Dennis Thompson, drummer in rock band MC5, dies aged 75

Dennis Thompson, drummer in rock band MC5, dies aged 75

Dennis Thompson, the drummer for influential Detroit rock band MC5, has died at the age of 75.

Thompson, who was the last surviving member of the group after the death of guitarist Wayne Kramer in February, died in a Michigan nursing home on Thursday. He had been recovering after a heart attack in April, his son Chris McNulty told Detroit News.

“He was a true, free-spirited rock and roller up until the very last day,” McNulty said.

Thompson joined MC5 – short for Motor City 5 – in 1965, at the age of 17. He earned the nickname “Machine Gun” because of his fast and hard approach to drumming, which resembled the sound of his namesake, a Thompson machine gun or Tommy gun.

The rock group MC5, from left: Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, Dennis ‘Machine Gun’ Thompson, Rob Tyner, Wayne Kramer and Michael Davis in 1969 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They are all wearing White Panther party pinsView image in fullscreen

MC5 were an incendiary force in their city’s music scene, with their 1969 debut album, Kick Out the Jams, being a live recording from Detroit’s Grande Ballroom where the band made their name. Thompson’s sound would influence scores of punk and metal drummers that came after him.

The band were proud of their working-class roots and were charged with revolutionary zeal from the outset; their manager John Sinclair formed the anti-racist collective the White Panther party and the band protested against the Vietnam war and the Democratic National Convention. Buoyed by an astonishingly heavy guitar sound from Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith, the words “kick out the jams” became synonymous with resistance, and pointed the way towards the punk rock of the 1970s.

MC5 released three studio albums: 1969’s Kick Out the Jams, 1970’s Back in the USA and 1971’s High Time, before they disbanded.

The band later reunited as a touring entity and played gigs across the world in various iterations, including a 50th anniversary tour in 2018.

Singer Rob Tyner and Smith both died in the 90s. Bassist Michael Davis died in 2012. Sinclair, the group’s manager who was also known as a jazz poet, died in April.

MC5 are set to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this year. Thompson’s son McNulty told Detroit News that when his father heard, he said: “It’s about fuckin’ time.”