Drummer Dennis Thompson, Last Surviving MC5 Member, Dead At 75

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Drummer Dennis Thompson, Last Surviving MC5 Member, Dead At 75


Dennis Thompson, drummer and final surviving member of Detroit proto-punk heroes MC5, has died. The Detroit Free Press reports that Thompson passed away yesterday morning at MediLodge in Taylor, Michigan; he’d been staying there while recovering from a heart attack in April. Thompson’s death comes just months after MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer passed away in February. John Sinclair, the band’s former manager, died in April. This October, Thompson will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as a member of the MC5. Thompson was 75.

Dennis Thompson was born Dennis Tomich in Detroit. He started playing drums as a child, and he went to Lincoln Park High School. There, he and his friend Wayne Kramer started a garage rock band called the Bounty Hunters. In 1965, Kramer invited Thompson, known by the nickname “Machine Gun,” to join the MC5. (The name stood for “Motor City 5.”) Thompson had to play extremely loud to be heard over the band’s massively amplified guitarists, and his fast, booming attack became central to the group’s sound. It influenced entire generations of punk and metal drumming.

The MC5 found a following as the house band at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, and leftist poet and activist John Sinclair became their manager. The MC5 worked as political firebrands, playing the protests out side the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968, and they released the wildly influential debut album Kick Out The James, recorded live at the Grande Ballroom, the next year. You can hear Dennis Thompson go off on that record.

MC5 didn’t last for long. After bouncing between labels and releasing a couple more albums, they broke up in 1972. Thompson’s heroin addiction may have been a factor in the group’s end. In 1975, Thompson joined the New Order, an LA-based band founded by former Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, and they released one album before breaking up. Later on, Thompson and Ron Asheton joined New Race, a new band with three former members of the influential Australian proto-punk group Radio Birdman, but New Race broke up after one Australian tour. Thompson also played on a few records from the late punk provocateur GG Allin in the ’80s.

In the ’00s, Wayne Kramer and Dennis Thompson anchored a revived version of the MC5, which toured with some of the rock icons who the band had inspired. A few years ago, Kramer announced a new studio album called We Are All MC5 that would feature Thompson playing on two tracks. That LP still hasn’t come out.

MC5 lead singer Rob Tyner died in 1991, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith in 1994, band bassist Michael Davis in 2012. Becky Tyner, Rob’s widow, tells the Detroit Free Press that Thompson was in the hospital when he got the news of the band’s Hall Of Fame induction, and that his reaction was “it’s about fuckin’ time!” Tyner says, “Dennis was thrilled with it, so excited and happy. He just wanted to get home to his cat, Annie, and was optimistic about recovering.”

Below, check out some videos of Dennis Thompson playing with the MC5.

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