Founding MC5 drummer Dennis Thompson dead at 75

Dennis Thompson headshot
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images)

Dennis Thompson, the last remaining original member of the MC5, has died at the age of 75. The news was reported by the Detroit Free Press, who revealed that Thompson had died at a care facility in Taylor, MI, after a series of medical issues, including a heart attack last month. 

The news was subsequently confirmed in a social media post from Chris McNulty, Thompson's son, who had grown up unaware of the identity of his biological father but tracked him down via an ancestry website just two years ago. 

"I absolutely cherished the times we spent together," McNulty wrote. "Countless hours of just rapping about music, life, sports, and the state of the world. I will be forever grateful that I (along with my wife Becky) got to spend time with him and get to know him. I am deeply saddened by his passing and will miss him very much, although I do get a big smile on my face when I picture Dennis at the Pearly Gates, cat calling St. Peter: 'Kick Out The Jams or get off the stage.'"

The news of Thompson's death comes three months after the death of fellow MC5 founder, guitarist Wayne Kramer, and a month after the death of band manager John Sinclair. 

Thompson was born Dennis Tomich in Highland Park, MI, in 1948, and grew up 20 miles away in Lincoln Park. He became fascinated by percussion after playing his older brother's bongos, and developed a loose-limbed, percussive technique that gave him the band nickname "Machine Gun" and can be heard to best effect powering MC5 standouts like Kick Out The Jams, Sister Anne and the rattling Skunk (Sonicly Speaking)

After playing on all three MC5 albums he hooked up with Stooges guitarist and fellow Detroit icon Ron Ashton in the Los Angeles-based supergroup the New Order, whose sole, self-titled album, was released in 1977. Thompson and Ashton then went on to form New Race with three members of Australian Detroitophiles Radio Birdman, but the band never released a studio album.

More recently, Thompson hooked up with original MC5 members Wayne Kramer and bassist Michael Davis to tour as DKT/MC5in 2004 (Davis died in 2012), and in 2022 it was confirmed that he'd played on two tracks on a projected fourth album under the MC5 banner, Heavy Lifting. The album was produced by Bob Ezrin, while musicians featured on the recording included Slash, Tom Morello, Living Colour's Vernon Reid, Alice In Chains frontman William DuVall, Don Was, Kesha, Jill Sobule and more. Originally given a release date of October 2022, it has yet to surface. 

The MC5's induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame was finally confirmed last month, and, according to Becky Tyner, widow of MC5 frontman Rob Tyner (died 1991), Thompson was delighted. "It's about fucking time!", she reported him saying. 

In 2015 MC5 were presented with the keys to Lincoln Park, as part of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the band forming. The event took place at the Kennedy Memorial Park, where the band played some of their first shows as teenagers, and Thompson, who still lived locally, gave a speech at the ceremony.

“There was a time when we weren’t so popular with the law enforcement here,” Thompson said. “It was rough times, with the Vietnam war people were dying, there was a movement with the feminists trying to gain equal opportunity, there was a movement with black people trying to get equal opportunities, and the country was at one point split 50/50 down the middle about the war.

"And we took a stand against the war. Because we met a lot of intelligent people that said the same thing: 'What the hell are we doing here?' It was insane. So we got chased by the police, the FBI, state police, county police, distress unit. But today I can say 50 years later much progress has been made. What Kick Out The Jams meant was do your best, find out what you love in life and do it with all that you have… don’t settle for less, don’t give up, fight."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.