salas boasts an equally impressive resume that includes playing with Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, and Sass Jordan (whose band featured a young Taylor Hawkins, personally chosen by Salas). He credits his San Diego upbringing for his musical diversity. “I think deep down, it’s because I didn’t fit in. I loved Kiss, but I didn’t sound like Kiss when I was coming up. I played with Bootsie [Collins] and George [Clinton] in Funkadelic, but I didn’t really sound like them. I always fell through the cracks, but I could work with [Mick] Jagger, Terence Trent D’Arby, Duran Duran. That’s the thing about San Diego: you grow up, you’ve got the Marine base, you’ve got all these different cultures. I had black friends, yellow friends, green, purple, pink friends. I didn’t see color; thank you, North County San Diego. We could play a Montrose song, and then we could play a song by Joe Jackson, and the kids would like both equally. So, when I got to L.A., I understood funk and I understood hard rock.”

Salas and Kramer’s shared passion for music is matched by their passion to take action on social issues that produce tangible results in a world where just sharing a social media post sometimes passes for activism. Kramer’s work outside of music often takes him to San Diego. “With Jail Guitar Doors, we have a program at Donovan State Prison. We got them instruments, and we run active songwriting workshops where we work with people who live in prisons to find new ways to express themselves in ways that are non-confrontational, that are positive, that add beauty to the world. You know, I haven’t yet met anyone in prison — and I served a prison term myself in the 1970s [for selling cocaine] — that hasn’t had some really awful things happen to them, to traumatize them. And to get the opportunity to talk about it, to tell your story in a song, has a powerful healing side effect: you don’t have to carry that around anymore.” Locals who've worked with Kramer's Jail Guitar Doors program include Robin Henkel and Astra Kelly.

Past Event

Wayne Kramer: We Are All MC5

  • Sunday, May 15, 2022, 8 p.m.
  • Soda Bar, 3615 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego
  • 21+ / $40.38

Kramer and Salas both also work in film. Kramer scored Eastbound and Down, among other shows, and Salas produced Rumble: Indians Who Rocked the World. The approach of the latter film aimed at education as opposed to confrontation. “It’s about heroes. And to show influence. You have people like Slash and Wayne. Who better to talk about Hendrix than his sister? Because, if you have an indigenous person saying that, it becomes a racial film.”

Wayne Kramer’s We Are All MC5 tour hits Soda Bar on Sunday, May 15, and features Salas alongside Winston Watson on drums, singer Brad Brooks, and bassist Vicki Randall (Mavis Staples, Rufus). MC5 was just nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Kramer recently released two new singles. He also announced new MC5 music on the way, with Salas manning the guitar position.

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Stevie Salas is serious about salubrious songwriting.
Stevie Salas is serious about salubrious songwriting.

MC5 guitarist and co-founder Wayne Kramer replies without hesitation when asked where Oceanside’s Stevie Salas ranks among the guitarists with whom he’s worked. “He’s just…my hero. I would say he’s just about the best. He can really play. One of the things I appreciate is that he is a champion of the lost art of rhythm guitar. He understands the importance of playing and supporting the rhythm, where what you’re playing has to have a rhythmic consideration, where what you’re playing falls on the bar and matters. Guitar players have gotten away with murder for 50 years,” he laughs. “When I started playing, there was a real thing called rhythm guitar.” Deceased MC5 guitarist Fred Smith “was genius. Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and John Lennon were pretty good rhythm guitar players.”

That’s some exalted company, but Kramer isn’t kidding when he puts Salas in their ranks. And as the man who helped lay the groundwork for what would come to be known as punk rock, Kramer should know. His six-string collaborators have included Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave), and Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers), and he’s recorded with punk stalwarts Bad Religion.

Local hero Salas boasts an equally impressive resume that includes playing with Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, and Sass Jordan (whose band featured a young Taylor Hawkins, personally chosen by Salas). He credits his San Diego upbringing for his musical diversity. “I think deep down, it’s because I didn’t fit in. I loved Kiss, but I didn’t sound like Kiss when I was coming up. I played with Bootsie [Collins] and George [Clinton] in Funkadelic, but I didn’t really sound like them. I always fell through the cracks, but I could work with [Mick] Jagger, Terence Trent D’Arby, Duran Duran. That’s the thing about San Diego: you grow up, you’ve got the Marine base, you’ve got all these different cultures. I had black friends, yellow friends, green, purple, pink friends. I didn’t see color; thank you, North County San Diego. We could play a Montrose song, and then we could play a song by Joe Jackson, and the kids would like both equally. So, when I got to L.A., I understood funk and I understood hard rock.”

Salas and Kramer’s shared passion for music is matched by their passion to take action on social issues that produce tangible results in a world where just sharing a social media post sometimes passes for activism. Kramer’s work outside of music often takes him to San Diego. “With Jail Guitar Doors, we have a program at Donovan State Prison. We got them instruments, and we run active songwriting workshops where we work with people who live in prisons to find new ways to express themselves in ways that are non-confrontational, that are positive, that add beauty to the world. You know, I haven’t yet met anyone in prison — and I served a prison term myself in the 1970s [for selling cocaine] — that hasn’t had some really awful things happen to them, to traumatize them. And to get the opportunity to talk about it, to tell your story in a song, has a powerful healing side effect: you don’t have to carry that around anymore.” Locals who've worked with Kramer's Jail Guitar Doors program include Robin Henkel and Astra Kelly.

Past Event

Wayne Kramer: We Are All MC5

  • Sunday, May 15, 2022, 8 p.m.
  • Soda Bar, 3615 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego
  • 21+ / $40.38

Kramer and Salas both also work in film. Kramer scored Eastbound and Down, among other shows, and Salas produced Rumble: Indians Who Rocked the World. The approach of the latter film aimed at education as opposed to confrontation. “It’s about heroes. And to show influence. You have people like Slash and Wayne. Who better to talk about Hendrix than his sister? Because, if you have an indigenous person saying that, it becomes a racial film.”

Wayne Kramer’s We Are All MC5 tour hits Soda Bar on Sunday, May 15, and features Salas alongside Winston Watson on drums, singer Brad Brooks, and bassist Vicki Randall (Mavis Staples, Rufus). MC5 was just nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Kramer recently released two new singles. He also announced new MC5 music on the way, with Salas manning the guitar position.

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Stevie Salas has always been a precise and versatile guitarist, but he's rarely pounded out an MC5-like sound. The best example I can cite of Salas that would serve to preview his MC5 tenure would be YouTube videos of the 2019 David Bowie Alumni Tour, where Salas played alongside Bowie's longtime keyboardist Mike Garson and several other Bowie vets. If only he could be touring with Bowie himself, but pairing him up with Wayne Kramer is gonna be quite a blast!

May 6, 2022

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