- Associated Press - Saturday, March 3, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) - He spent two years in a federal lockup for trying to sell cocaine to undercover agents, and all Wayne Kramer can think about these days is trying to find a way to get back behind bars.

This time, though, the guitar god for rock music’s seminal pre-punk band, the MC5, wants to bring his ax with him _ and a few dozen others for the inmates to play.

With a little help from friends like the Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett, former Guns `N Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke and others, Kramer has formed Jail Guitar Doors USA.

He runs the nonprofit charitable organization with his wife, Margaret, out of the Hollywood studio where he makes a comfortable living these days composing music for movies and television. Over the past two years, Jail Guitar Doors USA has delivered scores of instruments to prisons and jails in Nevada, California and Texas.

“He’s a great man. He’s taken his skill, his talent and he’s putting it to use, giving back to society,” says Deputy David Bates, who has worked with Kramer in bringing guitars to several jails run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Bates, who calls music “the universal language,” says he’s seen the positive impact it has had on inmates.

So, Kramer says, has he. In his case, first hand.

“When I played music in prison, I wasn’t in prison anymore,” he says, as he sits in his studio over a lunch of vegetarian Thai food.

“And that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with the instrument donations,” he continues. “That this is a way that you can get through this time, that you can go someplace else, you can get involved in your guitar.”

Kramer, who is 63, is dressed in blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt over a white T. Although he still looks about as thin as he did in the days when he was tearing up tunes like “Kick Out the Jams,” the huge white-guy Afro that once nearly defined him as much as his guitar has given way to thinning close-cropped hair.

He was still in his 20s when he arrived at the federal prison in Lexington, Ky., in the 1970s, scheduled to do four years for trying to sell $10,000 worth of cocaine.

The place was bleak and dispiriting, especially for someone who had been a rock star just a few years before. But Kramer would soon discover there was a music class there. It was taught by the legendary jazz trumpeter Red Rodney, who was doing time himself for a heroin bust.

“He’d been to Lexington three times. … He was kind of like the mayor of the prison,” Kramer recalls, laughing. “He taught music theory.”

The guitarist studied with him and, after he was paroled early, returned to the music business. But he still struggled for years to keep from going back.

The MC5, which had helped define punk rock with its screaming guitar chords and intense lyrics, had long since broken up, and Detroit’s music scene had died along with the city’s economy. Kramer, meanwhile, was still drinking heavily and associating with drug users, a prescription for violating parole.

So he moved to LA, got sober and began to do music for films like “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

Story Continues →