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R.I.P. Dennis 'Machine Gun' Thompson: Drummer and Last Surviving Member of the MC5, Dead at 75

Before his passing, Thompson did learn of the MC5's impending induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, saying, "It's about f--king time!"

Source: Elektra

The cover art for the MC5's 'Back in the USA' album.

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Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson, drummer for the MC5 and the last surviving member of the iconic proto-punk band, has died at the age of 75. Per the Detroit Free Press, Thompson died at MediLodge of Taylor in Michigan, where he had been recovering following a heart attack in April.

At the time of his death, Thompson had high hopes for being able to attend the induction of the MC5 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the Musical Excellence category, having learned the news from Becky Tyner, widow of MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner, while still in recovery at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.

Thompson’s initial reaction, per Tyner: "It's about f--king time!”

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Source: Elektra

The cover art for the MC5's 'Kick Out the Jams' album.

Born in Detroit, Michigan on September 7, 1948 (birth name: Dennis Tomich), Thompson came from music roots: his mother was a singer on the radio until her career was sidelined as a result of bronchitis, and his father had been an upright bass player in a Slovak band.

“I started playing drums when I was four,” Thompson told Furious.com. “When I was 8 or 9, my family would get together – my brother would play guiar and my sister would play piano, so we’d play together. My brother also had a rock and roll band, playing all those instrumental songs. You’d have four guitar players and no bass. They’d rehearse in the basement and leave the drums downstairs, so I’d go down there and play until Mom would say, ‘Get off those drums, Danny, those ain’t yours!’ Little did she know... To raise a son who plays the drums, you have to be a beautiful and insane parent.”

Thompson started playing weddings when he was all of 10 years old, and by 13 he was playing in bars, but he was 15 when he met his future bandmates Tyner, Wayne Kramer, and Fred "Sonic" Smith. “We met up in the ninth grade at Lincoln Park High School, a greaseball and jock school,” he told Furious. “Back in those days, you were one or the other. We were the black jackets and pointed shoes crowd.”

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Tyner gave the band their name - the MC5 - but it was their soon-to-be-manager who helped transform their sound.

“Before we met [John Sinclair], we were pretty much into playing rough and tough rock and roll,” Thompson told Furious. “We didn’t care about jazz, just about being the best rock and roll band we could be. We used to rehearse and practice a lot. We had an ethic, and we wore our hair long and started to smoke a little pot. We were just trying to be really good players.”

“Right about the time we graduated from high school, we met Sinclair, the resident beatnik poet / philosopher at Wayne State University in Detroit,” he continued. “They used to have an Artists’ Workshop with poetry and jazz. That’s how we met John. Rob met him and struck up a conversation – they were both deep into jazz. It was a natural relationship that followed. So Rob brought us down to the Artists’ Workshop where you had all these jazz bands doing stuff like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders. We came in there with ‘Black to Comm’ at full volume. It took awhile, but John Sinclair fell in love with us. All of a sudden, we went from high school heroes who used to win all the Battles of the Bands to the audio vanguard of the artistic community at Wayne State University.”

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After releasing a few singles on indie labels, the band embarked on an East Coast tour, opening for such artists as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Cream and – as confirmed by more than a few first-hand reports – often blowing them off the stage. In short order, they signed to Elektra, releasing a total of three albums, the first of which was the instantly iconic Kick Out the Jams in 1969.

Back in the USA followed in 1970, with the third and final Elektra album, High Time, arriving in 1971. Chartwise, they were a series of declining returns, and after a tour of Europe in early 1971, bassist Michael Davis left the band (his widely-known heroin addiction left him little choice), and although the band carried on for the remainder of the year with replacement bassist Derek Hughes, their New Year’s Eve show of 1972 was effectively the end of the MC5.

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After the MC5's dissolution, Thompson briefly continued playing with Smith in a band called Ascension, but when that ended, he joined up with The New Order. No, not the one from Manchester, obviously, but a group formed by a member of another recently-dissolved band: Ron Asheton of the Stooges. Although The New Order only lasted a few years, never releasing a proper album, Asheton and Thompson then formed a new band, New Race, with Radio Birdman vocalist Rob Younger. New Race never released a studio album either, but they did at least put out a few live albums that document their existence.

Thompson played in a few other bands over the years, most notably the Motor City Bad Boys and the Secrets, but after Tyner's death in September 1991, Thompson re-teamed with his MC5 bandmates for a 30-minute reunion performance to honor their fallen comrade. Smith died in 1994, which put an obvious damper on any significant further reunion plans, but in 2002 Thompson, Kramer, and bassist Michael Davis performed at the 100 Club in London, and in 2004 they went on a proper tour, using the name DKT/MC5.

In 2012, Davis died, and the MC5 split yet again, although Kramer and Thompson would once more reunite in 2022, making plans for a new album and tour under the name We Are All MC5. Sadly, it failed to fully come to fruition, due to Kramer's death on February 2 of this year, and with Thompson's passing, the MC5 is - formally, officially, and very sadly - no more. Their musical legacy, however, will live on forever, so in their honor, please make time today to kick out the jams.

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