MC5 Drummer Dennis Thompson, the Band’s Last Surviving Original Member, Dead at 75

Founding MC5 drummer Dennis Thompson, the last surviving member of the influential Detroit proto-punk band MC5, died Thursday, May 9, after experiencing a series of medical issues. He was 75.

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According to the Detroit Free Press, Thompson passed away at MediLodge of Taylor, a Detroit-area medical rehabilitation facility, where he was being treated after suffering a heart attack in April. Thompson’s death comes just a few weeks after it was announced that the MC5 will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year in conjunction with receiving the Musical Excellence Award.

[RELATED: Wayne Kramer, MC5 Co-Founder, Guitarist, and Songwriter, Dies at 75]

Thompson was in a hospital recovering from the heart attack when he received the news of the band’s induction. Late MC5 frontman Rob Tyner’s widow, Becky, told the Detroit Free Press that Thompson responded by saying, “It’s about f—ing time!” She also told the newspaper that Thompson had been hoping to attend the Rock Hall ceremony, which takes place this October 19 in Cleveland.

“Dennis was thrilled with it, so excited and happy,” Becky said. “He just wanted to get home to his cat, Annie, and was optimistic about recovering.”

Known by the nickname “Machine Gun” because of his driving drum style, Thompson was the last living original member of the MC5’s classic lineup. Rob Tyner died of a heart attack in September 1991 at age 46. Guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, who had been married to Patti Smith, died of heart failure in November 1994 at age 46. Bassist Michael Davis passed away from liver disease in February 2012 at age 68. And guitarist Wayne Kramer died of pancreatic cancer this past February at age 75.

The History of the MC5

Thompson first played with his high-school friend Kramer in a band called The Bounty Hunters, and then, in 1965, he was invited by Kramer to join the new group he’d formed with Tyner and Smith, the MC5, short for the Motor City 5.

The band developed a hard-driving, aggressive rock sound that also added elements of experimental free jazz. The group began building a big local following, and in 1968 they were signed to Elektra Records. Influenced by their manager, John Sinclair, the MC5 got involved in radical left-wing politics. The group famously played during the volatile 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, amidst rioting and a police crackdown on protesters.

In 1969, the band released its debut album, the live record Kick Out the Jams, which was hugely influential on groups that helped launch the punk movement years later. The MC5 also released two studio albums, Back in the USA (1970) and High Time (1971), before breaking up in 1972.

In a 2003 interview with the Detroit Free Press, Thompson explained that the MC5’s reputation as a political band, while initially helpful to the group’s career, became a factor in its demise.

“I didn’t want to be the band of the revolution. It’s not what we started out to do,” he explained. “I can see it was beneficial because of the notoriety. It was powerful stuff, and that media notoriety helped make us a household word. But at same time it was ending our career. It was killing us.”

After the Band’s Breakup

After the MC5’s breakup, Thompson played in a series of other band’s during the ensuing decades. From 2003 to 2012, he was member in a MC5 spinoff group called DKT/MC5 that also featured Davis and Kramer. Thompson played on two tracks of a planned MC5 reunion album Kramer had been recording at the time of his death, which has yet to be released.

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