18th September 1991 the Death of Rob Tyner

Rob Tyner

On this day in 1991, Rob Tyner took leave of this planet at the age of 47 after suffering a heart attack behind the wheel of his parked car in the family driveway. He left behind not only his longtime wife Becky and three children but an enduring legacy of revolutionary art that he and his band, The MC5, created together between 1964 and 1972.

Eight years is a long time for any rock’n’roll band. But for Detroit’s MC5 (who were not just any rock’n’roll band) those particular eight years must have seemed in equal part both an eternity and the wink of an eye. Change was in the air, happening quickly and those changes can be gauged no better than by the chronology of The MC5 in both sound and image. Just as Tyner (along with the rest of the group) got looser and more out-there with each passing year, so did the group’s music and outward appearances. A proto-beatnik obsessed with jazz, science fiction and cartooning,  Robert Derminer adopted the surname of John Coltrane’s pianist McCoy Tyner and transformed himself from a clean-cut American high school student from the early sixties – baby-faced, bespeckled and closely-cropped hair – to a loose, gyrating and costumed maniac in a Hard Rock band sporting an impressively huge Afro while vocalising with a heart just as huge in wild, onstage abandon.

Tyner not so much sang as issued forth stentorian testimonials to his beliefs and visions of change. His voice as an instrument was big and strong enough not only to cut thru the barrage emanating forth from the raucous assault of the twin guitars and rhythm section flanking him, but to remain there and direct it to even greater heights. This in turn also directed himself physically higher when onstage, transforming him into a Rock God channeling from the guts the sweat and strain of James Brown/Screamin’ Jay Hawkins/Ray Charles, the aggression and attack of The Troggs/Who/Yardbirds and the psychedelically-enhanced ruminations of his own fertile imagination all distilled down into only the most soulful and robust of vocalisations. Informed by his longstanding affinity with jazz and R&B, Tyner was more than capable of handling the wild assemblage of cover versions in their early days from a variety of sources ranging from Chuck Berry to Van Morrison’s Them to John Lee Hooker, combined with an intuitive ability for ad-libbing. Every bit as paradoxical as his band, his best-known vocal remains the unaccompanied introduction to “Kick Out The Jams” with its fulminating battle cry of “KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!” This and one of the track’s concluding verses, “Let me be who I am,” were the words of one who stood out and up, by and for what he believed in and didn’t back down, ever.

The gatefold sleeve of The MC5’s third and final album High Time contained a quote by Tyner: “Think of a world where Art is the only Motivation.” As a committed artist, this is what he did long and hard: reflecting on socio-political problems and only coming up with solutions that celebrated life, consciousness and truth.

Two days after Rob’s death, at a Damned gig in New York City at the New Ritz during their second reunion/farewell tour, Dave Vanian dedicated their perennial cover of MC5’s “Looking At You” to Tyner. It was heartening to experience this elegy so soon after his passing, to know that other people were just as moved as myself and not content to resign his untimely passing to just another entry in the rock’n’roll laundry list of deaths with a stifled, short-attention-span yawn. Twenty years later, there are even more who know about and mourn Tyner’s absence and it now seems ridiculous that anybody ever touched by the bursting spirit of this energetic, talented, and compassionate man could disregard, let alone, ever forget him or his forward-thinking achievements.

[Written by The Seth Man]

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10 Responses to 18th September 1991 – the Death of Rob Tyner

  1. Maxim Peter Griffin says:

    Foward Thinking Motherfucker – ps your project here is a very fine thing – and i am very taken with the headers font . i shall now play High Time to my son ….

  2. Mika H says:

    The Man got SOUL!


  3. Dorian says:

    Good call playing High Time to your son, Maxim. Over and Over!

    Who can forget reading Fred’s response when asked to comment on Rob’s death: “He was a forward-thinking Motherfucker.” That simple sentence changed my vocabulary forever. (Another favourite quote about Rob was Julian’s “More Rob Tyner, less knob shiner”.)

    My heartfelt thanks to the mighty Seth Man for such a great tribute to such a great man.

  4. Maxim Peter Griffin says:

    Energy Energy – this has made me think – as a stonemason with the gear and the knowhow i shall carve Rob Tyner s name into a good bit of slate and set it somewhere – que mad brass section and fade to chisels

  5. MikeFromDetroit says:

    Rob Tyner was a very bright star, and like bright stars, he burned out quickly. But he sure had a huge impact and left a lasting legacy. For that we can only be grateful.

  6. HURLCO says:

    Very well written tribute that encapsulated the heart of a warrior. At one gig, Rob looked down at me dancing in front of the stage like a whirling dervish front & center. He reached down with his free hand to grab mine and said; “Get up here tiger!” …pulling my 15 year old Irish butt onstage during an outdoor sonic assault of Black To Comm. So many Detroit area maniacs climbed up on that rickety stage…that it almost collapsed. From glorious nights at the 1st Detroit Rock N’ Roll Revival and Olympia…to their last sad show at the Grande’…that was more like a wake. The MC5 kicked out those jams like no other band ever could. For my money and experience, they will always be the most powerfully, pulverizing band to ever take the stage. On a good night, without smoke, lights, auto-tune or any of the other bullshit now poplar today, the Five could peel the fucking paint off the walls of any venue while inculcating the assembled tribe with their sonic semen. They could deliver an aural orgasm way better than sex. They were THAT good.

  7. Jim Wylie says:

    I just so love the MC5 and all that they did. Everyone worships The Stooges now but in the day the MC5 would’ve just blown The Stooges right off stage with their hyperenergetic guitar power. In fact they would still blow pretty much every band that ever existed off stage with their hyperenergtetic guitar power. They were the true revolutionary rock gods of Detroit City and they were a damn great bunch of guys.

  8. Blair Holben says:

    I saw The 5 play before Fred Nugent and the Amboy Dukes in the summer of 1972 at a all day concert at the Clarksville Speedway in Clarksville,Michigan…. Fred Nuge headlined…

    Rob Tyner came out onstage before they played..and was “burning one” as he checked out the crowd..people picked up that it was him “stage right ” puffing one….

    Fred S. Smith stood right on the very edge of the front of the stage…..while the rest played 5-10 feet behind him…..

    That’s about all I remember!..It was ..after all…the 70’s..and 42 years ago!

  9. Psychedelic Rob. says:

    Born at the tail-end of that glorious decade: the Sixties,I only discovered the MC5 through Mr. Copes infectious proselytising. Loved then the instant their energy started rippling from my speaker cones, that the lead singer’s name was only one letter different to my own and that he had no apparent barrier between his heart and his mouth, made them all the more special. I envy those of you above who saw that energy manifested for real. When I return my meat-made vehicle to the Goddess, you just know I’m gonna be heading straight down the nearest fractal vortice that exits in one of their concerts and get my Spirit-ass inculcated. (Great turn of phrase! @ Hurlco)

  10. Laura Arrington says:

    the MC5 kicked ass wherever they went, nobody like them before or since……..RIP Rob!!!!!

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